Students protest immigration bill, celebrate Cesar ChA­vez

Pop-punk band The Ataris drew a large crowd during University Union Hour on Thursday, but found themselves sharing the spotlight unexpectedly with Cal Poly Mexa club students chanting, “Viva Cesar ChA­vez!”

Friday marked the fifth Cesar ChA­vez Day – the first and only day to celebrate a Mexican-American in the United States. More than 30 students marched into the UU with signs that proclaimed, “Si se puede!” (Yes we can!) and “Viva ChA­vez!”

“People don’t even know why we have a day off,” said Lia Hernandez, social science senior and president of Mexa, the Cal Poly club for Mexican-American students. She said the club was striving to spread awareness of not only the significance of Cesar ChA­vez, but also the pending immigration bill, H.R. 4437.

A bill that was introduced in December 2005, H.R. 4437 proposes stricter border security and punishment for the 11 million illegal immigrants residing in the United States. A 700-mile fence along the Mexican border and felony charges are some components of the proposed bill.

Mexa set up a large board in the UU that provided facts about H.R. 4437 as well as room for students and faculty to write their own thoughts on the issue.

Matt Neal, an aerospace engineering junior, and Gloeta Massie, a biology graduate student, were among the students observing the sign and discussing the implications of the bill.

“I’m upset about taxes,” Neal said, particularly in regard to the money United States citizens pay for schooling.

Massie was a little more sympathetic. She taught at Gonzales High School, approximately 20 minutes south of Salinas, where 97 percent of the students were Hispanic. She had been aware that many of them were illegal immigrants.

“This is the best solution so far,” Neal responded.

Despite the repercussions the bill would bring, Hernandez believes that it is important to remember the value of illegal immigrants currently in California.

“Half the farm workers in California are illegal immigrants – it doesn’t make sense to criminalize (them),” she said, adding that California is the leading state in the nation in terms of agriculture.

The bill has been protested nationally and locally. High school faculty and students throughout San Luis Obispo County rallied in opposition against the bill last week and 500,000 people congregated in Los Angeles on March 25 in support for immigrant rights.

But some students had different concerns on Thursday – namely that they could not hear the band they came to see.

“I’d prefer to listen to (The Ataris),” said Aaron Loomis, a fifth-year industrial technology student. “They did a bad job scheduling.”

“This is one of the best bands we’ve had during UU Hour. I wouldn’t mind (the protests) if The Ataris wasn’t playing,” Neal said.

Hernandez said the overlapping was not intentional; the club was merely trying to catch students’ attention at a time when the UU would have a crowd.

“We didn’t know a band would be playing until last night,” she said.

The Ataris guitarist John Collura was not at all bothered by the protests coming from across the UU during the band’s performance.

“This is what college is all about,” he said. “It’s a time to express anything you feel.”