Civil-rights activists and anti-immigration groups held opposing protests in front of the Santa Barbara News-Press office in downtown Santa Barbara Monday afternoon over fallout regarding allegedly racist headlines recently printed on the front page of the newspaper.
The opposing demonstrations come after the Santa Barbara News-Press published an article on Jan. 3 with the headline “Illegals line up for driver’s licenses,” regarding the recently implemented California Assembly Bill 60, a law which allows Californians to apply for driver’s licenses, regardless of immigration status. Following a protest from local minority advocate group People Organized for the Defense of Equal Rights of Santa Barbara Youth (PODER) calling for a retraction and apology, which the paper refused to grant, the News-Press also published a front-page story on Jan. 16 with the headline, “Driving legal opens door to illegals’ past.” We the People Rising, a group of volunteer secure border advocates based in Claremont, staged a demonstration in support of freedom of speech, while PODER led a demonstration — the second held by the group in the last month — against the newspaper’s use of the term “illegal.”
Protesters with PODER shouted “We are beautiful, migration is beautiful!” and “Undocumented, unafraid!” while We the People Rising held signs reading “Illegal there I said it!” and “Freedom of expression, defeat censorship,” emphasizing the correctness of the term “illegal” to describe undocumented immigrants. We the People Rising also read sections of the U.S. Constitution out loud, recited the Pledge of Allegiance and the Preamble of the Constitution and sang the Star-Spangled Banner.
Peer advisor at the Chicana/o studies department and third-year feminist and Chicana/o studies major Abigaíl Salazar Rodriguez said freedom of speech does not mean freedom of hate speech, but that freedom of press means freedom of responsible press.
“When I saw that word ‘illegal’ in the Santa Barbara newspaper, you know, that has so much baggage, that has so much evil baggage, and I believe that must have incredible baggage for our whole immigrant community,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez also said that despite the newspaper’s recent actions, support for the undocumented community has continued to highlight the vital and “foundational” role undocumented individuals play in Santa Barbara.
“It fills my eyes with tears to see how much hate some people have in the community, but at the same time I know that we are worth fighting for and that we are worth everything,” Rodriguez said. “We are the people that are working at the restaurants where you eat; we are the people who are taking care of your children; we are the people who are cleaning the houses that you live in every day and you can no longer dehumanize us! That is not acceptable.”
According to Chicana/o studies professor Ralph Armbruster-Sandoval, the campaign against the News-Press is inspired by historical and contemporary struggles over language, citing a lengthy history of controversy among different minority groups over the language used to describe them.
“The civil rights movement made us stop saying ‘colored’ and worse [terms]. The women’s movement changed newspapers standards to use the word ‘Ms.’ The LGBT community got homosexual replaced with ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’ and ‘queer’ and most recently the disability rights movement is requesting us all to stop using the ‘r’ word,” Armbruster-Sandoval said. “Ours is not the first generation to debate the ‘i’ word.”
Jamiel Shaw Sr., a protester with We the People Rising, said his son Jamiel Shaw Jr. was murdered in 2008 by an “illegal alien,” and invoked Martin Luther King Jr. in his defense of the News-Press.
“[My son] didn’t deserve that. MLK would be proud of me and everybody here. We are entitled to the American dream; we are the American dream. Illegal aliens are not the American dream,” Shaw said. “[Americans] aren’t here to rob, steal and pillage in this country. And my mother was born in America and her mother was born in America — I care about Americans first.”
Candice Somay, a protester with PODER, said the experiences of undocumented individuals coming to the U.S. from south of the border are comparable to the annual journey made by monarch butterflies crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.
“To migrate is to come and to go. That is my story. That is my history, and I think that is a lot of yours too,” Somay said. “We are just like those butterflies, coming from Mexico, coming back up here, coming back down. And you know what? The News-Press refuses to acknowledge that we are just as beautiful as those butterflies.”