Nashville's Hispanics Weigh Boycott, March

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With a national day of boycotts and demonstrations slated for May 1, Hispanics in Nashville debate the pros and cons of taking part in the immigrant rights movement.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

While rallies flourish in other parts of the country and even parts of Tennessee, there are no rallies on the streets of Nashville. That's because there was a divide among Hispanic business leaders, in particular about whether to support the economic boycott.

NPR's Audie Cornish reports.

AUDIE CORNISH: According to Yuri Cunza, the best way to see whether the Nashville immigrant community participated in today's economic boycott is to drive down a long boulevard called Nolensville Pike. He points out businesses left and right with padlocked doors.

YURI CUNZA: As you can see, some of these businesses, California Fashion, for instance, is closed. The two other Hispanic stores next to it are closed.

CORNISH: Cunza's head of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce here, which refused to endorse the boycott.

CUNZA: I don't think that necessarily closing a business is helping the overall cause, but I can see how they want to make it possible for their employees participate.

CORNISH: Cunza pops into one of the few restaurants that stayed open, the Mexican Grill. Owner Jose Gutierrez says his other four restaurants are closed, not because of the boycott but because of his staff.

JOSE GUTIERREZ: I mean, a lot of them told me that they weren't going to show up to work. And I said, well, if you don't show up to work here, you're going to risk your job because I don't agree with the way we're asking for things. And they're like, well, if I want to be supportive, I want to get together or I need to get together with everybody else that is doing the same thing.

CORNISH: Gutierrez says the calls for counter boycotts by commercial radio hosts such as local favorite Steve Gill are still ringing in his ears.

STEVE GILL, Host:

Pay attention to who's closed, who's operating with less workers today and make sure you avoid them. Let's boycott with our own money.

CORNISH: But another restaurant owner, Salvador Guzman, decided to stay home. Guzman says that although he waffled back and forth over whether to join in, in the end he sits in his living room today with his 13 stores and restaurants shuttered in order to make a statement. Guzman says he expects some of his local white customers will hold it against him, but he hopes most won't.

GUZMAN: Today we're closing because we need something, because our needs, we need from them, we need their support, we need their comprehension and we need the lawmakers to favor those reforms and then it will create the benefit for everyone.

CORNISH: Although Guzman and others disagreed with the leaders at the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce about the boycott, they say they will join the Chamber's next effort. The group is headed to Washington to try and meet with their Senator and the man leading the discussion on immigration reform in Congress, Nashville Republican Bill Frist.

Audie Cornish, NPR News, Nashville.

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