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Mexicans March to Support Migrants in U.S.

MARK STEVENSON / Associated Press | May 2 2006

Thousands of Mexicans took to the streets Monday to support migrants in the United States and celebrated what they called a "Day Without Gringos" by shunning U.S.-owned supermarkets, fast-food restaurants and American goods.

Measuring the boycott's impact proved difficult, however, because business is normally reduced to a fraction of normal volume on Mexico's May Day holiday.

Some Mexicans vowed not to buy from or patronize any businesses related to the United States, while others said they found it difficult to avoid doing so.

Customers streamed into some branches of Wal-Mart, McDonald's and Burger King in the Mexican capital despite the boycott, which was timed to coincide with a call for immigrants to skip work, school and shopping in the United States.

Juan Ortiz, a 28-year-old salesman who left a Wal-Mart in downtown Mexico City pushing a cartload of food and bathroom goods, said he supported legalizing migrants in the United States but didn't think it was practical to boycott U.S. goods here.

"You have to buy what is least expensive here and I have to buy things for my family," he said.

Celestino Garcia, a 32-year-old sandwich seller outside the Wal-Mart, said he was seeing the same number of shoppers Monday as on any other day.

It also appeared to be business as usual at a McDonald's franchise in a working-class neighborhood near Mexico City's international airport.

But Marina Serna, deputy manager for a downtown Burger King, said she thought the boycott was having an effect: The restaurant had only one client in its first 90 minutes Monday, even though it is owned by Mexican franchise holders.

"I'd say that this is bad because even if we work in a company with an international brand, the owners are not from the United States, they are Mexicans," she said.

Sergio Segura, 42, a member of an Aztec Indian dance group, stood outside of a McDonald's waiting for some friends, but said he did not plan to eat there.

"Sure, Mexicans buy the franchises, but part of the earnings go to the markets on Wall Street. I'm not eating here today or tomorrow."

Pointing across the street to a vast market replete with tacos, tortillas and sandwiches, Segura said, "For what it costs for three hamburgers from McDonald's you can buy for the whole family and eat well at the market."

But as he leaned against his Ford minivan, Segura acknowledged the difficulty of avoiding all U.S. products. "Here in Mexico, there is no way to buy Mexican" cars, he said.

Although federal officials tried to distance themselves from the events, at least a half-dozen state governors in Mexico endorsed the boycott of U.S. companies, and thousands of unionized workers _ who traditionally hold labor rallies on May 1 _ dedicated Monday's marches to the cause.

Some of the demonstrators who gathered in the huge downtown plaza known as the Zocalo carried banners with slogans that read "Unrestricted Support for Migrants."

The U.S. Congress has been debating several immigration reform bills, including at least one that would legalize millions of undocumented workers. Others would allow Mexicans to participate in temporary guest-worker programs.

"Yes, we want guest-worker programs, too, but first we want legalization," said Maria Garcia, a national leader of Mexico's left- leaning Democratic Revolution Party.

Protesters also rallied in front of the U.S. Embassy on Mexico City's central Paseo de la Reforma boulevard.

One Zapatista rebel supporter wore the group's traditional black mask and a T-shirt bearing a likeness of Cuban revolutionary icon Ernesto "Che" Guevara _ along with Nike Air Jordan pants and Converse sneakers.

About 50 police officers, many of them carrying helmets, batons and plastic shields, took up positions behind 15-foot barricades, while another 50 officers in riot gear guarded the nearby Mexican Stock Exchange.

Antonio Lopez, the 32-year-old owner of a language institute in Mexico City, stood facing the embassy dressed in a coat and tie and holding a Mexican flag.

"I'm here out of moral obligation," he said in fluent English. "I'm here to tell (President) Bush that immigrants in the states are the foundation of the economy, and I don't think he's doing the right thing."

Shawna Kelly of San Diego said she's traveled to Mexico on business frequently in the past 12 years and predicted the boycott would work against the immigrants.

"They shouldn't boycott businesses like McDonald's, because they're employing Mexican people in the U.S., and they're welcome there," she said. "The more you do this, the more you make Americans angry. ... You have to work within the system, not against the system."

Thousands of workers, peasants, students and Indians in Honduras and Nicaragua also staged May Day marches to support the boycott and U.S. immigration walkouts.

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