Marcha!: Latino Chicago and the Immigrant Rights Movement

Marcha!: Latino Chicago and the Immigrant Rights Movement

Hardcover(1st Edition)



Marcha is a multidisciplinary survey of the individuals, organizations, and institutions that have given shape and power to the contemporary immigrant rights movement in Chicago. A city with longstanding historic ties to immigrant activism, Chicago has been the scene of a precedent-setting immigrant rights mobilization in 2006 and subsequent mobilizations in 2007 and 2008.

Positing Chicago as a microcosm of the immigrant rights movement on national level, these essays plumb an extraordinarily rich set of data regarding recent immigrant rights activities, defining the cause as not just a local quest for citizenship rights, but a panethnic, transnational movement. The result is a timely volume likely to provoke debate and advance the national conversation about immigration in innovative ways.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780252035296
Publisher: University of Illinois Press
Publication date: 06/11/2010
Series: Latinos in Chicago and Midwest Series
Edition description: 1st Edition
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Amalia Pallares is an associate professor of political science and Latin American and Latino studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the author of From Peasant Struggles to Indian Resistance: The Ecuadorian Andes in the Late Twentieth Century.Nilda Flores-González is an associate professor of sociology and Latin American and Latino studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the author of School Kids, Street Kids: Identity Development in Latino Students.

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Latino Chicago and the Immigrant Rights Movement


Copyright © 2010 Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-252-07716-6


In 2006, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets to protest a congressional bill that would have criminalized undocumented immigrants and those who assisted them. More than 250 massive marches, or megamarches, as they were popularly called, were held throughout the country in cities large and small during March and April, culminating in simultaneous marches on May 1 that drew an estimated 3.5 to 5 million people (Bada, Fox, and Selee 2006, 36). In Chicago, more than 100,000 people marched for immigrant rights on March 10; on May 1, over 400,000 marched from Union Park to Grant Park, the largest such demonstration in the city's history. Although the cumulative impact of all these marches cannot yet be fully determined, what became known as the Spring of the Immigrant has had a number of immediate effects— most noticeably, stopping the Senate from enacting the Sensenbrenner Bill, rendering the struggles of undocumented immigrants and their families more visible, and mobilizing thousands of people more systematically to organize for immigrant rights.

These massive mobilizations surprised even the lifelong activists who coordinated the marches. At the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), more than a dozen faculty and graduate students met after the March 10 rally to discuss the urgent need to learn more. As the marches unfolded, academics, journalists, and observers began to ask themselves what had made possible these marches, who the marchers were, how a population that analysts had considered a sleeping giant (demographically strong but politically weak) had awakened, why people had become so galvanized, and what the marches meant. (For more on the sleeping giant metaphor, see Monforti 2008.)

To address some of these questions, this group of UIC faculty and students decided to create a collective research project in which each researcher or group of researchers would pursue a discrete but interrelated project from a different perspective and disciplinary approach. Together, we created the Immigrant Mobilization Project (IMP), codirected by Nilda Flores-González and Amalia Pallares, and decided to create a common base of knowledge by conducting a survey of the May 1 marchers to supplement the individual projects.

The IMP randomly surveyed 410 marchers, asking who they were, why they were marching, and what their general patterns of civic and political engagement were. A team of more than seventy faculty members and graduate and undergraduate students surveyed participants in Spanish and English, approaching most of them either in Union Park before the march started or in Grant Park while people were listening to speakers on the stage, eating, or preparing to leave.

Who were the marchers? Perhaps our most important finding was that 74 percent of our respondents were citizens (figure I.1). These initial findings showed a broad support for immigrant rights among the native-born as well as naturalized citizens that runs counter to the image of the marchers as comprised mostly or mainly of undocumented immigrants.

Most of the marchers were Latinos, but other groups were represented (figure I.2). Among participants who were born outside of the United States, 81 percent were Mexican and 10 percent were from other Latin American countries (figure I.3). Participation was fairly evenly distributed between men and women, and 51 percent of the marchers we interviewed were between fifteen and twenty-eight years old. We also found an even distribution of education levels among the marchers as well as a relatively diverse distribution of incomes (figures I.4 and I.5).

Why were people marching? Forty-four percent of respondents stated that they were marching to support immigrants. More specific reasons included supporting legalization, defending rights in general, and showing unity (figure I.6). When asked what they hoped the marches would accomplish, the most common response was legalization of undocumented people—that is, policy change—followed by more general concerns about civil rights and justice (figure I.7).

What were the marchers' broader patterns of civic and political engagement? Thirty-six million strong and growing, the Latino population has long been considered demographically important but with a relatively low level of political power that does not yet match its numbers. Our survey revealed that although many marchers had not previously been politically engaged, many other participants had engaged in earlier political activity. Sixty-nine percent of those eligible had voted in past elections, and many had attended public meetings, signed petitions, or engaged in other activities (figure I.8). An overwhelming majority of the marchers expressed positive feelings about the United States, with 91 percent expressing strong love for the country (figure I.9).

