May Day Was a Defiant Celebration of Migration

Images of the monarch butterfly were everywhere

By Heather Smith

May 2, 2017

Banner at May Day protest. Photo by Sam Murphy.

Photo by Sam Murphy

International Workers Day (also known as May Day) has its origins in the 1880s-era struggle for an eight-hour workday. Like everything, it's changed with the times. This year, with a president in power who blames immigrants for a decades-long decline in wages and job security, May Day celebrations across the U.S. chose to focus on the contributions that immigrants make to American society. In San Francisco, the May Day March was boisterous, defiant, and cheerful. Nature metaphors were everywhere, particularly images of the monarch butterfly, which notoriously flutters over the borders between Canada, Mexico, and the United States.

Many of the attendees had never been to May Day before, including the Sierra Club. The Club joined, in part, because the same trade agreements that are used to erode workers' rights are also used to reverse environmental protections.

Here are some of the other marchers, and the reasons why they came. 

  Frank Lara speaks at May Day protest. Photo by Sam Murphy.

Frank Lara, elementary school teacher: 

 "I've been coming ever since 2006, the first May Day that brought International Workers Day and immigration together. But I'm here also within the context of what Trump has been doing. Instead of having fear, the community is now mobilized." 

May Day protest. Photo courtesy of Chris Carlsson.

The May Day March in action | Photo courtesy of Chris Carlsson

May Day march. Photo by Sam Murphy.

  May Day march. Photo by Sam Murphy.


"I think it's important to be here as a U.S. citizen and an immigrant. I have to show up for people who can't." 

Poster at May Day Protest. Photo by Sam Murphy.

May Day march. Photo by Sam Murphy.

Carlos Barón:

"I'm here with my class, Latino Studies 435 at San Francisco State University—that's Oral History and Tradition. We built a Statue of Liberty and a statue of an immigrant that we're marching with." 

May Day march. Photo by Sam Murphy.

Drummers at May Day march. Photo by Sam Murphy.

Jeremy Vasquez. Photo by Sam Murphy.

Jeremy Vasquez:

"I'm a teacher at Mission High, and it's hard for me to teach my students without leading by example. Since the election, a lot of our students are scared for themselves and their families. We've had a drastic drop in attendance." 

Flag in front of SF City Hall. Photo by Sam Murphy.

Water is Life sign at May Day March. Photo by Sam Murphy.

Angela Rey. Photo by Sam Murphy.

Angela Rey:

"I'm a child of immigrants. My parents get discriminated against all the time.

This is the first time I've been to May Day. I've been working since I was 14, and I've never taken the day off. But I have friends who are undocumented. I teach piano to a 14-year-old immigrant from Turkey who is scared to visit her dad because she thinks she might not be allowed back. I'm here to stand up for them, the same way that those marines stood up for the people at Standing Rock."