Dozens of people gathered Thursday at César Chávez Park in San Diego to begin the seventh annual march to call for justice and equality for the immigrant community.
This year the march will commemorate the principles of Chavez, a legendary leader who 50 years ago founded United Farm Workers, which struggled in farms and cities to gain basic rights for migrant workers.
The "Marcha Migrante VII, a Walk with César" also will raise awareness of this year's presidential election and encourage the community to participate by registering and voting.
"Our struggle continues. We never know what action will lead to change. That's why every step we take is important," said Enrique Morones, the founder and director of Border Angels, which organized the march.
The event began on Feb. 2, known in Mexico as "Día de la Candelaria," a family and religious celebration, and also the date the Treaty of Guadalupe was signed in 1848, ending the U.S.-Mexico War.
The fifty vehicles left in a caravan for the Holtville Cemetery, where they will pay tribute to those "not forgotten," immigrants who perished in their attempt to reach the "American dream."
An estimated 700 unidentified migrants have been buried there.
Then the activists plan to travel to Yuma, Los Angeles, Bakersfield, Stockton, Modesto and Sacramento before returning to San Diego on Feb. 10. They plan to end the march a day later at Friendship Park located on the border.
People of varying ages from both sides of the border participated in Thursday's opening ceremony.
Three students from the Mueller Charter School in Chula Vista asked permission to attend the event and, holding a banner that demanded an end to the deportations, made their voices heard.
"We're here to support this because we have friends whose parents were deported to Mexico and can't return to be with their kids," said 13-year-old Adrián Aviña.
A record 396,906 undocumented immigrants were deported in fiscal year 2011, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Of those, around 33,000 were expelled from San Diego, nearly double the 18,000 deported in 2010.
The march participants took note of those numbers.
"It's time to demand a stop to the deportations, a stop to separating families," said Rosa Posadas, of the group Unión Guatemalteca.
"It's time that the Hispanic workforce is valued; we're not criminals. We're people who came to work, to support this country's economy."
Former state senator Denise Ducheny agreed with that sentiment.
"We need fair immigration reform," said Ducheny, a Democrat running for the 51st Congressional District. "If we help the immigrant community we can promote economic development, whicg benefits our region."
Carmen López, Voter Outreach Coordinator at the San Diego Registrar's Office, stressed the importance for the community to participate in this year's elections.
"There are many issues that affect Latinos, immigration, education, employment," she said. "Voting is our opportunity to take part in country's decisions."
López predicted Latinos would vote in significant numbers this year, noting that there's been an increase in the number of Hispanic women registering to vote.
She said that 51 percent of 18-year-olds in California were Latino.
See photo gallery of the rally to begin march here.