Reactions from the Sidelines of an Immigrant March

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Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators marched in cities across the nation on Monday to press for expanded rights for illegal immigrants and against proposed legislation in Congress that would crack down on illegal immigration. Ted Robbins reports from Tucson, Ariz., about reactions from people who watched a march through their city from the sidelines.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand. Until yesterday, the United States had never seen such an outpouring of support for immigrant rights. Hundreds of thousands of people marched in cities across the nation. Many wearing white t-shirts, waving American flags, and holding up banners saying "We Are America." How did it play with the people who watched from the sidelines? NPR's Ted Robbins spoke with onlookers in Tucson, Arizona.

TED ROBBINS reporting:

About 15,000 people marched peacefully in support of immigrant rights in Tucson, but a small fight broke out when a couple of counter protestors watching from the sidewalk lit a Mexican flag on fire. A bit of a microcosm of southern Arizona, which has a large number of Hispanics of Mexican origin, as well as some of the most vocal opponents of illegal immigration. Most people, of course, just went about their business Monday. Patricia Vahorquez(ph) works as a flower designer, but Monday her heart was with the marchers.

Ms. PATRICIA VAHORQUEZ (Flower Designer): The Mexican immigrants are probably a lot of the backbone of this country. I mean, it was Mexico to begin with.

ROBBINS: Does it surprise you that they're, that they're marching?

Ms. VAHORQUEZ: Yes and no. It's about time. They should have done that a long time ago.

ROBBINS: But high school student Jonathan Bates said he just didn't get it.

Mr. JONATHAN BATES: It's kind of weird.

ROBBINS: Really, why?

Mr. BATES: I mean, they're waving Mexican flags in the United States, and if they're going to do that, they shouldn't be here. But they don't think they're worthy enough to be here, then they should just go back home.

ROBBINS: And what about those who are waving American flags today marching for immigrant rights?

Mr. BATES: I don't know, I didn't really see. I don't really watch the news.

ROBBINS: Bates said he knew students who marched, and he thinks their motives were suspect.

Mr. BATES: I don't know. I just think they're looking for a way to get out of school.

ROBBINS: At a local lube and oil change shop, customer Jenny Medine said regardless of why people went, by showing solidarity, they accomplished something.

Ms. JENNY MEDINE: I mean, they're raising consciousness. They're raising our consciousness, and they're raising their own consciousness. They're making themselves happy.

ROBBINS: Most people we spoke with, though, were like John Romero, another customer waiting for his oil to be changed.

Mr. JOHN ROMERO: I'm at work, had to change my oil.

ROBBINS: But on Monday, he had to wait three times longer than usual for that oil change, because all but two of the workers at this shop took the day off to march. Ted Robbins, NPR News, Tucson.

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