Immigration Activists Target U.S. Businesses in Mexico

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Pro-immigration activists are calling for a boycott of U.S. businesses in Mexico on May 1 as a show of solidarity with protesters in the United States. But critics say a boycott is the wrong strategy because many American businesses in Mexico support comprehensive immigration bills.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Mexican activists are calling on their countrymen to boycott American businesses on May 1st in solidarity with the pro-immigration campaign in the United States.

Reaction has been mixed in Mexico to the show of force displayed by Latinos in the U.S. Much of he media has given the demonstrations far less space than American media. For others in Mexico, what's happening across the border is a source of pride, as NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports from Mexico City.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO reporting:

The campaign is spread through word-of-mouth, editorials, and crucially, emails. One reads, quote, "What we are asking is that on May the 1st nothing gringo is bought." That's to say no Dunkin Donuts, McDonalds, Burger King, Starbucks, Krispy Kreme, Walmart, 7-11, the interminable list of American businesses in Mexico.

At a SuperRama Supermarket, which is a subsidiary of Walmart, Maria Jeaner(ph) buys her week's groceries. Though she regularly comes to shop here, she says she's received the email and she's going to honor the campaign.

Ms. MARIA JEANER (Mexican Resident): (Foreign spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: She says, I think this is incredible, because it's the first time that the whole country is stopping to think about the immigrants.

Editorial writer Rapheal Reece-Harrel(ph) has used his column in the free paper Metro to exhort Mexicans to participate in response to widespread marches in the United States.

Mr. RAPHAEL REECE-HARREL (Mexican Columnist): It would be a lack of solidarity not to march with them. Now, we cannot march in the United States, we are not there. But we have to tell them, we are with you. Let's fight together for justice. And one of those ways is to participate in the boycott.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's unclear, though, how many people will observe the boycott. And ironically the protest is targeting the U.S. business community, which is exactly the wrong group, according to Larry Rubin, the CEO of the American Chamber of Commerce in Mexico.

Mr. LARRY RUBIN (CEO American Chamber of Commerce in Mexico): The U.S. companies are the first ones to support a comprehensive immigration bill. It's like shooting yourself in the foot.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Rubin says that the U.S. companies that are members of his chamber employ a staggering 40 percent of the Mexican workforce too. So if they lose money, Mexicans are affected.

Although it looks like the focus is all on pressuring the U.S., the protest stateside and the reaction here do have Mexicans doing some soul searching too.

Mexico has always been conflicted over its massive migrant population. Even though migration has been a part of the Mexican experience for generations, some sectors of society viewed them as traitors who went away. But attitudes are changing here, says migration expert Gustavo Verduzco, from the College del Mexico.

Professor GUSTAVO VERDUZCO (College del Mexico): You can go to any corner in Mexico, and you have the migration phenomenon. People are more understanding of the other society. It's something that now has become much more familiar for the Mexicans living in Mexico.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And it has translated into migrants having more power inside the country. This year, for the first time, migrants residing outside are being allowed to vote in Mexican elections. Certain states have migrant representatives in local government.

Though there has been markedly less coverage here in the press of the American protests than in the U.S. media, migration is increasingly on the agenda. And some here are wondering why the Mexican government doesn't do more to address its causes.

Gustavo Verduzco says that up until now, politicians have only wanted to see the benefit of migration in the form of remittances, one of the largest sources of income for Mexico.

Professor VERDUZCO: We should be careful about the future in Mexico because of the losing of this labor force.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And as the spotlight is being turned on migrants in the U.S., Mexico is having to look at its own uncomfortable realities.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Mexico City.

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