LIKE IT WENT IN 1994, when Latinos in Los Angeles took to the streets to protest Proposition 187, Mexican flags were seen flapping all over L.A. during this week’s demonstrations. And like then, some are claiming that the presence of Mexican flags in today’s protests will backfire by energizing those opposed to loosening immigration laws. Why should we let them in freely if they are more loyal to Mexico than to the United States?

Organizers of Saturday’s “Gran Marcha” foresaw this complaint and urged participants to wear white and carry U.S. flags. They wanted marchers to emphasize their allegiance to the country whose history is inextricably linked to the constant arrival of new peoples.

And yet, those red, green and white flags were out there.

The sight of the Mexican flag in L.A. is particularly disconcerting to some because of the fear of the so-called Reconquista, a shadowy and ultimately baseless conspiracy of a Mexican reconquest in the U.S. Southwest that conservatives love to talk about.

The irony, though, is that mostly Chicanos and Mexican-Americans, people born in the U.S., carried the Mexican flag. And it was mostly the immigrants, the people from Mexico, who carried the Stars and Stripes.

The discrepancy highlights a deeply rooted disconnect between immigrant Latinos and U.S. Latinos. Mexican-Americans tend to romanticize the country of their heritage, while immigrants who have firsthand knowledge of that country’s problems are eager to embrace the fundamental concepts that the U.S. flag represents.

There’s another factor at play: youth. I remember the evolution of my political thinking in high school, the sense of awakening when I began to discover and embrace the beauty and riches of my Mexican heritage, and began to feel anger and resentment toward what I perceived to be injustices and prejudices against Mexicans in the U.S. In time, complications and nuances to ideas lead to more mature thinking.

So it doesn’t surprise or bother me much that most of the high school students walking out of classes in L.A. this week have been carrying the Mexican flag. And it shouldn’t bother Greater L.A. either.

“When you’re in high school, you try to find something that ties you with the rest of your friends, you try to find out who you are, and being Mexican, I guess, is what ties all these kids together,” said Martha Ugarte, 22, who helps out her mother, Martha, with organizing and publicity for regional Mexican clubs in L.A.

“I don’t think they see it as, ‘I’m supporting the Mexican government.’ When you see the U.S. flag, to them it represents more of a government than a culture, and the Mexican flag represents more of a culture than a government.”

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