People line the Reflecting Pool as they attend a rally to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jon Elswick)

Latino leaders push for civil rights at March on Washington 50th anniversary

Five decades after Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his seminal “I Have a Dream” speech, Latino leaders are standing in the same spot to call for civil rights for Hispanics.

Prominent leaders like National Council of La Raza’s Janet Murguia and Voto Latino’s Maria Teresa Kumar addressed thousands gathered at the Lincoln Memorial to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and call for greater Latino civil rights including equal voting rights and immigration reform. In addition to prominent Latino speakers, organizations like LatinoJustice, National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, NCLR, Voto Latino and League of United Latin American Citizens mobilized Latinos to attend the rally.

Angel Cabrera, President of George Mason University, took the stage early Saturday to call for equal access to education.

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“Thousands of young men and women are denied an education…because they may not be rich enough, because they may not be documented enough,” Cabrera said. “Dr. King said injustice anywhere is a threat to justice anywhere. I say the time to break down the barriers to education is now. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for education. The American Dream is not a destination- it is a struggle. Mucha suerte a todos.”

Voto Latino President and CEO Maria Teresa Kumar  joined civil rights leaders and called on leaders to expand Latinos’ access to the polls and a path to citizenship for aspiring Americans.

“I am honored to join the Rev. Al Sharpton, Martin Luther King, III, Tom Joyner, Janet Murguia, Ben Jealous and so many others, to not only commemorate a landmark event that happened 50 years ago, but to also give voice to the opportunities our nation can build on if it were to only tap the full potential of American Latinos,” said Kumar in a press release.

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She also said that although there has been progress for Latinos, some of the challenges civil rights activists pressed for fifty years ago are still at stake, including voting rights. For the United States to capitalize on the talents of the Latino community, Kumar argues that Hispanics must be treated equally. Without reform and more specifically a path to citizenship, she says that the 11 million aspiring Americans will be forced to be a permanent second class in our nation.

“Fifty years ago the March on Washington galvanized a nation and a Congress to pass the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965, a law that expanded democracy in America, but which the Supreme Court gutted earlier this summer,” Kumar continued. “Today, millions of Americans’ ability to vote is at stake, including that of Latinos. It’s up to us to own this moment and do what was done in 1963: Galvanize a nation, united in the belief that every American, regardless of their age or race, must have equal, unrestricted access to the polls.”

Cid Wilson at the March on Washington

Cid Wilson at the 50 anniversary of the March on Washington

Cid Wilson, an Afro-Latino Dominican-American says he headed down to DC from New Jersey because he is “a beneficiary of the civil rights movement.” He credits the work of civil rights leaders in the 1960s with his freedoms today.

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“Latinos stand on the shoulders of many of the sacrifices made in the civil rights movement. When you look at everything from the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act, all of that federal legislation has resulted from the Civil Rights Movement,” Wilson says.

For Wilson, who sits on the board of directors of National Council of La Raza and LatinoJustice, today’s march is not just a time to commemorate the work of the past but a time to continue pushing for reform for the future.

“We are seeing remnants of Jim-Crow-like laws, voter suppression, immigration. A lot of this other legislation is specifically targeted to suppressing voting rights and the civil rights of Latinos,” he says. “We stand here together today to say we are united.”

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