ost 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
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 agricultural workers, largely Latino, had initiated a boycott of
Taco Bell, one of the largest and certainly most visible buyers of Florida
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
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
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