Tens of thousands expected in marches, rallies around state
DENVER – The doors of Hector Castillo’s El Alamo Mexican Bakery are open 360 days a year, but anybody looking for his pastries, cookies or menudo will be out of luck on Monday. A few blocks away, officials at the private school Escuela Tlatelolco are expecting mostly empty classrooms.Castillo and his 10 employees, and students and teachers from Escuela Tlatelolco plan to march roughly three miles to the Capitol to join a crowd expected to grow to tens of thousands demonstrating for immigration reform.From Alamosa to Greeley, from Grand Junction to Fort Morgan, schools, restaurants and other businesses were planning to run with skeleton crews or to shut down for at least part of the day Monday. Thousands across the country are expected to call for a U.S. guest-worker program and to demonstrate the economic power immigrants have by walking out of work and declining to buy food and other goods.For Castillo, 45, it’s a protest against legislation passed by the U.S. House that would make it a felony to be an illegal immigrant.”About 80 percent of our customers are Latin people, most of them Mexican, and the proposed law will affect all of us,” he said. “They’re going to put sanctions against people who hire people with no papers, and our sales are going to go down 80 percent. … We need to open the eyes of the Congress and all those people that decide (to show them) that we’re here and we’re not criminals.”Denver-area contractor Chuck Saxton, who hires temporary workers through the day labor agency El Centro Humanitario, said he suspects some of his crews have been illegal immigrants.”I’m going to go to support them. These guys come here, they work hard and they’re honest. They’re salt of the earth,” Saxton said. “They provide a vibrancy to our economy and our country that is fading.”
In Alamosa, population 8,500, Jose Lopez decided to shutter his Calvillo’s Mexican restaurant after more than half of his 30 employees said they were honoring the boycott.”There’s nothing we can do,” Lopez said.In Denver, a March 25 rally attracted at least 50,000 people, including many legal residents and citizens. Monday’s rally was expected to be at least as large, organizers said.”Basically, it’s a show of solidarity with the immigrant community,” said former legislator Polly Baca, executive director of the Latin American Research and Service Agency.Still, Colorado’s three Roman Catholic bishops came out against the “Day Without Immigrants,” saying walkouts can “hurt many business owners and employers who already support fair immigration reform.” They urged students to stay in school.Baca said her group and others were not recommending that people leave their jobs without their employers’ permission.The Service Employees International Union Local 105 in Denver has been working with members and employers to shift schedules or take other steps to allow workers to participate, spokeswoman Michelle Dally said.
Marvin Lopez, who works two jobs as a janitor, helped in negotiations between the union and employers. His employer is allowing people to start their shifts late Monday, and he plans to bring his wife and five children with him to the Denver rally, he said through a translator.”We support the day of action and we support our brothers and sisters who are doing this and hope it will result in a road to legalization,” said Lopez, who has been in Colorado for 12 years.”It’s very important that we bring our families because this is what we’re fighting for, we’re fighting for them,” he said. “It’s an exercise in teaching them how to shape their future.”The state Labor Department does not track the numbers of immigrants working in Colorado. According to 2002 figures, the latest available, there were about 390,000 Hispanic workers around the state, about 17 percent of the work force, agency spokesman Bill Thoennes said.”With a work force that size, if half of the work force was gone, it would have to be a sizable impact,” he said.Some of the nation’s largest meatpacking companies are planning to pare production or shut down entire plants Monday, including facilities in Fort Morgan and Greeley.”It was very clear to us that immigration reform is a very emotional issue,” Cargill Meat Solutions spokesman Mark Klein told the Fort Morgan (Colo.) Times. The company’s Fort Morgan plant can process up to 4,500 head of cattle a day, and about 70 percent of its 1,900 employees are Hispanic.
Several previous rallies and marches have provided valuable learning tools for students at Escuela Tlatelolco, said Nita Gonzalez, the school’s president and chief executive officer.Many students are of Mexican descent, but most are from families that have been in Colorado for several generations, she said.”They know their history,” she said. “It makes for an incredibly robust discussion around just exactly what’s being said about Mexicanos. They saw the marches in Chicago and New York City that had many different immigrants marching, but (wonder) why there is such an attack on brown people here. So we talk about that.”School officials across Colorado said plans are in place to encourage students to stay in class, but to try to ensure their safety if they leave.”We don’t have the ability to restrain the students, but it’s something that we need to make them aware of, that this is not a good use of school time,” said Mark Stevens, spokesman for Denver Public Schools, with 73,000 students.Several Greeley residents are planning to offer lectures, mural painting and other activities to teach Mexican history and culture to students who leave school Monday.”We wanted to have an alternative for the kids because I think as they make their choice to leave school, we were afraid that they might get in trouble,” organizer Susanne Villarreal said. “We are not taught in school how to be proud of our culture.”
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