This quick synopsis of a more extensive survey project provides only a brief glimpse of the marchers and their motivations. (For a more extensive statistical summary of the 2006 march, see Flores-González et al. 2006.) However, this summary points to a broader and more complicated story than the one conveyed by press reports that often portrayed the event as a "march of illegals." While many undocumented people marched, they were clearly outnumbered by citizens. Further, although most marchers were immigrants, others were not. Legalization was a main concern, but the immigrant rights agenda shared by marchers conveyed a much broader set of concerns about civil rights, workers' rights, social justice, and democracy.

Hence, while the survey provided some initial insights, we realized that further learning about this movement required more in-depth research and the use of multiple methodologies to analyze the set of political and historical forces that led to the Chicago marches as well as their meaning and impact. We presented our initial findings at a February 2007 conference held at UIC that brought together academics and activists. We subsequently held a workshop where all of the authors received extensive comments.

On May 1, 2007, another immigrant rights march took place in Chicago, and we again surveyed participants, reaching the same general conclusions as we found the preceding year. Both marches were majority Latino, but the 2007 march showed slight increases in Latino and African American participation and a significant decline in white participation (figure I.2). The 2007 march also had higher percentages of immigrants and noncitizens (figure I.1). The 2007 marchers were also more likely to come from outside the United States (figure I.3).

People's reasons for participating also changed significantly between 2006 and 2007 as a consequence of the changes that had occurred over that time (figure I.6). In 2006, most survey respondents stated that the most important reason for marching was to protect the rights of immigrants in general, followed by support for legalization of immigrants. In 2007, respondents were more focused on policy, marching to support legalization or to stop deportations.

The most dramatic difference between the marches is the 2007 marchers' somewhat lower reports of civic engagement (figure I.8). Nevertheless, the 2007 rates reflect the national average for the general Latino population, providing support for the claim that marchers are just as likely to participate in political behaviors as other Latinos. In fact, a comparison of the voting rates and civic engagement of 2006 and 2007 marchers with the Pew Hispanic averages shows that the marchers displayed rates of participation at least equal to those of registered Latinos in two categories (writing to elected officials and attending public meetings) but were less likely to contribute money to politicians (figure I.10). Thus, at least among Chicago's Latinos, no strict dichotomy necessarily exists between the use of conventional strategies and mass mobilization.

This volume provides an in-depth and multidisciplinary analysis of the immigrant rights movement in Chicago and its relationship to the national movement. Focusing on Chicago as a case study enables us to provide a more complete examination of the different types of organizations, institutions, and social actors that have shaped the contemporary immigrant rights movement. Chicago has a long-standing and complex history of immigrant activism and has been at the forefront of contemporary activism: it was the second city to hold a massive march in 2006; it is a major center of hometown association national and international organizing (Chicago hometown association leaders helped organize the Latin American Migrant Community Summit in Morelia in May 2007); it is home to the first church to provide sanctuary to an undocumented immigrant facing deportation (Elvira Arellano); and it staged the largest immigrant rights marches in the country in 2007 and 2008. It is, therefore, a microcosm of the immigrant rights activism that has enveloped the nation and can provide important lessons for the study of the immigrant rights movement as a whole.

The Chicago case has taught us that at least three characteristics distinguish this movement from the Mexican and Puerto Rican civil rights movements of the 1970s. First, while the previous movements had an explicit civil rights agenda, arguing for education, urban justice, and land rights and against police brutality and racism, immigrant rights were often included implicitly but not as a central platform. The current movement is characterized by an agenda that centers on immigrant rights but also relies on them as a platform for engaging questions of human rights, civil rights, and workers' rights that concern most Latinos and all working-class communities of color. Thus, although the two generations of struggle are distinct, they should not be seen as unrelated. In fact, while many of the participants are young, several of the organizers were first active in the 1970s in CASA, the Raza Unida Party, and community organizations; others became involved in immigrant rights as a result of the 1986 amnesty.

The focus on the rights of the undocumented marks a second important characteristic of this movement—a departure from six decades of Mexican activism divided between those who sought to emphasize the struggle for undocumented immigrants and those who sought to deemphasize it or even undermine it. In his important book, Walls and Mirrors (1995), David Gutiérrez explains that for many Mexican Americans trying to organize collectively to get ahead, integration into the United States required separating themselves from any association with undocumented immigrants and emphasizing "Americanness." In addition, many Mexican American workers felt that they competed directly with undocumented labor and rejected a more inclusive agenda. Those organizations that spoke for the rights of the undocumented, such as the Congress of Spanish-Speaking Peoples, were in the minority. While Chicano movement activists in the 1970s rejected this assimilationist model and sought to critique the system that excluded them, they focused primarily on their status as second-class citizens, not on the rights of people formally excluded from the category (see Haney-López 2003; Muñoz 2007; Oropeza 2005).

