By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Yet it was still unclear how successful the boycott would be.
The day before May Day, downtown hosted the annual AT&T Fiesta Broadway, a corporate marketing fair masked as a street party and Cinco de Mayo celebration. There were booths giving away free samples of random junk, like balloons and boxed cereal, and a team of beaming bilingual kids on bright red Segways promoting a Bank of America remittance program. “Do you send money to Mexico?” their signs read in Spanish.
Several people I spoke with at Fiesta Broadway, their hands weighed down by loaded plastic bags covered with corporate logos, their heads covered by corporate-sponsored visors, said they would return to the same street the next day for the march. By Sunday night, after repeated reports that businesses were preparing to shut down the next day, supermarkets in Silver Lake, Hollywood and Koreatown attracted last-minute shoppers who wanted to participate in the boycott by preparing their meals at home on Monday.
I hit up the Ralphs in Koreatown to get yogurt, chips, bananas and fig bars. The lady at my checkout said she was working the next day. “If I go on strike,” she sighed, “I’ll be on strike for good, and then who will support me and my muchachos?” Beating midnight by eight minutes, I added gas to my tank at Vermont Avenue and Beverly Boulevard. My cooler was ready. May Day was on.
There were no major rumblings in the morning.
At 9 a.m., the day still gloomy and gray, most of the storefronts and wholesale-food warehouses in downtown’s Garment and Toy districts were shut. Despite warnings of traffic mayhem, the streets were clear. Several Spanish-language radio stations were without on-air DJs.
THE FIRST MARCH OF THE DAY was in predominantly Mexican-American and proudly middle-class Southeast L.A. County, from Santa Rosa de Lima Church in Maywood to Salt Lake Park in Huntington Park. It was orderly, uniform and peaceful. The three-block-long march represented a turnaround in the local climate toward Latino immigrants.
Just three years ago, Maywood drew scorn from the Spanish-language media and immigrant advocates for police checkpoints that targeted people driving without licenses. That year, 2003, was the height of the nasty fight in the state Legislature over driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants. Now, after an immigrant-rights slate swept into City Hall in November, Maywood is drawing international attention — and reverse scorn — for dubbing itself a “sanctuary city” for illegal immigrants.
“All I want is the right to pay taxes,” said Guillermo Taro, a Peruvian immigrant who stood on Atlantic Avenue across from the church where the march originated. Taro runs a contracting business that employs three painters. He has no driver’s license but moves around for work in his truck. He sends hundreds of dollars a month to his wife and four children in Peru. “I am an educated person in my country. I have a degree. You can investigate.”
All along Atlantic Boulevard, strip-mall parking lots lay empty. Liquor stores, water stores, driving schools, restaurants, beauty-supply shops, all closed. Wildly different estimates were thrown about on the number of marchers, ranging from 3,000 to 15,000. Either way, the Southeast, said Maywood Mayor Pro Tem Felipe Aguirre, showed it wants to move to the center of the political discussion in Southern California.
Downtown was next. The march began hours ahead of time, as thousands of people gathered on the south lawn of City Hall around noon while people marched up Broadway. There was less order, more police and more noise than on March 25. When the march moved past the McDonald’s across from the shuttered Grand Central Market, people chanted “Culeroooo! Culeroooo!” (roughly: “Asshole! Asshole!”) at men who ducked into the joint to have lunch.
Jeering obscenely at people from the safety of a large crowd, particularly at sporting events, is a proud tradition in the United States. In some respects, then, the Monday events gave more evidence that this movement couldn’t get any more American.
May Day marchers learned the lesson of the early protests. With opponents latching on to the argument that the presence of foreign flags in the rallies signaled immigrants were not ready to assimilate but were intent on “reconquista,” there were miles of U.S. flags flapping everywhere.
The sight left behind the strong impression that the Stars and Stripes have been all but reclaimed by the nation’s new immigrants from intolerant “patriots.” And even on a day when marchers were instructed to refrain from buying or selling, street commerce — also known as raw capitalism — was thriving in full force. People sold flags, bacon-wrapped hot dogs, headbands, bottled water, soda pop and raspados.
Industrious vendors made brisk business selling original immigration-march T-shirts. The shirts carried messages like “March 25, I was there,” “Proud Child of Immigrants,” “Haciendo Historia,” “No Human Is Illegal,” “Productive Immigrant in the U.S.” and one laid it out simply: the date, May 1, 2006, the familiar CHP “CAUTION” sign with the silhouette of an immigrant family rushing across a freeway, and the call, “Si Se Puede!”
“I took the day off so we could profit from our kids,” said Daniel Lopez, 37, of Pacoima, holding his T-shirts on the Wilshire bridge over MacArthur Park. “It’s significant because it’s the date, we’re telling them to watch out, we’re coming across and they can’t stop us, and ‘si se puede,’ yes we can.”
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