Worries flew around Facebook that agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement might try to take people Saturday afternoon at the Lower Columbia Hispanic Council’s Heritage Celebration.
No, they will not, organizers adamantly assured everyone. Not at a party in the middle of downtown Astoria.
Council Chairwoman Rocio Simmons said later the celebration had one of the highest turnouts she has seen for any council event at the Astoria Event Center in the past few years.
But, organizers said, the anxiety on Facebook reflected very real fears in Clatsop County’s immigrant community — documented and undocumented alike — as they track immigration policies of President Donald Trump and his administration.
The Hispanic Council had considered canceling this year’s heritage celebration in light of current politics.
“There’s not much for the Hispanic community to celebrate this year,” said Jorge Gutierrez, the council’s executive director.
But, he and others ultimately concluded it was the right time to come together. Besides, the folk dance group had been practicing hard.
“This is a time where we need to be more united,” said Simmons, echoing what parents of children in the folk dance group told her when they heard the event might be canceled. “We need to celebrate our culture and show that we’re here. We need to remember our heritage, and just remember who we are.”
Earlier in the day, several dozen people associated with Indivisible North Coast Oregon and other regional activist groups rallied in support of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals near the Astoria post office. The program, which is being rescinded by the Trump administration, allowed about 800,000 immigrants who were brought to the United States as children to remain in the country.
Indivisible also hosted an “Immigration 101” training session led by the Rural Organizing Project before the heritage celebration. Presenter Keyla Almazan talked about national and statewide issues around immigration and documentation, as well as ways citizens can help and advocate for undocumented members of their community.
Laurie Caplan, a co-leader of the Indivisible group based in Astoria, said it made sense to hold these events on the same day as the cultural celebration.
“We’re showing our support,” she said.
Several teachers picked up signs and joined Indivisible at the rally.
“I see the faces of the kids who are afraid,” said Lisa Barile, a teacher who lives in South Bend, Washington. She traveled to the rally because, beyond the classroom, she is seeing firsthand the fear in her community. In the past several months, ICE has made a number of arrests on the Long Beach Peninsula and around Willapa Bay, where many immigrant and migrant families find employment in the seafood processing and oyster farming industries.
“I’m here to support my students and people like them,” said Jenni Newton, an Astoria High School teacher. She participates in activism like the rally when she can, aware that she is setting an example to her students.
“I want to show them there’s a peaceful way to be heard, and that I’m out here for them.”