'Si Se Puede' Moves a New Immigrant Generation Hundreds of thousands of immigrants, activists and their supporters filled the streets of cities across the United States with shouts of "Si, se puede!" ("It can be done!") -- a phrase from the Chicano movement of the 1970s, now motivating a new generation.
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'Si Se Puede' Moves a New Immigrant Generation

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'Si Se Puede' Moves a New Immigrant Generation

'Si Se Puede' Moves a New Immigrant Generation

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

From California to Illinois to New York, the marches had one thing in common, a chant, Si Se Puede, Yes You Can. As NPR's Mandalit del Barco reports many pro-immigration marchers are looking for something else to say.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO reporting:

In LA, demonstrators took the streets wearing white t-shirts and waving the U.S. flag, and they provided their own soundtrack.

(Soundbite of protestors chanting in foreign language)

DEL BARCO: Si, Se Puede, which means in Spanish, it can be done. Those three words chanted in four-four time--si, se puede--were everywhere. Shouted not only by Latinos, but by Russian immigrants, Philippino-Americans, Koreans. It seemed everyone had their own version. Maria Arroyo(ph), a tenant organizer who was born in Guadalajara, was there chanting along.

DEL BARCO: You know the origins of that chant?

Ms. MARIA ARROYO: I believe there's a (unintelligible) that came out with that.

DEL BARCO: You think it's about time for a new chant?

Ms. ARROYO: Well, to be honest with you, what else can you say? You know what I mean? Yeah, you can do it. You know like, hey we have a power, we can do it, we can make it.

DEL BARCO: Arroyo remembers using the United Farm Workers rallying cry since her days in the Chicano movement in the 1970s. Now, the chant is used for just about every cause, like raising wages for janitors and stopping the war in Iraq. The Bus Riders Union uses the phrase to demand better public transportation, but they also have their own drum and chant crew that comes up with creative slogans for every occasion. Carla Gonzalez is one of the union organizers.

DEL BARCO: Everybody's chanting Si, Se Puede all the time. You seem to have something new.

Ms. CARLA GONZALEZ: They go (foreign language sung).

DEL BARCO: What does that mean?

Ms. GONZALEZ: Where is all the INS service supposed to put us, basically.

DEL BARCO: So you're taunting them to come here?

Ms. GONZALEZ: Well, no, not taunting, but just letting them know that we're united and they're--you know we're like, you know, where are you?

(Soundbite of protestors chanting in foreign language)

Mr. MAURICIO MERCIA(ph): The people united will not--will not be divided. It's a very--that's a chant for Che Guevara, which is a revolutionary slogan.

DEL BARCO: Mauricio Mercia went to the march with his wife, Edna(ph), and their eight-year-old daughter, Kimberly(ph). He says the rallies here are even bigger than the ones he remembers during El Salvador's civil war in the 1980s.

DEL BARCO: In El Salvador, when they --when you've gone to the marches, are they really different? I mean, do people hold up the flags and wear white t-shirts and chant Si, Se Puede?

Mr. MERCIA: No, the ties were different, also. We saw the American flag, but we saw it being burned. And then--now we're part of this crowd; we love this country. People were more violent; the country, of course, there is not that much freedom of expression like we have here, freedom of speech. There where you--where you come out of the crowd like this you will fear for your life. Here, you are--you feel safe, you can say whatever you want.

DEL BARCO: College student Carlos Jimenez(ph) was comfortable enough to hold up a sign urging immigration agents to deport Austrian immigrant, and now California Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

DEL BARCO: You think it's about time to have a new chant?

Mr. CARLOS JIMENEZ: Well, this one's worked so far, so stick with what works.

DEL BARCO: Most of the demonstrators seem to agree, but there were a few possible contenders for a new slogan for the new movement. Twenty-three-year-old Erin Nopolous(ph) held a sign with a green space alien that read We Come In Peace; and forty-nine-year-old Lilia Calindo(ph) held a sign with a message to a certain CNN news anchor with was an anti-illegal immigrant (unintelligible).

Ms. LILIA CALINDO: Lou Dobbs, eat your heart out. We will win.

DEL BARCO: Mandalit del Barco, NPR News, Los Angeles.

(Soundbite of music)

CHADWICK: And there's more coverage of the mass rallies, plus analysis of the political and economic consequences of changes to the nation's immigration policies. That's at our website, npr.org.

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