Hispanic boycott set for
The Arizona Republic
May. 8, 2005 12:00 AM
Don't work, spend, Latinos are asked
Yvonne Wingett and Daniel González
Organizers of a one-day economic
boycott protesting proposed laws aimed at undocumented immigrants are
urging Latinos not to go to work or spend money on Tuesday.
But many Latinos say they weren't aware of the boycott, despite heavy
publicity in local Spanish-language newspapers and radio. Others say
they are sympathetic to the cause but can't afford to lose a day of work
or are afraid of getting fired, while others say they plan to stay home.
The boycott is the latest in a string of grass-roots protests since
November's passage of Proposition 200,a ballot measure intended to
ensure undocumented immigrants don't vote or receive certain public
It is unclear how many people will participate
in Tuesday's boycott, but economists say short-term boycotts based on social
principles typically have more symbolic than economic impact. At least 20
percent of the metropolitan area's 3.5 million population would have to
participate to send an economic message, experts said.
"We're trying to prove we are a vital part of the community, that our workers
and our consumers deserve to be treated with dignity and respect," said
organizer Elias Bermudez, executive director of Centro de Ayuda (Center of
Help), a business that helps immigrants prepare immigration and tax documents.
The boycott is in response to dozens of measures pending in the state
Legislature intended to make life in Arizona more difficult for undocumented
immigrants. If passed and approved by Gov. Janet Napolitano, the measures could
restrict the use of Mexican ID cards and require students to pay out-of-state
college tuition, among other restrictions.
Jesus Garcia, a drywaller who earns between $80 and $100 a day, said he agrees
with the strike in principal. But he can't afford to lose a day's pay, and he
feels more committed to his job.
"What these leaders don't understand is that we can't leave our jobs," said
Garcia, 33, a Mexican immigrant, as he installed drywall at a house under
construction in southwest Phoenix. "We have a responsibility to get the work
The Latino workforce drives Arizona's construction, restaurant and hotel
industries, though the numbers are unclear, said Harry Garewal, president and
chief executive officer of the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. He
estimated the state could lose at least $54 million if all Hispanics closed
their wallets and purses for a day.
"I believe it's a start," said Vel Piña, owner of Americano Services in north
"It will make the people think, especially people that employ Hispanic people,
what would happen if all these people didn't show up for work all of the
State Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, who is a sponsor of many of the bills, says
undocumented immigrants cost Arizona more than they contribute. The boycott will
only breed contempt in a state already divided over illegal immigration, he
"(Mexico) needs to fix their country and not allow (President) Vicente Fox to
export his problems to the United States. No longer can we be the dumping ground
for Mexico," Pearce said.
Immigrants, however, see themselves contributing to the state's economy.
Francisco Delgado, another drywaller who was working inside the same house as
Garcia, said he hadn't heard about the boycott beforehand. But Delgado, a
permanent resident, agreed with the boycott's stated goal to demonstrate the
economic impact of immigrant workers in Arizona.
Further west on Southern Avenue, another crew of Latino construction workers had
just finished framing the last of 180 new houses being built in a tract off 29th
All three workers shook their heads no when asked if they had heard about the
Their supervisor, Jeff Johnston, 32, said the Valley's booming housing market
would come to a standstill without Latino workers.
Still, Johnston said he supports laws restricting the lives of undocumented
immigrants in Arizona. He recalled a time a decade ago when the construction
industry relied mostly on skilled tradesmen who earned a middle-class living.
"It's the cheap labor. Everyone wants it now," Johnston said. "We've smoked for
10 years, and now we got cancer."
Reach the reporter at (602) 444-4712 or yvonne.wingett@arizon