How a radio station in Alabama is taking on the nation’s toughest anti-immigrant law (Part Two)
Yesterday, a crowd of about 3,000 - 4,000 crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama; Today, the Civil Rights activists continue on a week-long, 50-mile march from Selma to Montgomery. These marchers, some of them veterans of the original 1965 march for voting rights that took the same route, are not just commemorating history. They are fighting today's Civil Rights battle in Alabama, marching in protest of Alabama's anti-immigrant law HB 56, and Alabama's new voter ID law.
You can follow updates on the march on the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice's Facebook page (where I found this photo as well).
As the Civil Rights movement continues to build in Alabama this week, it is a fitting time to bring you part two of an interview with radio producer Orlando Rosa. Rosa's Spanish-language radio station La Jefa has become a critical organizing tool for the Latino community in Alabama since HB 56 went into effect. I spoke to him over the phone on February 14th, after Rosa and radio host Jose Antonio Castro had completed a 56 hour fast in protest of HB 56. (Read Part One of the interview here).
Q: Why is what's happening in Alabama significant to the rest of the United States?
A: HB 56 has sister laws, like the one in Arizona and the one in Georgia. But this one in particular has been the toughest one, violating simple civil rights that are in the Constitution of the United States. That’s why it’s making news nationally, even worldwide. When we were doing our Route 56, someone doing a radio station in Nicaragua wanted to speak to us because it was on their national news. Big radio chains contact us and want to know what's going on here because it is so important for the nation.
Q: Can you tell me a little bit about the organizing that is happening against the law, and do you think it is strong enough to get the bill overturned?
A: There is a lot of organizing against the law by community members and the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice. There’s a lot of good support from African American organizations like NAACP and other groups that have fought for civil rights. Together, they are all trying to give awareness to the whole community that this law is unconstitutional and needs to stop.
How do we see it being overturned? It is hard to say. A lot of the Hispanics are scared to leave their house to go protest; they’re scared of getting stopped or something. So it is kind of hard to organize a community when the law is so tough that it keeps people from even wanting to leave their house.
Q: How are you all trying to get around that?
A: Through radio. Not just because we work at the radio station, but it's been proven that radio has a lot of public influence in the decisions Hispanics make. They wake up in the morning with the radio; they're listening to the radio at their jobs. They're basically tuned in all day. We became more like an informative station, because we see that the Hispanic community needs to hear from us. We can tell by our social media: Our Facebook page at all times is blowing up with questions and worries from the community. We always try to get them information they need as fast as possible.
Q: What was it like to march in Selma and Montgomery [in November] where historically there have been civil rights protests over African Americans’ right to vote, and then to have Reverend Anthony Johnson of the Birmingham NAACP compare HB 56 to Jim Crow?
A: For us it was a privilege to be able to walk with Anthony. We became good friends because of this. You know, it's such a sad time to get to meet each other, but at the same time they give us a lot of hope and a lot of support that we never thought we would receive. It's overwhelming for us. To feel that support from organizations that have been here basically since the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama is definitely a great, great feeling.
Q: And have you seen any unlikely allies come forward, like former supporters of the bill who have changed their mind, now that they've seen the impacts.
A: Yeah, state senator Billy Beasley. He was very honest. He told us he signed it because of what his other colleagues were saying. They convinced him to sign it. But when he studied the law and saw that it truly was violating a lot of civil rights, he changed his mind.
When we did the big, big rally in Montgomery, we marched from the Capitol all the way down to the Governor's mansion. He walked with us, and he spoke. He basically told the 3,000 Hispanics out there that he's embarrassed of what he did and he apologizes. He's against it now, and he wants us to understand that he is on our side.
Q: Where do you see Alabama in say 10 years?
A: I hope that our prayers come true. We want the state to make a big change. And become “Alabama the beautiful” as it is so-called, you know? But, if this legislation and what's going on in Montgomery keeps on, it's going to be really hard to see something positive.
Q: Is there any thing else you want to add?
A: We're here to fight this. We're here to repeal HB 56.
You can listen to La Jefa radio 24/7 at www.aquimandalajefa.com, or locally on their three AM frequencies: 1500 in Alabaster, 1450 in Bessemer and Birmingham, and 620 in Huntsville, Athens, and Decatur.
Ada McMahon is a Media Fellow at Bridge The Gulf (www.BridgeTheGulfProject.org), a community journalism project for Gulf Coast communities working towards justice and sustainability. She previously worked as a blogger and online organizer at Green For All, a national non-profit that fights pollution and poverty through "an inclusive green economy". She is from Cambridge, Massachusetts, and currently lives in New Orleans, Louisiana.