From the Los Angeles Times
Cities’ Immigrants Spoke One Language This Time
Rallies attract more than a million people of varied nationalities across the U.S. The effect of the
economic boycott remains unclear. By P.J. Huffstutter Times Staff Writer
May 2, 2006
CHICAGO – More than a million people turned out for protest rallies across the country Monday,
sending a message to lawmakers as Congress continued to wrestle with overhauling the nation’s
In Chicago, the estimated 400,000 demonstrators included hundreds of people from Asia, Europe
and Central America.
“This is not just about Mexicans,” said Jose Delgado, 43, a construction worker from the Mexico
City area who took the day off. “It doesn’t matter what color your skin is or what language you
speak. It’s about all immigrants. My struggle, and my family’s struggle, is the same as what the Irish felt, what the Poles felt, what the Chinese felt. Now, we’re all in the same boat.”
In Denver, an estimated 75,000 people – equal to more than one-sixth of the city’s population –
marched through downtown. In Atlanta, thousands of immigrants gathered at the Capitol, where Gov. Sonny Perdue signed a bill last month that bars illegal immigrants from getting many
government benefits and penalizes employers who hire them.
In New York, people poured out of their buildings in the Washington Heights neighborhood to join a procession stretching 12 blocks, past rows of businesses closed for the day. Thousands of
people flooded Union Square in Lower Manhattan. Some carried signs: “Before we cleaned your
toilet, now we run our business.”
Organizers of Monday’s rallies had called on immigrants to walk off their jobs and avoid shopping.
But the effect of the economic boycott remained unclear.
Employers nationwide, in the days and weeks leading up to the protests, had wrestled with how
to respond. Some employers had threatened to dock absent workers’ paychecks. Other
companies, particularly those owned by or catering to Latinos, voluntarily shut their doors.
Construction sites in booming neighborhoods in Houston stood silent, while most of the carnicerias and taquerias were closed in Atlanta’s Latino neighborhoods along Buford Highway. About half of
the estimated 100,000 undocumented farm workers failed to show up in the fields and orchards
owned by members of the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Assn.
In Arizona, some immigrant activists originally had opposed the boycott. But after recent federal
raids on a wood-products company, the activists began urging employees to skip work. On Monday, a couple dozen people waved American flags outside of the shuttered Phoenix branch of the
IFCO Systems pallet company.
“A lot of people are afraid to even come out of their homes,” said Antonio Silva, 48, who works at a nearby storage company.
Most of Monday’s rallies were small compared to the marches in Los Angeles and Chicago. Some
Chicago activists attributed the large turnout to the fact that none of the leaders involved in the
rally here had called for a boycott.
“This isn’t about strikes. This is about solidarity,” said Tony Avalos, executive vice president of the Teamsters Hispanic Caucus.
Early Monday morning, hundreds of protesters milled about the expansive green lawns of Union
Park in the Windy City’s West Loop neighborhood. By the time the morning rush hour began, the
streets were packed.
As marchers held signs calling for amnesty for undocumented workers and an end to immigration
raids, they filled the air with chants of “we want to pay taxes” and “we want to own homes.”
Often the words were in Spanish. One group of protesters, huddled against the cold, switched
between Spanish and their native Polish.
Nearby, gathered beneath an Irish flag snapping in the wind, members of the Chicago Celts for
Immigration Reform cheered themselves hoarse. More than 100 students carried signs, written in
Korean and Mandarin that read: “We Vote!”
Latino protesters slapped them high-fives.
“To those who think we can simply close off the borders and deport, let me say this: There is no
reason to fear people who have come here for the same reason as generations of Americans,”
Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) said from a stage set up on the back of a Teamsters union truck. “They want a better future for their children.”
Officials from the Chicago Public Schools estimated that as many as one-third of the city’s 435,000 students didn’t show up to class. At Benito Juarez High School, where nearly all of the students
are Latino, 17% of the 1,560 students showed up, said spokeswoman Ana Vargas.
“We did everything we could to encourage kids to come to school today. But we understand that this was an important day, and it’s important for their voices to be heard,” Vargas said.
Carlos Villasenor, 17, was an infant when his parents came to the United States from Mexico.
The Curie Metropolitan High School junior says he’s been preparing for college – even though his
temporary residency status expires one month after he graduates in June 2007.
“It doesn’t matter that I’m on the honor roll. I don’t have a Social Security number, so I can’t get any scholarships,” Villasenor said. “My parents aren’t citizens. So do I stay and try to go to college
here, where my family lives? Or do I return to Mexico to go to school, and never see them again?”
Standing nearby was Connie Yoon, a 23-year-old college art student. She immigrated to the U.S.
from Korea as a teenager. Her parents, who are in the U.S. illegally, each worked two jobs to pay
for her education.
“I’m about to graduate, and I’m terrified,” Yoon said. “I want to be legal. I’m so afraid that the
school will find out I’m [undocumented] and the police will be there to arrest me before I can
even get my diploma.”