Coordinating Flags at Immigration Marches

Commentator Daniel Hernandez reflects on why it matters what kind of flag people are holding at immigration rallies across the nation.

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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

Red, white and blue — red, white and green. Flags have played a prominent role in the immigration protests over the past weeks. In many of yesterday's marches, American flags were everywhere, a calculated move by march organizers. At other demonstrations, particularly early on in the current debate, Mexican flags were common. Here's Cardinal Mahoney dispensing advice to people in crowds at a march in Los Angeles yesterday.

ROGER MAHONEY: So I'd like to request that unless you have an American flag, that you roll up flags from other countries and do not use them because they do not help us get the legislation we need.

NORRIS: Commentator Daniel Hernandez is a writer with the LA Weekly. He's a MexicanAmerican, and he thinks when immigrants carry their home flags, the reason is fairly benign.

DANIEL HERNANDEZ, Host:

With all these marches going on, I've been thinking a lot about the use of flags. They've been used as banners, capes and headbands. One flag in particular has got people talking. Red, white and green with that eagle and snake in the middle. Mexican flags were flapping all over the United States in the marches. Organizers have asked the protestors to put their Mexican flags away, and, for the most part, they responded. But still, the flags are out there, and they remain a target of criticism.

Why should we embrace immigrants if they see themselves first as Mexicans and not as Americans? The truth is the flags point to a more complicated reality. Look closely at images from the marches. Early on, it was mostly young MexicanAmericans, people born in the U.S., who carried the Mexican flag, and it was mostly immigrants, the people from Mexico, who carry the stars and stripes.

Immigrants are eager to embrace the fundamental concepts that the U.S. flag represents, but to the younger marchers, the Mexican flags are like a defense strategy. I remember the feeling. Many of us U.S.-born Mexican-Americans grew up with an unease about our place in the world, too Mexican to be American and too American to be Mexican.

We were neither from here nor from there. In high school, carrying a little red, white and green every now and then was my mini rebellion, but something has changed in the past weeks. While early in the movement, some were chanting que vive Mexico, lately, these same students are saying this is not a Latino issue, but an American issue.

Many young marchers have turned to saying that to honor immigrants honors the bedrock principles of American. I saw this in action when I followed a group of high-school students from Lynwood, a small city in southeast LA County as they marched to downtown Los Angeles on their day off from school. Not led by American flags and not by Mexican flags, the students chose to march behind a banner that depicted the globe and small paper flags from 30 countries.

We beat as one heart, the banner said. The United States is browning, and as the author Richard Rodriguez has noted, brown is what happens when all the colors are mixed. The students I've seen marching truly believe that their future will be brighter if everyone in the U.S. is treated with dignity and respect.

I saw this on Sunday, when members of my family, cousins from both San Diego and Tijuana, marched in downtown San Diego, singing, laughing and chanting, we are America. Empty multiculturalism to some, but from the mouths of the children of our nation's newest immigrants, it sounds like a siren call for a new America.

NORRIS: Daniel Hernandez is on staff at the LA Weekly.

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