Meaningless boycotts

The immigrant demonstrations of a few weeks ago showed that the newcomers to the United States, invited or not, have picked up nicely on our rights of free speech and assembly. But large-scale protests have a way of making points different from what their sponsors intended, as witness the public backlash against the widespread display of Mexican flags in those earlier demonstrations.

Monday is supposed to be “A Day Without Immigrants,” in which legal and illegal immigrants are being urged to boycott their jobs and schools, a weird way for people who came here for employment and education to make a point. Presumably this will show that immigrants are indispensable; it could easily show the reverse.

And the event got off on an uncomfortable note, a Spanish-language version of the national anthem. “The Star-Spangled Banner,” commemorating a battle between two English-speaking peoples, has survived Jimi Hendrix and the people who try to sing it at ballparks, and it will survive Spanish translation, but the initial reaction has been adverse, including criticism from President Bush. It is as if the national anthem had been appropriated to advance a special interest, and rewriting the lyrics, as planned, to make them politically correct and to put in a plug for illegal workers is also not the smartest PR.

Monday’s demonstration is shaping up as a Hispanic, specifically Mexican event, and indeed one of the sponsors is called “Mexicans Without Borders.” It is doubtful that Korean, Irish, Pakistani and Vietnamese immigrants will be deserting their schools and jobs for the day.

There is a companion protest in Mexico on Monday called “Nothing Gringo,” in which Mexicans are being urged to boycott U.S.-owned businesses. The points of this, outside of an outlet for resentment of the United States, is unclear since American firms are the largest private-sector employers in Mexico.

Mexico’s lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, passed a resolution of support for “A Day Without Immigrants” and is sending a delegation to Los Angeles as a gesture of solidarity. This shows a certain amount of what an earlier immigrant group called (ital) chutzpah (endital), but it may have the unintended effect of drawing attention to Mexico’s own far harsher and more abusive treatment of illegals on its own soil.

Congress has been deadlocked on immigration reform between those who favor punitive measures and sealed borders and those who would regularize the status of illegal workers, but that impasse shows signs of breaking up. The demonstrations could tip that debate one way or another. The question is: Which way?

(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)