April 6, 2006 in Nation/World

Hispanics leap onto political stage

N.c. Aizenman Washington Post
 

WASHINGTON – Drawing on fear of restrictive immigration proposals that have awakened hundreds of thousands of Latinos to political activism, organizers are using popular Spanish-language radio and networks of community organizations to mobilize protests in Washington and scores of other cities Monday.

The demonstrations are planned to expand on a groundswell that attracted about 30,000 mostly Hispanic protesters in Washington last month, about 100,000 in Chicago and as many as 500,000 in Los Angeles, a surprising display of political muscle from a population that makes up a substantial portion of the nation’s 12 million illegal immigrants.

Jaime Contreras, president of the National Capital Immigrant Coalition, predicted that Monday’s demonstration at the Washington Monument would draw 100,000 people and that nationally the turnout, in more than 60 cities, would number “in the millions.”

“The sleeping Latino giant is finally awake,” Contreras said. “This will be the largest demonstration by immigrants ever held in this country.”

The movement has emerged as a loose coalition of immigrants rights groups, unions, and religious and student organizations.

Organizers are eager to draw other immigrant groups, including Asians and Africans, into Monday’s protest. But it is the involvement of so many previously apolitical elements of the Latino community that may prove a watershed in the political and cultural evolution of Hispanics, whose influence has lagged behind their growth into the nation’s largest minority.

The mobilization has drawn into the political mainstream the organizations that have sustained daily life in the Latino community – churches, Spanish-language radio and social groups.

“I’m not sure anybody totally understands this phenomenon. … But we are happily stunned,” said Cecilia Munoz, vice president for policy at the National Council of La Raza, a civil rights organization based in Washington. “We’re all very aware that this is history in the making, and the country will be transformed by it.”

The protests will come as Congress begins a two-week recess. The Senate made progress Wednesday in resolving differences that have stalled immigration change legislation, but a vote to cut off debate today seemed destined to fail, probably dooming the chance for a final vote before Friday’s recess.


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email