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Reflections on the LA Immigration Protests

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On March 25, a huge number of people showed up in downtown Los Angeles to draw attention to illegal immigration. What sort of attention did they draw? The estimated half million people who were there paid attention. From the reports I heard, you couldn’t even move without paying close attention.

The gathering had been promoted by Spanish radio stations for weeks. Viva la Raza everywhere. I don’t understand Spanish, so I didn’t know about it until I spoke with my co-worker. Gus was born in Mexico and has a lot of family still there. His father applied for immigration to the US and legally brought his whole family to America when Gus was little.

Gus told me how the radio stations had been ramping up for this protest event for a long time. “I just had to shut it off. It made me really mad.” He remembered the work his father did to gain entrance to America. He told me how these protestors had one hand grabbing for instant American citizenship, and the other hand reaching to pull Aztlan — legally known as the state of California — back into Mexico.

That seems to be a bit of a conflict of interest. But we could hardly expect otherwise with that many people involved. It was a lot of people! In my mind. It was really a big story – a huge cultural event.

And it wasn’t just the Saturday protest. Myspace.com had been organizing a walkout for high-schoolers. The teenagers left school and went downtown to protest longer. Monday had a big crowd of kids holding signs. They had even blocked the 110 freeway with their march.

I heard the morning news the next day, exclaiming, “The kids were walking in the freeway! That’s so dangerous! Someone could get KILLED!”

I know that stretch of freeway. It is never free-flowing, never. Those kids were never in danger, which is a good thing.

I wanted to hear what other people were saying, so I tuned into my radio stations to hear what the reports and opinions were. What a revelation! Here is the line-up:

KPCC [NPR]: a feature about the California condor
KCRW [NPR again]: a sampling of eclectic alternative music
Power 106 “Where Hip Hop Lives”: Destiny’s Child is getting their Star on the Walk of Fame
KISS fm [ugh…Ryan Seacrest]: Destiny’s Child is getting the Star! And King Kong DVD is out today

KBIG [80s, 90s and TODAY!]: King Kong is out on DVD
Latino 96.3 Reggeaton and Hip Hop: ~~Now this is where it gets interesting…

The reggeaton station is a Spanglish station, and reggeaton is teenager music. Mostly the DJs speak English with some Spanish. Usually they are repeating the same thing, once in Spanish and then again in English. It’s about 90% English, 10% Spanish.

But not Tuesday. It bumped up to about 60% English, 40% Spanish during the high school walkouts. They were talking about nothing else. They were taking calls from teenagers to ask about what they thought, and how they felt about the protests. It was from there that I first began to understand the role Myspace played in organizing the protest. To hear the excited kids calling in on cell phones to talk about their opinions – it confirmed to me how important this event was to these kids. It probably was a life-changing experience for them.

But I wanted to hear more. I button-punched to the other radio stations, thinking they must be taking calls too.

There was a deafening silence on the subject.

The only other radio station I found talking about it was KPFK, an NPR Pacifica station. They are fringe of the fringe, and I can always count on them to report on any given protest.

This is my point in writing this. Our free and democratic society seems very willing to ignore the issue. What kind of all-men-are-created-equal institution can get up and say there are jobs that Americans are unwilling to do (presumably because they are distasteful – beneath them) but are willing to exploit non-Americans into doing?

Mainstream culture is humming with its fingers in its ears. The top radio stations don’t want to talk about it. Even NPR. Condors! There’s relevance for you.

This is a serious issue for our whole nation. This is not something only Spanish-speaking media outlets should be covering.

Those in positions of influence, our journalists and univerisity professors, should be listening and proposing solutions. The politicians and policy-makers need to put their heads together and find a new way to come to terms with this situation. We need a way that is fair and respectful of the equality of all humans.

What’s happening right now is not working.

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About Murphy

  • JP

    I’ve suggested that until the demand dries up, which as you suggested is exploiting non-Americans to do (at sub-par wages), the supply will remain no matter what kind of walls are built.

    We need a thoughtful solution for this problem–and giving quick lip service to such a large number of people is disheartening. Thanks for writing.

  • The idea that wages for illegals is sub-par is a myth, of course. And to make demand dry up you would have to basically create an economic collapse in America. That hardly seems worth it.


  • The simple fact that 500,000 people were able to gather at short notice in one place is proof that America has a huge and dangerous illegal immigrant problem.

    The fact that it was all peaceful is another sign. Illegal immmigrants are afraid to commit crimes because they might get deported (which is still unlikely because our system sucks). This is why the protests went peacefully and it also proves that yes, indeed, the great majority of these 500,000 people are illegal.

  • RogerMDillon

    Anthony Grande, why the name change? Did you get banned again?

  • AG, by most accounts the majority of the protestors were legal aliens, especially citizen kids with illegal parents and the usual crop of non-immigrant agitators.


  • They why the peacefulness?

    No matter what race or creed, 500,000 people in one place at the same time always spells trouble.

    It is a known fact that ILLEGAL immigrants avoid trouble and getting caught because they fear the possibilbility of deportation (which never happens anyway).

  • What an amazing perspective, A.G. What does it mean to be an “illegal” person, exactly? I think we need to internationalize the debate. Good post.

  • Not illegal “persons,” illegal “immigrants” is what they are because they illegally immigrated across an international border.

  • Howard

    The disparity between the labor costs of Delphi (reported in Friday’s WSJ to be $69/hr) and a McDonalds in San Diego (let’s put a guess at $15/hr) is huge. Delphi has announced from its bankruptcy court the desired closure of all its U. S. plants with the lay off of 30,000 employees. On the other hand, McDonalds profits are surging higher and the help-wanted signs are out.

    Some may think they can legislate Delphi back into business. That would require limiting or prohibiting importation of automotive parts as well as the finished automobile. Are you ready to give up your Lexus to attempt to stem the flow of “cheap labor” from overseas or over the Rio Grande?

    The solution to our illegal alien (they are ILLEGAL, you know) problem is the conversion of the economies of Central America from nothing to dynamic. Japan, Taiwan, and soon India and China have demonstrated the ability of formerly oppressed peoples to become a dynamic economic force. Honduras, Guatemala, and most certainly, Mexico can do it. They need encouragement and forceful supervision (read that bank loan qualifications) to become such an economic force. They have the raw materials and labor force available now.


  • JP

    Howard, that’s the angle I think is most appropriate–clearly we’re not going to reduce demand for cheap labor in this economic system. The solution would be to ensure through free trade agreements that wages and living conditions in other countries are improved to a more comparable level. Then this side of the fence won’t seem so attractive.

    Dave, I disagree that “of course” sub-par wages are a myth. In this Republican anti-regulation climate, do you really think employers are being followed-up on? I don’t, even for a minute:

    The government filed only three notices that it intended to fine companies in 2004, down from 417 notices in 1999, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office.

    Given that lackluster enforcement, I’d say there are plenty of companies–probably lots of smaller ones, in construction industries, farming, etc. where low-skilled labor is needed–that one could find paying workers below minimum wage under the table, if the effort were made. But again, that requires getting past the anti-regulation mentality that infects the Bush administration.

  • JP

    Follow-up — in fact, Dave, MSNBC has a front page story right now illustrating just as example, a couple working for $3.50 an hour in Illinois. I don’t buy the “just a myth” argument.