Immigrants and media savvy

Thousands of people, along with celebrities and law makers, held rallies Sunday to protest genocide in Sudan and Darfur.

I suspected all the hoopla was a ploy.

Cigar-chomping, prune-faced WASP’s had devised a way to distract the American population from the next day’s immigration rallies by sedating the peace-loving white liberals with music and fun. I was sure of it.

What better way to fool the caring middle-class masses from focusing on important domestic issues than organizing a giant party for a country most of us can’t find on a map? Is there any better way to wear out the general population but still making them feel as if they are contributing to society?

I was pleasantly disappointed Monday when, for the second time, thousands filled Murphy Park in Springdale to rally for comprehensive immigration reform, although few were of gringo bloodline.

I’ve been vigilantly using “rally” to describe the event because I’ve come under attack more than once by those organizing the gathering for using synonyms like protest and strike. It’s been made clear to me and all the other gabachos that to protest is to demand a stop or change. The immigration rallies are a way to ask the government to consider thoughtful legislation, organizers said. And here is where I began to understand why the rallies on April 10 and May 1 had been so successful and why future public efforts will be similar affairs.

“Sí, se Puede!” is the chant that’s been repeated in unison during the rallies. It sounds, oddly, like a bunch of drunken American’s yelling “USA! USA!” at some Olympic hockey game. But it reflects the united effort in the Hispanic community both in terms of organizing the delivery of a message for immigration reform and organizing the masses.

The organizers in Northwest Arkansas seem to have taken their key from rally leaders in such places as Dallas and Phoenix, where the local Hispanic TV and radio hosts led the efforts. Perhaps by chance, the Hispanic community remembered the lessons of the founding fathers when rallying people for change. Franklin, Hamilton, Madison and Jefferson either owned or had a heavy hand in their local media.

“[The Hispanic community] looks at the media as the protagonist. As a part of the media we’ve been aware that people have been coming together,” said Turbo, a deejay for local Hispanic radio station, La Tremenda. More than that, Turbo said La Tremenda and other radio stations gave 70 percent of human resources and most of the equipment used at the rallies.

At La Tremenda, one of the three local Hispanic stations, I watched as Turbo, rally organizer Margarita Solorzano and UA student Alejandro Aviles discussed immigration and answered questions about the rally. It seemed that the organizers had everything figured out. Parking arrangements had been made, worries about USCIS (formerly INS) officials being present were quelled, and the message the community wanted to convey was clear.

It was stressed that kids shouldn’t play hooky during the boycott. Aviles said students shouldn’t sacrifice the education and dreams the movement is trying to prove it wants.

The rally itself was held at 6:30 p.m. This gave plenty of time for kids to get out of school and people to finish their day jobs, which organizers urged participants to ask for permission to leave, lest they lose what they had worked so hard to accomplish.

Organizers have also been wise in asking attendees at the rallies to only bring American flags and avoid displaying any type of foreign flag. They seemed overly-aware of how the outside media would portray them, and image is one thing organizers have been working hard to perfect.

What kind of rally and boycott is this if students are told to stay in school and people compromise with bosses for time off? What kind of message is being sent when people are asked not to express their wild pride for their home country?

Where are the fire hoses, packs of police dogs, the marchers locking arms and passionately singing, “We Shall Overcome”? Damn it all, I’ve been deprived of an old-fashioned protest and a Pulitzer-winning story.

I’m disappointed about the lack of bloodshed and excitement. But it’s balanced with the Hispanic media’s efforts to unify the masses under a single, thoughtful idea. They’re also a beautiful example of how the media should act as the voice of the people in a democracy.

There’ve been two anti-immigration rallies in the last couple of months. They were sparsely attended. I can’t help but think those rednecks – gypped by suffrage, civil rights and affirmative action – are clinging to the last vestige memories of when they were at the top of the heap and those people knew their place. Perhaps they’d had a better turnout if they had taken a few pages from the Hispanics’ playbook.

But a clear, thoughtful message with a massive effort to organize and direct doesn’t come easy for a group whose hasn’t had to work tooth and nail for an stable familia in the face of uncertainty, insecurity, racism and governmental penalties. It hasn’t come easy for the Hispanic community, but with every march, every rally and every boycott, they’re getting closer by the day.

[Original piece available here.]

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