Two weeks ago, Anna Shelton was a 23-year-old University of Memphis student with a self-proclaimed lack of political involvement.
She thought of most issues, including immigration, as something that affected other people.
The faces of children who had been separated from their parents at the U.S. border woke her up, she said.
She went online and learned about the national Families Belong Together march, and noticed Memphis didn’t have a local event registered. So she signed the city up.
In front of a crowd of nearly 500 people at Gaisman Park on Saturday, Shelton said she felt guilty that it took what she sees as extreme immigration tactics to motivate her to be involved. She knew she could no longer dismiss what was happening as someone else’s problem.
“As a white person, I know this is all too easy,” she said of the temptation to turn away.
Shelton partnered with Latino Memphis to host the rally Saturday, one of hundreds held across the country in protest of President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy.
Under the shade of trees and with a backdrop of children climbing and swinging on a playground, Memphians called for families who had been separated at the border to be reunited and to limit indefinite detentions of those families.
They carried homemade signs with sayings like “Abolish ICE,” referring to the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, “This is about children, not our politics,” and, “You can’t claim family values if you don’t value families.”
Marisol Padilla, a former teacher who taught English as a second language, said she learned when she was a child that she was undocumented.
“All I knew was I was just like everyone else at my school,” Padilla said.
Her students, she said, were often too afraid of their parents being deported to focus on their school work.
“They could sense the possibility of losing their parents,” she said.
Mauricio Calvo, executive director of Latino Memphis, said fear is likely what kept many Latino families away from the rally Saturday. Despite the hundreds in attendance, in a neighborhood with a large Latino population, the crowd was mostly white.
By Jennifer Pignolet for COMMERCIAL APPEAR
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