A face-off Saturday in Baldwin Park over illegal immigration, sparked by a piece of public art, was peaceful despite authorities’ fears of violence.
Next to City Hall, where about 60 protesters opposed to illegal immigration waved signs and American flags, about 600 counter-protesters sang, danced, chanted and beat drums to urge tolerance.
“They were endangering themselves by being on the tracks,” said city spokesman Adan Ortega. Ventura County-based Save Our State has been pressuring the city for two months to remove inscriptions on an archway called “Danza Indigenas” at the Metrolink station. It staged a similar protest last month, which also was met with a large counter-protest. The group has acknowledged that it seeks to put pressure on the city to remove the monument by draining its resources through protests.
The group, which is opposed to illegal immigration, believes some of the monument’s engravings are anti-American, specifically, “It was better before they came” and “This land was Mexican once, was Indian and always is, and will be again.”
Save Our State supporter Henry Dias, a marketing director from San Dimas, said the artwork represented a “full-scale soft invasion” of California by immigrants from Mexico.
“Racist speech should never be paid for with tax dollars,” he said. The group believes the phrase, “It was better before they came” is meant as a slur against whites.
The group’s leader, 29-year-old Joseph Turner, said being vastly outnumbered did not bother him. Noting that providing police would be costly to the city and mutual-aid agencies that supplied reinforcements, Turner said, “Our aim is to make this painful. We want this to become expensive so that people will take notice.”
Scores of police from Glendale to Pomona joined Baldwin Park officers with batons and riot gear to keep the two sides far apart.
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Fred Alvarez, Los Angeles Times, June 27
As the insults flew and the protest reached a boil, Joseph Turner couldn’t help but smile.
The 29-year-old head of the upstart Save Our State organization had come to Baldwin Park to pick a fight over illegal immigration. He had led a band of like-minded souls into the heart of the city to protest public art they deemed “seditious and anti-American.” Part of a monument at the Metrolink station is inscribed “It was better before they came,” interpreted by some as a barb at whites who displaced California’s Mexican residents in the 19th century.
They got all of the fight they could handle. Hundreds of counter-protesters in the predominantly Latino city rose up to meet them, chanting “Go home, racists!” As news crews captured the clash, police in riot gear called for reinforcements.
“My goal is to continually keep this issue in the forefront of the American consciousness,” he added. “What makes our organization different is that we are not afraid to confront anybody about our beliefs.”
It’s not about writing letters or calling elected officials. Rather, the technique focuses on high-profile events that touch a nerve, make politicians sweat and bring the media running. Indeed, a second protest—and counter-protest—in Baldwin Park on Saturday also received media coverage.
“I call it a street-fighter mentality,” said Turner, a stay-at-home dad and Little League coach. “Too often our side has been reactive. I need to get rid of apathy and create activism.”
The group maintains a website where protests are promoted and strategies devised. The site, which has nearly 600 registered users, is visited by the opposition, often resulting in heated exchanges on its message boards. A link labeled the “Hall of Shame” features Latino leaders viewed by the group as soft on illegal immigration.
San Bernardino education consultant Gil Navarro is one of them, targeted because of his activism on behalf of Latino immigrants and his role as associate president of the Inland Empire chapter of the Mexican American Political Assn. He said he pays little attention to groups such as Save Our State.
“It’s a sad reflection on the United States of America that you have these individuals so devoted to creating emotional hysteria behind hating immigrants, specifically Latinos,” Navarro said. “We consider these individuals un-American. They’d probably prefer to overthrow the government for their cause.”
Turner said it angers him “when they say this land was stolen and it’s going to go back to Mexico,” Turner said. “You know what? You’re going to have to take me out first.”
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