State tourism boycott aims at moves against illegal entrants
Arizona Daily Star
July 26, 2005
Ernesto Portillo Jr.
Most people don't realize it, but there is a boycott campaign against the state. It's called Boycott Arizona Now.
Organizers of the tourism boycott see it as a protest of the state's immigration initiatives, like Proposition 200, which requires new voters to prove citizenship. They believe that by pressuring one of Arizona's top industries, corporate leaders will pressure state politicians to cease legislative attacks against undocumented immigrants.
However, it's a good bet most state residents would argue the boycott is unneeded.
Boycotts are a thing of the past, some have opined. But don't try telling that to a small group of University of Arizona students.
Two years ago, members of a Latino student organization called MEChA, loosely translated as Chicano Student Movement of Aztlán, agreed to stand on the southwest corner of North Campbell Avenue and East Speedway. They spent a couple of hours on Friday afternoons steering customers away from the corner Taco Bell in support of tomato pickers thousands of miles away in Florida.
Florida agricultural workers, largely Latino, had initiated a boycott of Taco Bell, one of the largest and certainly most visible buyers of Florida tomatoes.
The Florida workers wanted Taco Bell to force growers to improve the desperate living conditions and abysmal wages.
The Coalition of Immokalee Workers, named after their southwest Florida town, didn't realize the immensity of their efforts. Who would pay attention to the plight of poor, uneducated workers in a far-off part of Florida fighting against a behemoth American corporation?
Consuelo Aguilar and René Bernal-Gonzales, both MEChA students, would.
Participating in a national boycott like the one against Taco Bell is what people do "when there is something wrong," said Aguilar, a 23-year-old graduate student in Mexican American Studies.
Bernal-Gonzales, a 21-year-old senior in an engineering mathematics program, said the few hours each month he spent on the corner didn't compare with the farm workers' hard life of low wages and little respect.
A couple of months ago, the Florida workers were successful in their four-year boycott campaign. Taco Bell agreed to pay more for tomatoes, an increase that would go to the workers, and the corporate giant agreed to participate in an industrywide effort to provide agricultural workers legal and workplace protection.
The Florida workers, flush with success and national media exposure, have launched a similar campaign against other fast-food companies.
The boycott's success was unimaginable when it began. And certainly it had far more critics and skeptics than supporters and believers.
"If the boycott has simple goals, then it will be effective," said Bernal-Gonzales.
The boycott is an old American political tool. American colonists used it when they dumped tea into Boston Harbor. The United Farm Workers used it in the 1960s and 1970s to force growers to recognize the union and sign contracts.
And conservative religious groups have employed it against the Walt Disney Co. because of morality concerns about Disney's movies.
Boycotts aim for change - or at least to send a message.
The Arizona Boycott Now may or may not be successful. The outcome depends on many organizations and patience.
Its naysayers have already laid it to rest. Opponents of the Taco Bell boycott did the same.
But the Taco Bell boycott proved determination can topple obstacles.
"If we think positive and do it out of love," said Aguilar, the grad student, "we are bound to get somewhere fair and good."
● Ernesto Portillo Jr.'s column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Reach him at 573-4242 or at