Latino Community Divided over Boycott Plan

A day laborer in Annandale, Va., reads a boycott flier i i

A day laborer in Annandale, Va., reads a flier on April 29, 2006, for a nationwide boycott planned for May 1st. Alex Wong/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Alex Wong/Getty Images
A day laborer in Annandale, Va., reads a boycott flier

A day laborer in Annandale, Va., reads a flier on April 29, 2006, for a nationwide boycott planned for May 1st.

Alex Wong/Getty Images

To boycott or not to boycott? That's the question in the Latin community as Monday approaches. As Rob Schmitz of member station KQED reports, many are trying to discourage this particular form of protest.

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DON GONYEA, host:

From NPR News, this is WEEKEND EDITION. I'm Don Gonyea.

Whether or not to show up for work tomorrow is on the minds of millions of immigrant workers this weekend.

Many immigration advocates want to demonstrate the role of immigrant workers in the American economy with a massive, nationwide, one-day work boycott. But as KQED's Rob Schmitz reports, civic, church and media figures have delivered mixed messages which may affect the boycott's impact.

ROB SCHMITZ reporting:

To work or not to work. That, in Shakespearean terms, seems to be the question for many immigrants throughout the country leading up to May 1st.

Mike Lee, who owns a garment factory staffed by 30 Latino immigrants in Los Angeles, wants to know the answer.

Mr. MIKE LEE (Business Owner, Los Angeles): Two weeks ago we did a quick survey. Only four or five said they won't be coming to work. Monday we did another quick survey, and that number reversed. Five would show up, and 25 said they would boycott.

SCHMITZ: According to one of Lee's managers, results of subsequent surveys change day by day.

The workers' indecision is reflected among those jockeying to lead what has become an immigrant movement. One to 200 organizations have been involved in planning for the May 1st activities. Roughly half of them support the boycott. The other half agree with labor unions and church leaders that people should go to work.

(Soundbite of Spanish radio promo)

SCHMITZ: Even some of the Spanish-language DJ's who helped organize the March 25th rally in Los Angeles are backing off. For the past week radio station KLAX has aired patriotic promos such as this one, which features popular DJ El Cucuy asking people for forego the boycott in favor of a march through West L.A. that begins late that afternoon.

In the promo, El Cucuy reminds his listeners to bring an American flag, wear white shirts, and to remember that work is a blessing from God.

(Soundbite of Spanish radio promo)

SCHMITZ: El Cucuy's program director, Juan Carlos Hidalgo(ph), says his station's role in the recent rallies has become an important one, and he's trying to be careful with his newfound responsibility.

Mr. JUAN CARLOS HIDALGO (KLAX): If we are asking for reform, and we are saying that the reason that we come to this country is to work, I think it's a very wrong message not to go to work on Monday.

SCHMITZ: But many immigration advocates disagree.

Nativo Lopez heads Hermandad Mexicana, the group that organized the May 1st boycott. He says the media, and political and church leaders, what he calls hierarchies, are trying to stunt the growth of this movement.

Mr. NATIVO LOPEZ (Hermandad Mexicana Nacional): The dynamic here is really one that hierarchies are intervening to put the brakes on, impede, slow down this movement that basically began from the bottom. It began from the base, it began from the immigrants themselves.

SCHMITZ: Back at Mike Lee's garment factory in South L.A., Gloria Rodriguez(ph) supervises a worker making alterations on a dress. Rodriguez supports the boycott and says she feels betrayed by her favorite radio DJ's.

Ms. GLORIA RODRIGUEZ (Garment Worker): They're supposed to be our leaders, you know? They walked out with us when it was a march. Now, when we're doing this huge boycott, they don't want to support us. We don't care if they don't want to support us. We are the majority, you know, so our voices are going to be heard regardless whether they're there or not.

SCHMITZ: Rodriguez says she's taking her daughter out of school to celebrate the boycott as a family. She says she's lucky her boss supports her decision. He'll make do with whoever shows up on Monday. Other business owners, she says, might not be so sympathetic.

For NPR News, I'm Rob Schmitz, in Los Angeles.

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