When Gabriela Garcia recounted how she felt during the hour she spent in jail last Friday, April 4, she used the word “compassionate”; evidently, she bore no ill-will towards the policemen who arrested and further questioned her for her act of civil disobedience between Post St. and Montgomery St. downtown.
Garcia’s empathy for her prosecutors reflects the change of heart she wishes to see in society towards immigration reform, the reason behind why she got arrested.
Garcia, an international studies graduate and resident minister student, participated in the ‘Two Million Too Many’ demonstration, an organized protest march and speech meant to call to attention to the injustices immigrants face each day in America. Two million is a reference to the number of deportations that have taken place under the Obama administration.
On Wednesday April 2, Garcia, along with 23 other Mexican Americans from various immigrant coalitions, gathered to train for the event, where Garcia was prepared for the possible consequences of the demonstration. We were told to “expect the worst,” she said.
On the morning of the demonstration the meaning of this warning became clearer. “We were given a sharpie and the phone number of our attorney to write on our arm,” said Garcia, who knew she would most likely be calling that number from jail just a few hours later.
Garcia crossed the border from Mexico to California with her family when she was three years old. Now 23, Garcia is preparing to graduate from USF as an undocumented student and a DREAMER, which means she has been granted temporary residency in the U.S. and will become a permanent citizen upon her completion of college, in accordance with the provisions of the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act.
The DREAM Act is a proposed national bill that would allow undocumented youth to follow a six year-long conditional path to citizenship that requires completion of a college degree or two years of military service. Though the bill has not yet passed on a national level, the state of California passed its own version of the DREAM Act in 2011.
While Garcia has been granted temporary immigration status and rights due to the Deffered Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and DREAM Acts, millions of immigrants are currently facing deportation from the United States.
The “Two Million Too Many” demonstration was organized as a day of action against deportations.
Garcia both participated and spoke at the event, which was followed by Public Radio International, an American public radio organization. “We met [on Post St.] and there was music playing and the supporters [were all there] and I kept thinking in the back of my mind that in 30 minutes or less everybody’s going to get arrested,” Garcia said.
Before Friday morning Garcia knew that arrest was a possibility, but that morning she was notified that it was inevitable. “I was getting really nervous. I still have school, I still have work, so I was a mess — I was in a different world,” she said of her feelings before the demonstration.
Even though she knew what to expect, Garcia said she felt more liberated than fearful when she got arrested. “On a personal level, it was a moment of courage and a moment where I had to dig down deep and really see my own shame be stripped out of myself. It was a moment of liberation,” she said.
“The shame that gets attached to you with being undocumented and getting ‘othered’ makes you feel shame of yourself, and start thinking what’s different about me? You start internalizing those feelings that you’re nothing, but for that moment I liberated myself from that shame and I was present,” she said.
SFPD arrested 23 participators of the demonstration for violating traffic laws and failing to comply with police orders.
Garcia was the last in the group to be arrested and was placed in a police car by herself. “It was like a cage, and I was blank; that’s the moment it hit me what I had just done and I became angry and frustrated for the two million people that have been deported,” she said.
After an hour and a half, Garcia walked out of the SFPD Tenderloin Station with the plastic handcuffs the police had put around her wrists. “I walked out with the handcuffs and told my friend Lorena this is a symbol for me of my own oppression as a person and me being reminded every single day that I need to continue to fight and do more because this isn’t enough,” said Garcia. “For me, that was a moment when I took back my dignity.”
Garcia’s experience on April 4 further ignited her desire to move forward in raising public consciousness about immigrant oppression. “There’s a difference between changing your mind and at least becoming more conscious,” she said. “I was thinking about that anger [I felt] and I feel like everyone should have anger in the sense that how can we live in this world that is so broken with so many issues, and the moment I no longer have anger is the moment where I live in the world that my heart desires and it is that moment when your heart is awakened to the struggles of other people that you really cannot turn back you can’t be arrogant or ignorant anymore.”