Over the weekend of Dia de los Muertos, several dozen people arrived at St. Joseph's Church in Fortuna. Sage was burned as two women adorned others with crowns of orange marigolds. Stories of ancestors, family and community were told in the darkness of 6 a.m.
Wearing red and orange flowers in her hair, Renee Saucedo greeted everyone with a jubilant smile and warm hug as she thanked them for coming. She then circled around with burning sage giving members of the group "la bendicion" or a blessing. Several minutes later, the small caravan of 30-40 people in support of Measure K, marched down Main St. and onto Highway 101 toward Eureka. The distance is roughly 20 miles between these two Humboldt County cities. The reason: a final effort to convince people to vote 'yes' for a sanctuary county.
"Our ancestors suffered and sacrificed themselves so that we may live. And today we are walking so that others may also live in peace. So that Humboldt County declares itself a sanctuary county. We will make our home a sanctuary for everyone," Saucedo said. "We have no permit. If the CHP stops us, we'll try to negotiate. But if they absolutely will not let us continue then we don't want to put anyone in the group in jeopardy. We don't want to do that today."
While the group proceeded to the highway, some worried about CHP officers, but they kept going while they lifted up their vibrant yellow signs with the words "Keep families together" on each side.
The group reached the edges of Loleta by sunrise. By then several highway patrol cars finally caught up to the group. It was a peaceful interaction, but still stressful for those who identify as undocumented. Despite the fear, many encouraged the group to keep going and to keep walking in a line as Saucedo waited behind to negotiate with CHP Officers Harvey and Burns.
"Right here is kind of one of the areas where there's really not much surface streets from here to Eureka," Officer Harvey said. "So if you were able to find some vehicles to kind of leap-frog people that'd be awesome."
Instead, the group reorganized. They took the nearest exit ramp onto Eel River Drive and then took that road to Hookton and upwards to a main street called Tompkins Hill Road. Eventually they made their way to College of the Redwoods, roughly 10 miles away from their end destination at the Humboldt County Courthouse in Eureka.
Sarah Torres, was skeptical about why the CHP asked them to take a different route. She also complained that they may have made the route longer and slightly more dangerous.
"I think they wanted to hide us and not have us as visible and they said it was for our safety but now we're actually walking in the lane of the road," Torres said. "Cars are having to pass us and go into another lane, the opposite lane. I think that's less safe."
The path had a slight incline which slowed the progression even more. And then, another car showed up.
It was Bruce Will, from Hydesville. He heard of the group’s journey and brought muffins, donuts and "cafecito". The turn of events was exactly what most needed to stay encouraged.
“Well we’re part of Fortuna Indivisible and we all agreed to support Measure K and we think you’re doing a very good thing by doing the march this morning. So we thought we’d help out a bit," Will said.
A new energy did form, of not just sugar and coffee, but of joy. Group members Xochi Cabrera and Brenda Perez started dancing, while smiles returned to their faces. There was still quite a walk to make it to Eureka, but support had helped their endurance.
As directed by CHP, the group used several carpools from College of the Redwoods to get to the edges of Eureka and then they got up again and kept walking forward. By the time the group made it to the Eureka Co-op they were applauded by other supporters waiting for their arrival. Soon after the final stretch to the courthouse would begin, but not without some celebratory chants.
Then the group advanced with new members as they marched toward the final destination of the Humboldt County Courthouse.
As they approached the steps of the courthouse, a mariachi band sounded off. A red offrenda with more orange marigolds and photos of relatives and ancestors was also present as volunteers passed out tamales to those who made the 20 mile trek. Holding back tears, Saucedo made her way to the front to make one more speech to rally the crowd.
“We will continue to walk from Fortuna to Eureka and beyond, together. Always together fighting injustice wherever we are, for whoever is facing it. Because that is our community in the Americas," she said. Afterwards others hugged her while singing with the mariachi band; a song of triumph- "Canta y no llores," which means sing and don't cry.
The journey was far from over, and the final voting on Measure K will start on Election Day. If the measure passes, Humboldt County will have another layer of sanctuary laws for undocumented immigrants living within the region.