Latinos' Calls for May 1 Boycott Cause Rifts

Organizers of the recent immigrant marches are promoting May 1 as a national Latino boycott day. But the call to skip school, work and shopping on "Workers Day" has caused a rift within the Latino community.

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Some organizers of the recent immigrant rallies are having second thoughts about staging a national boycott on May 1st. It's been billed as a day when immigrants across the country would stay home in response to Congress' tough talk on illegal immigration. But as NPR's Mandalit del Barco reports, many immigrant advocates now worry that a boycott will hurt their cause.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO reporting:

Broadway Avenue in downtown LA is brimming with immigrants working at factories and offices, shopping at cut-rate stores. This is where 18-year-old Greg Pasquale(ph) flips burgers at Jack in the Box. But he plans to skip work on May 1st in honor of his Guatemalan parents. He says everyone else he works with will boycott, too.

Mr. GREG PASQUALE (Boycott Supporter): Nobody is going to work right then. Nobody.

DEL BARCO: What do you think the message will be if everybody didn't go to work, didn't go to school, didn't buy anything or sell anything that day?

Mr. PASQUALE: That they won't make no money. Only Hispanic people clean bathroom, wash everything. I don't think white people are going to clean the bathroom. If they lose a couple of billions, they are going to realize how important immigrants are.

DEL BARCO: Peter Kamel(ph) is a 25-year-old computer programmer who immigrated here from Kenya. He said he supports the concept, but he can't afford to boycott work.

Mr. PETER KAMEL (Boycott Supporter): Well at work, we've got probably two Africans and all the rest are white, so I probably get fired, so I don't want to do that. (Laughter)

DEL BARCO: Already workers in Chicago, Dallas and other cities report being fired for leaving work to participate in immigrant demonstrations. Officials are warning students not to be truants. State Senator Gloria Romero says she understands that some may be afraid to give up a day of work or school.

Senator GLORIA ROMERO (Democrat, California): Largely, immigrants live in the shadows, so there are some very strong risks for them.

DEL BARCO: But, she says, immigrants need to demonstrate their economic power and to influence lawmakers in Washington. Romero helped draft a resolution calling for the California Senate to recognize the boycott.

Senator ROMERO: What would it be like to have the richest nation on this earth to one day stand up to say, see if you can function without my participation?

DEL BARCO: It's improbable that the entire economy will come to a standstill on May 1st, but that's exactly what happened in the satirical film, A Day Without a Mexican.

(Soundbite of music)

DEL BARCO: The premise is that every Latino in California mysteriously disappeared. Suddenly there are no more nannies, gardeners, restaurant workers, housekeepers. No more Latino celebrities, or baseball players. No one to pick the fruits and vegetables.

(Soundbite of movie A Day Without a Mexican)

Unidentified Woman: With no one in the field, cannaries, and meatpacking plants, the hunt for groceries has escalated.

DEL BARCO: The film ends with Americans begging the Mexicans to come back to work, something the boycott organizers dream of. But there's also a strong fear that the boycott will backfire, making immigrants seem anti-American. The backlash is already apparent to anyone who watches CNN Anchor Lou Dobbs, who recently read letters from his viewers.

Mr. LOU DOBBS (Anchor, CNN): And Devon in Missouri, “The idea of a day without illegal immigrants on May 1st is a fabulous idea. I wonder what we can do to get them to extend it to a full year?”

DEL BARCO: Even immigrant advocates are divided over the tactic of a national boycott. In L.A., for example, union leaders, community organizers and the Cardinal are asking immigrants to attend peaceful protests after work and school. During a press conference in LA yesterday, popular radio DJ Renan Almendares Coelloand and Cucuy De La Manana urged them to consider alternatives. He was translated by United Farm Workers' co-founder Delores Huerta.

Mr. CUCUY DE LA MANANA (Radio DJ): (Foreign Language Spoken)

Ms. DELORES HUERTA (Co-Founder, United Farm Workers): (translating) I personally cannot support any type of a strike because when we do have strikes, what they do is they create chaos.

DEL BARCO: Although El Cucuy and others don't agree with the strategy, they do want immigrants to keep up the momentum of their large demonstrations across the country. Back in downtown LA, 52-year-old Abdulia Aguierez(ph) says her children's elementary school will be closed to support the boycott, and that day she will not be selling jeans at the garment factory where she works. She says the owner, Korean immigrants, are calling off work in honor of the boycott.

Ms. ABDULIA AGUIEREZ (Boycott Supporter): (Foreign Language Spoken)

DEL BARCO: Aguierez predicts that on May 1st, the streets of downtown L.A. will be empty. Mandalit del Barco, NPR News, Los Angeles.

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