Local News

Sunday, Sep 01 2013 06:00 PM

Sacramento to Bakersfield -- a pilgrimage for citizenship

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Cal State Bakersfield sociology professor Gonzalo Santos, one of the 15 pilgrims in the Pilgrimage for a Pathway to Citizenship march, speaks to those assembled in front of Rep. Kevin McCarthy's Bakersfield office.

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  2. 2 of 5

    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    The fifteen marchers for the Pilgrimage for a Pathway to Citizenship, lead the way to Rep. Kevin McCarthy's Bakersfield office.

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  3. 3 of 5

    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    The Rev. Lindi Ramsden, executive director of the Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry, organizes those who showed up on Truxtun Avenue to support the pilgrims.

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  4. 4 of 5

    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    The marchers say a prayer after arriving at Congressman Kevin McCarthy's office. At left is Andrew Vue and center is CSUB Sociology Professor Gonzalo Santos. Woman on right is unidentified.

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  5. 5 of 5

    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Participants in the Pilgrimage for a Pathway to Citizenship placed their shoes at a makeshift altar in front of Rep. Kevin McCarthy's Bakersfield office.

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BY STEVE LEVIN Californian staff writer slevin@bakersfield.com

The first glimpse of the pilgrims came when they topped a short rise on the sidewalk along the southwestern side of Truxtun Avenue west of Empire Drive.

They were reaching the end of a 285-mile walk from Sacramento to the office of U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, at Suite 150, 4100 Empire Drive. The pilgrims had walked for 21 straight days to reach Bakersfield at 11:40 Sunday morning.

Called "Pilgrimmage for a Pathway to Citizenship," their walk was designed to keep attention focused on immigration reform and specifically on McCarthy's critical role as House Majority Whip, and any vote on a bill that would offer immigrants a chance at citizenship.

The pilgrimage was a precursor to Monday's planned Interfaith Community Action gathering from 4-6 p.m. at the Fox Theater, which is expected to draw several thousand people from around the state.

Sunday, however, was a celebration of the walkers, who ranged in age from 18 to 63, and were of various nationalities and religious faiths.

At a ceremony in front of McCarthy's office at a makeshift altar decorated with candles, iconic art and a woven American flag, each pilgrim symbolically left his or her tennis shoes.

"Even though we are full of blisters and ache...we come to realize our pain is nothing compared to the pain of torn families," said Gonzalo Santos, 63, a professor of sociology at California State University Bakersfield who was one of the pilgrims.

He said he made the decision to join the walk after hearing some of his students tell stories about their parents being deported.

McCarthy's refusal to meet with the pilgrims, or attend Monday's gathering, Santos said, is "the arrogance of power."

"We are here and he did not show up to listen," Santos said. "We are coming. We are not stopping. We are not going away."

The majority of the 15 pilgrims were not from McCarthy's 23rd District. Enrique Bravo and his wife, Vicky, are from Costa Mesa. Both made the trek, and when they were reunited with their four children after the ceremony, all six hugged in a circle and cried.

While Bravo said he and his wife made the walk to honor the estimated 11 million immigrants in the country without authorization, it was also to honor his family.

"I feel my family is united more than ever now," said Bravo, 43, who left his job as an electrician to make the walk.

For Diana Campos, 19, of Sacramento, the walk was personal. She had been accepted into the Berklee College of Music in Boston for the 2012-13 academic year, but could not attend: As an undocumented alien she was not eligible for financial aid.

"I felt like a citizen," said Campos, whose parents came to the country from Mexico when she was 1. "It's a horrible feeling when you realize you're not being treated as a human being."

The walkers' daily schedule was as regimented as it was grueling. Wake-up was 3:45 each morning. After breakfast and prayers, they were walking by 5. They averaged between 10 and 18 miles each day, stopping at noon for lunch and rest, before attending public events in the evening about immigration reform. The final leg of their walk began Sunday in Shafter.

Imam Shakeel Syed, executive director of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California, was another pilgram. He recounted how farmworkers shared grapes with the marchers, but then would hide their faces or refuse to be photographed.

"This walk was very special because we were able to meet with actual people whose lives are under chilling conditions," Syed said.

They were met at the end of their trek by members and supporters of PICO California, a consortium of 19 nonprofits made up of some 400 religious institutions, schools and neighborhood groups.

Rev. Lindi Ramsden was among the 100 supporters. The executive director of the Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry has been a part of immigration issues since the Sanctuary movement of the early 1980s. She called the country's current immigration policy "destructive."

"I don't think real security comes from higher fences," she said. Real security, she said, comes from successfully dealing with economic, social and environmental issues.

"People recognize the important role Representative McCarthy has to play in this discussion for the whole state, and for the whole country."

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