Monday, April 3, 2006

The organizers of an upcoming pro-immigration rally on Capitol Hill and in at least 10 other cities are encouraging protesters to leave their Latin American flags at home.

“The flags at these events show what a great multicultural community we live in,” said Kim Propeack, a spokeswoman for immigrant-advocacy group CASA of Maryland. But, “the immediate goal that we’re seeking at these rallies is for immigrants to be more integrated into the American community and to have a right to legal residence, so we are encouraging people to bring U.S. flags.”

Mexican, Salvadoran and Guatemalan flags and slogans at pro-immigration rallies across the country have sparked controversy between Americans who say the flags represent immigrants’ and illegal aliens’ disdain for U.S. laws and pro-immigration advocates who say the flags represent ethnic pride.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia is calling for an apology from a Woodbridge principal who, citing concerns about disruption, last week barred from class a kindergartner and second-grader whose shirts read “Latinos Forever” and “100 percent Latinos.”

Steve Camarota, research director of the District-based Center for Immigration Studies, said the flags and slogans represent protesters’ identities as “Mexicans in a foreign land.”

“It does show a lot about how these people perceive their identity,” he said. “They’re probably just saying they identify themselves as Mexicans, and they’re demanding a change in the law to accommodate them as Mexicans or as foreigners, which is kind of troubling because you hope that people would ask for a change and say, ‘We’re really part of this community.’ But that’s not the sense you get if someone’s made a conscious decision to wave a foreign flag.”

CASA is helping to plan Monday’s National Day of Action for Immigrant Rights, a nationwide protest expected to draw thousands. The group was instrumental in planning rallies last month, complete with immigrants holding flags and signs that espoused their Hispanic heritage and chanting slogans in Spanish such as “Latinos Unidos” and “Si se puede” (“Latinos United” and “Yes we can”).

Miss Propeack said the flags and slogans represent the protesters’ hyphenated-American status.

“The people are proud of their heritage, and they’re dying to come to this country, and just like people who hang up ‘Irish parking only’ signs on their basement hangout room or other indications of heritage pride that we treat as welcome in the U.S., these flags are another indicator of that,” she said.

But those who favor tightened borders say the flags are a slap in Americans’ faces.

“There’s a difference between pride and protest,” said Stephen Schreiman, president of the Maryland Minutemen, an illegal-alien watchdog. “If this was a celebration of the diversity of America and people marched with pride down the streets with ethnic flags being led by the U.S. flag, that’s one thing. But these people are marching in the streets in protest of the laws of the United States. They’re protesting the sovereignty and saying the United States doesn’t have the right to enforce its own laws, and they’re doing it with flags of a foreign country, and that’s intolerable.”

CASA has been getting its pro-American message out via Spanish-language radio stations, which played an instrumental role in drawing thousands to protests last week in Chicago, Dallas and Los Angeles.

Pedro Biaggi, the morning drive-time disc jockey for El Zol (99.1 FM), is encouraging D.C.-area Hispanics to carry American flags Monday.

“The American flag is something to look up to and something to respect, [and] anytime someone thinks we are going against, that we need to stop and think about it,” he said. “It isn’t about how proud you are to be where you’re from; it’s about how proud you are to be an American, which is what we’re asking to be.”

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