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.