A Flag-Waving Reality Check in Immigration Debate Critics of recent pro-immigrant demonstrations have remarked on the number of flags from other countries -- particularly Mexico -- at the rallies, versus American flags. But are there really that many foreign flags in the demonstrations? Mike Pesca does a reality check.
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A Flag-Waving Reality Check in Immigration Debate

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A Flag-Waving Reality Check in Immigration Debate

A Flag-Waving Reality Check in Immigration Debate

A Flag-Waving Reality Check in Immigration Debate

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Critics of recent pro-immigrant demonstrations have remarked on the number of flags from other countries — particularly Mexico — at the rallies, versus American flags. But are there really that many foreign flags in the demonstrations? Mike Pesca does a reality check.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

As we just heard, some onlookers didn't relish the sight of Mexican flags at the immigrant rights rallies. They claim the flags were anti-American. So, just how many of these foreign flags were out yesterday? We sent DAY TO DAY's Mike Pesca out to do some counting of his own.

MIKE PESCA reporting:

Before we get to the symbols, an interesting word: vexillology. The study of flags. These days, everyone's a vexillologist.

Mr. JACK CAFFERTY (Reporter, CNN): My question is what exactly, what service are you doing for your community by running around through the streets carrying Mexican flags and advocating on behalf of people who are breaking this nation's laws?

PESCA: That was CNN's in house curmudgeon Jack Cafferty yesterday before the rallies were in full swing. Last night, the network newscasts and FOX's special report with Brit Hume all led with the marches. They were replete with images and sometimes words about flags. On ABC, Dan Harris reported from New York.

Mr. DAN HARRIS (Reporter, ABC News): Medina, like many people here is carrying a Mexican flag. He says I don't need to carry an American flag for people to know that I want to be an American.

PESCA: But the accompanying shot of Medina draped in a Mexican flag was out of the norm last night. There were many more American flags on television. Combined, the four newscasts had 118 separate shots, which featured at least one image of a flag. Of these 118 shots, the vast majority, 82, were shots that had pictures of only an American flag, or mostly American flags. NBC had the lowest ratio of American flags, including five shots of just foreign flags. FOX had the highest percentage of shots which featured only American flags, and that's not counting the omni present flag under the FOX logo. FOX also had this report from William LaJeunesse, noting the lack of foreign flags in Phoenix.

Mr. WILLIAM LAJEUNESSE (Reporter, FOX News): The most visible difference here today: no Mexican flags. Those who brought them were told to put them away.

PESCA: What was true for Phoenix was also true for other cities. Organizers were making a concerted effort to have marchers carry American flags. In Los Angeles, Cardinal Roger Mahoney advised the crowd:

Cardinal ROGER MAHONEY (Archbishop, Los Angeles): That you roll up flags from other countries and do not use them, because they do not help us get the legislation that we need.

PESCA: The crowd apparently took heed, as NPR's Carrie Kahn counted flags at the Los Angeles rally.

CARRIE KAHN reporting:

American flags: 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20 American flags. Looks like they're winning the count. There's a, 21 American flags, 22, and a large Mexican flag.

PESCA: Revealing about a 20 to one ratio of American flags to foreign flags. New York was a little different from the other big cities with rallies. There were no instructions on what not to wave. As befitting a city that prides itself on its ethnic diversity and capitalistic intensity, there was Ed Shacob(ph), a native of Peru, selling flags at two bucks apiece. He stocked plenty of flags from Latin America, but was caught by surprise by which flags had already sold out.

Mr. ED SHACOB: Indian, French, some French come to the rally. El Salvador and other countries, so, this is like what I have, the small jumble I have now.

PESCA: And when you add up all the different countries, they combined selling more than the Americans?

Mr. SHACOB: Of course, if you have a whole bunch of different countries, you know, you have a whole bunch of different people just coming together.

PESCA: I conducted my own count at four randomly selected points in the rally.

Here's two American flags and one Mexican flag. Making it 15 and 17. To my right now--what is that a flag of?

Unidentified Man: This is from Haiti.

PESCA: Haiti. Thank you. Two of them.

The total was 64 American flags, 48 foreign flags. The foreign flags representing countries from Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia, and Africa. In the U.S., car lots and slot machines are frequently festooned with the flag. Nothing sells like the stars and stripes. Yesterday, thousands of immigrants seemed to have grasped that part of the American experience. Mike Pesca, NPR News, New York.

(Soundbite of music)

BRAND: You can follow NPR coverage of the immigration debate at our website. There are Q and A's on the economic and political impact of proposed changes to immigration policy, stories from the border and a lot more. Go to npr.org.

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