How did so many L.A. Latinos get the word about Saturday’s pro-immigrant march, an estimated 500,000 protesters strong?
By now everyone knows Eddie “Piolín” Sotelo, the nation’s No. 1 Spanish-language morning radio-show host, can take much of the credit. Piolín’s role, first detailed Monday in a story on L.A. Weekly’s Web site, prompted a media whirlwind, with interviews on ABC’s Nightline, CNN, MSNBC, the Tom Leykis show and in the L.A. Times and other local media. “I’m very happy because the different English language programs are now listening to the story of the real immigrant, that we are not all criminals.” Piolín said. “It’s very important that we continue to show that we are very educated and that we are peaceful people. The immediate plan now is to invite the people to become citizens and vote!”
Organizers of the march approached Piolín nearly two weeks ago and broke down the specifics of Congress’ HR4437 bill, including the provision which would make it a felony to shield or offer support to undocumented immigrants.
“I thought it was inhumane,” Piolín told L.A. Weekly. “How can you as a doctor not help someone because they don’t have the proper paperwork?” Piolín knows about the issue firsthand, he added, “because it’s happened to me.”
He felt it was time to step up.
So, on Thursday, March 16, while performing his on-air comedy show, Piolín had a lightning-bolt flash of inspiration and telephoned his fellow morning locutores (Spanish-language DJs) — including his ratings rival, La Raza 97.9’s Renán “El Cucuy” Almendárez Coello. In a historic first, Piolín brought all of L.A.’s morning-radio locutores together on the air, unifying them to get the word out about the march to defeat the bill. Local Spanish-language TV stations on channels 22, 34 and 52 quickly followed their lead.
“I always promote on my show that we have to be united as people,” Piolín said. “So if I promote that, I first have to be an example.”
The following Friday, the day before the march, Piolín experienced another first. He got a call from a listener who told him that KIIS-FM’s morning host Ryan Seacrest was talking about him and what he had done in unifying the Spanish-language locutores. Again, on the spur of the moment, Piolín picked up the phone.
“I decided to call him to thank him,” Piolín said. “He wanted to know about the bill, and I broke it down. I told him about my personal story, and Ryan said he would join the cause.”
Both Piolín’s station KSCA 101.9 and Seacrest’s KIIS-FM simulcast the talk live, reaching out and informing both communities about the Sensenbrenner-King bill. It was both enlightening and funny, Seacrest trying to speak in Spanish and Piolín jokingly telling the American Idol host in his broken English, “I want to cross over.”
Fast-forward to Saturday’s march.
“No al HR4437, no al racismo!” Concha shouted into her bullhorn over the sounds of Los Tigres del Norte, blaring from a discoteca on Broadway, as a mass of people in white shirts, 20 blocks deep, waved Mexican and U.S. flags.
“Wow, man, this is incredible!” said Piolín, taking in the enormity of the demonstration, larger than any in ?L.A.’s history.
People were up in trees, on fences and light posts, anywhere they could position themselves to get a view of the guest speakers, which included Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, City Councilman José Huizar — and, among others, Piolín. None of the politicians, not even Mayor Villaraigosa, garnered the crowd’s attention like Piolín, who not only had the honor of releasing the white doves, as a sign of peace, but was first to take the microphone, getting up on a City Hall concrete slab and posing like Rocky Balboa. It was a brief glance into the new identity and leadership of this city.
“A qué venimos?” Piolín began the call.
“A triunfar!” the crowd responded.
Later, after signing a seemingly endless number of placards and flags, and even picking up leftover trash, Piolín paused to assess what he’d seen. “When I was marching,” he said, “I saw a sign that read, ‘We built your house and now you want to send us back?’ I said, ‘Wow, I have a great responsibility to help.’ It’s about what else I can do to help the people have a better city, a better life, because they work so hard. I’ve seen how radio has changed people for the better. This march is proof that we can change things.”