April 19, 2006

Mexican pride boosted by US immigrant marches

By Tim Gaynor

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - For years, many Mexicans looked to
their political leaders to win a better deal for millions of
relatives living and working illegally in the United States,
and they were always disappointed.

Now the sight of sons, daughters, cousins and even parents
stepping out of the shadows and clamoring for their rights in
huge pro-immigrant marches and vigils across the United States
this month has reinvigorated a sense of national pride.

"It's great to see, and it makes you feel proud," said
Mario Castillo, a buyer for Intel Corp. whose doctor father
works in a hospital in Yuma, Arizona.

"You feel that, at last, Latinos have the courage to raise
their hands and say, 'You know what, we're here and you have to
respect us as a people and human beings'," he added.

Hundreds of thousands of people toting bullhorns and waving
placards have taken to the streets in more than 60 cities from
California to New England to protest a bill that sought to
criminalize illegal immigrants and build a wall along a stretch
of the border with Mexico.

More than half the estimated 12 million undocumented
immigrants in the United States are originally from Mexico.

Many see the protests as a turning point for Mexicans who
often feel belittled by the United States, and humiliated by a
lack of progress in a long struggle for immigrant rights.

Mexican expatriate workers, millions of whom work in
low-paid jobs on farms, construction sites and in hotels and
restaurants, have noted few gains since Mexican-American labor
activist Cesar Chavez founded the National Farm Workers
Association back in the 1960s.

President Vicente Fox has also so far failed to win a
migration deal with Washington for Mexicans working stateside
despite making it his No. 1 foreign policy goal.

But the sight of so many migrant workers standing up for
their rights has helped restore dented national pride. It has
also put pressure on the U.S. Congress, which is locked in a
divisive fight over immigration reform.


"In terms of Mexican nationalism it contributes a lot to
the feeling of self, and contributes to that sense of pride,"
said Jorge Chabat, a political analyst in Mexico City.

The pro-immigrant marches, hailed as one of the most
significant U.S. protest movements since the push for civil
rights in the 1960s, is planning further demonstrations and a
labor stoppage across the United States on May 1.

Inspired by the success of the direct action movement
there, many in Mexico are planning a boycott of U.S. businesses
and franchises on the day, in a gesture of solidarity.

One widely circulated e-mail sent by activists urges
consumers not "to buy any gringo products in the country on May
1, nor consume anything from any American franchises or go
shopping in the USA."

The message, one of several making the rounds, urged
consumers not to shop at stores including fast-food giants
McDonald's Corp., Burger King, as well as retail powerhouse
Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which is capturing an ever-larger market
share in Mexico.

While some fear the gesture is misguided and question
whether it will have any effect, for many frustrated Mexicans,
it is just good to see migrants making their presence felt.

"It makes you proud to see Mexicans stand up for
themselves," said Faustino Soto, 52, a driver in Mexico City.
"If there were marches here in Mexico on the day, I would
definitely take part."