Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com
Hundreds of laborers, union representatives, immigrants, and activists gathered at city halls in Boston, Revere, Everett, and Chelsea on Wednesday and marched together to East Boston’s Central Square in a spirited observance of International Workers Day, also known as May Day.
“Immigration is a human right,” they chanted. “Mr. President, get it right.”
Immigration issues edged out messages about workers’ rights in these communities with large immigrant populations, as this year’s May Day parade occurred against the backdrop of sweeping immigration reform legislation under consideration in Washington but also in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings.
The suspected bombers are ethnic Chechens who emigrated from Russia to Cambridge about a decade ago. Even as marchers filled the streets, two Kazakh students appeared in court on charges they disposed of evidence left behind by the younger Tsarnaev brother.
“Everywhere we go, people want to know, who we are, so we tell them, we are the immigrants, the mighty mighty immigrants,” the marchers chanted.
As the crowds passed through the streets of Chelsea and East Boston, chanting such pro-labor and pro-immigrant slogans, and carrying signs, banners, and flags, people along the parade route stopped to clap and cheer them on.
George Mousad, a mattress store owner originally from Egypt, turned a few heads when he stopped on Meridian Street in East Boston, clad in an ivory suit, a light tan straw hat, dark sunglasses, and a lavender tie and dress shirt.
Mousad said he was proud to be a US citizen and said, in an apparent allusion to the Marathon bombers, that in this country only those responsible for an action should suffer its consequences.
“It is the best country of any country on the planet,” he said of the United States. “God bless America forever and ever, amen.”
The crowd only grew as the marchers reached Central Square, where they observed a moment of silence in honor of those killed and hurt in the Marathon bombings, the first responders who helped to save lives, and those who die attempting to cross the border into the US.
During the rally, civic and religious leaders addressed the celebrants in Spanish and English, alongside ordinary workers and immigrants who shared their stories of struggle.
Steven A. Tolman, president of the Massachusetts AFL–CIO and a former state legislator, greeted the crowd in Spanish and then said in English that he and other labor leaders would stand together to fight for immigration policy reform.
“Too often, too many workers are stuck in the shadows of the workplace without any justice because of a broken immigration system in America,” Tolman said. “We are honored to stand with all of you to fight for a pathway to citizenship.”
Longtime activist Mel King told the crowd he hoped to see a day when instead immigrants, newcomers to the US would be known simply as neighbors.
“I want to throw the I-word out. Don’t say it again. Call yourself neighbors,” he said. “You’re my neighbor. You’re Obama’s neighbor. You’re everybody’s neighbor.”
For a gallery of photos from the march and the rally, click here.