'Keep Mexicans in Mexico' comment stirs up controversy at rally
SALEM, Ore. -- It's exactly 1,050 miles from the Northeast Center St. overpass along Interstate 5 in Salem to the Mexican border.
About two-dozen people lined the overpass with American flags and signs on Saturday afternoon for Salem's slice of the big national movement this weekend against illegal immigration.
"We have compassion for the people coming here. But it's important they know they can't stay," said Cynthia Kendoll, president of Oregonians for Immigration Reform, the group that helped organize Salem's event. "They need to return to their home countries."
Most of the protesters trying to get drivers to pay attention were white and American-born, except for a man named Ryan Trasad.
Trasad is an immigrant himself who came to the United States 40 years ago from the Fiji Islands, closer to New Zealand than America.
"I don't think anybody I've talked to is against immigrants," said Trasad. "We're a land of immigrants. We know that."
Trasad probably did not talk much with a woman named Laura Cole, who was at the same protest on the overpass with her husband and 4-year-old son.
"I want to keep Oregon the way it is, the people that make up this town" said Cole.
When asked what she meant by that, Cole answered she wants to "keep Mexicans in Mexico. Keep European-Americans here, where we are, in our homeland... I think it's OK for us to be proud that this is our territory."
Officially, the protest was only supposed to be objecting to illegal immigration, not all kinds of immigration.
It only took a few minutes for word to spread among the protesters about Cole's comments during our recorded television interview.
Cynthia Kendoll, the group's organizer, approached our crew to distance herself from Cole's opinions.
"I heard through multiple other people that a woman made a remark that the United States should remain white, and other people should go back to their home countries," said Kendoll. "The message of our organization is if you want to come to the United States, there are legal channels to do so."
Kendoll knows fringe messages of intolerance can seep in awfully easily.
For example, after drivers passed below the official protest on I-5, they approached another group of people with an even larger sign on the next overpass.
The large banner said, "Diversity is code-word for white genocide," which represents a group opposing all forms of diversity.
"A small element of it does shade what we're trying to do," said Kendoll. "We are a nation of people who have immigrated here to build our country."