We are increasingly looking at a very different picture. A recent survey by the Pew Hispanic Center reveals that most Latinos oppose the intensification of the campaign against undocumented immigrants: 81 percent of Hispanics say that immigration enforcement should be left mainly to the federal authorities rather than the local police; 76 percent disapprove of workplace raids; 73 percent disapprove of the criminal prosecution of undocumented immigrants; and 70 percent disapprove of the criminal prosecution of employers who hire undocumented immigrants. Moreover, the survey found that a majority of Latinos worry about deportation: 40 percent worry about it a lot, while an additional 17 percent worry about it some (López and Minushkin 2008). These concerns appear to affect Latino voting patterns. A poll conducted by the National Council of La Raza just before the 2006 elections found that 51 percent of Latino registered and likely voters in twenty-three states said that immigration was an important issue, and a Pew Hispanic Center poll in June and July 2008 showed that 75 percent of Latino registered voters viewed the immigration issue as "extremely important" or "very important" (Immigration Policy Center 2008). These findings suggest that while not all Latinos support the rights of the undocumented, the majority of the 46 million Latinos in this country are troubled by current immigration policy and the treatment of the undocumented.

While some of these findings can be explained by the fact that many naturalized Latinos have undocumented immigrants in their immediate or extended families, several of the authors in this volume have determined that this support is also explained by other factors, including political and ideological forms of solidarity in a period of perceived persecution, cultural and transnational affinities in an increasingly globalized world, and second-generation immigrant identification. Several of the citizen-activists we study draw connections between their civil rights struggle against what they perceive as their status as second-class citizens and the exclusion of the undocumented from formal citizenship. Unlike earlier Latino assimilationist views, the struggles of the undocumented do not impede the ascent of new Americans; rather, social justice and dignity for naturalized Latinos and their descendents rests on the inclusion of the undocumented. And, some activists ask, don't those who have formal citizenship status have a responsibility to serve as the voice for those not recognized as legitimate spokespersons for their cause? Hence, this movement is a hybrid one, in which the principal actors are both legal and undocumented and the former's struggle for equal citizenship and the latter's struggle for formal citizenship are deeply intertwined.

The third distinct characteristic of this movement is that it is a panethnic and pan-Latino movement. While other national origin groups were involved in the Chicano and Puerto Rican struggles of the 1970s, those involved in the twenty-first-century movement describe it as a panethnic Latino mobilization. While most of the marchers are Mexican, others are Puerto Rican, Dominican, and Central and South American; in addition, the growing numbers of children of interethnic marriages have participated as organizers, mobilizers, and marchers. The movement also includes immigrants from other groups—in Chicago, Korean, Chinese, Irish, Muslim, and Polish activists have been involved, as have others.

This movement thus simultaneously involves many factors. It clearly involves legalization for undocumented immigrants, but it also a panethnic, transnational, Latino rights, civil rights, human rights, and citizenship rights movement. To shed light on the movement's complexity and main actors and networks, we divide the book into four parts: Political and Historical Context, Institutions, Agency, and Subjectivities.

Part 1, "Political and Historical Context," introduces the national and local developments and conditions that caused the marches. Chapter 1 provides an overview of the movement's contemporary historical and political context. Starting with the 1986 Immigration and Reform Control Act and ending with the 2008 immigrant marches, Nilda Flores-González and Elena R. Gutiérrez trace the complicated relationships among restrictions on immigration, policy change, and immigrant rights activism that led to the national marches, which did not come out of nowhere. For more than two decades, Latinos have been organizing at the grassroots, state, and national levels to challenge trends in restrictions and enforcement, both internal and on the border, and to struggle for legalization. Although the immigrant rights movement has not always been victorious, it has created an infrastructure and a set of networks that facilitated the massive resistance that arose when draconian policies were proposed in 2006.


Excerpted from ¡Marcha! Copyright © 2010 by Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


Timeline of Immigrant Mobilization....................TP1ξTP1TC1[Introduction]TC1 xv 1. Taking the Public Square: The National Struggle for Immigrant Rights Nilda Flores-González and Elena R. Gutiérrez....................3
2. The Chicago Context Amalia Pallares....................37
3. Competing Narratives on the March: The Challenges of News Media Representations in Chicago Frances R. Aparicio....................65
4. The Role of the Catholic Church in the Chicago Immigrant Mobilization Stephen P. Davis, Juan R. Martinez, and R. Stephen Warner....................79
5. Hoy Marchamos, Mañana Votamos: It's All Part of the Curriculum Irma M. Olmedo....................97
6. Labor Joins la Marcha: How New Immigrant Activists Restored the Meaning of May Day Leon Fink....................109
7. Marchando al Futuro: Latino Immigrant Rights Leadership in Chicago Leonard G. Ramírez, José Perales-Ramos, and José Antonio Arellano....................123
8. Mexican Hometown Associations in Chicago: The Newest Agents of Civic Participation Xóchitl Bada....................146
9. Permission to March? High School Youth Participation in the Immigrant Rights Movement Sonia Oliva....................163
10. Minutemen and the Subject of Democracy David Bleeden, Caroline Gottschalk-Druschke, and Ralph Cintrón....................179
11. Immigrants, Citizens, or Both? The Second Generation in the Immigrant Rights Marches Nilda Flores-González....................198
12. Representing "La Familia": Family Separation and Immigrant Activism Amalia Pallares....................215
13. Grappling with Latinidad: Puerto Rican Activism in Chicago's Pro–Immigrant Rights Movement Michael Rodríguez Muñiz....................237
List of Contributors....................259

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