'Nothing Gringo' day echoes US 'Day Without Immigrants'

In Mexico, residents boycott Wal-Mart, Starbucks, and other US franchises in show of solidarity.

The fast checkout line was closed at the Wal-Mart in the capital's Coyoacan district on Monday because there was not much of a line. Only about a dozen shoppers were in the produce section. No one was in the home-appliances department.

As many Mexican migrants in the US cut school and stopped work Monday as part of "A Day Without Immigrants," their compatriots across the border showed solidarity with the call for immigration reform by staging boycotts of US goods and stores here, as part of a so-called "Nothing Gringo" day.

The boycott - word of which initially spread through Internet and phone messaging - took on a semi-official feel, with half a dozen state governors voicing support for the protest. Groups including the Coalition for the Political Rights of Mexicans Abroad and the Mexican Association of Electricians urged members to boycott US franchises such as McDonald's and Dunkin' Donuts. Thousands of Mexicans joined solidarity marches.

The momentum also spread further South, with activists in Nicaragua, Guatemala, and El Salvador saying "No" to everything from Subway ham and cheese specials to Cinnabon treats.

"It's the least I can do to help my paisanos - fellow Mexicans - up north, who are treated badly, just like animals - and all for doing the US a favor by going to work there," said Raine Cortez Robles standing outside an Office Depot mega store on Insurgentes Boulevard in Mexico City. She had intended to buy her daughters school supplies, she says, but decided against it. "What, just because I need a ruler and a pencil sharpener, I should let down my brother and sisters? No!" she said.

Many Mexicans, however, did not seem to know about the boycott. Or, if they were aware of it, they chose to take advantage of the May Day public holiday to shop.

"I was born in Arizona, where my parents used to live illegally," says Mirsa Arellano loading up on soft drinks and ground beef at the Coyoacan-area Wal-Mart. "My son is there now, so I know about the hardships. But how is boycotting these stores really going to help? It might even backfire."

In a radio address Sunday, Mexican President Vicente Fox suggested that protesters avoid any "element of provocation that could promote xenophobia or opposition to immigration reform."

Felipe Calderón, the presidential candidate from Fox's National Action Party (PAN), seemed conflicted about the subject. "I feel the temptation to show solidarity with the movement," he said in a Saturday interview.

Activists from populist presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador's Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) handed out fliers in support of the boycott.

The American Chamber of Commerce, which charts US-Mexican business ties, says its members are responsible for $100 billion in investment here. Larry Rubin the group's president, noted that more than 40 percent of Mexico's workforce is employed by US companies. Walmex, the Mexican subsidiary of Wal-Mart, is the biggest private employer with 140,000 workers. Rubin said the boycott is "not a good way for Mexicans to pay back our support. It's like shooting oneself in the foot."

Over at the Starbucks in San Angel, a Mexico City neighborhood, Marina Elizalde was spread out on a comfortable couch Monday, studying for her medical school exams and tapping her feet to the Brazilian music wafting into the more-than-usually empty cafe. "I forgot," she said sheepishly, when asked about the boycott. "But now that I know, I am going to get up and walk out immediately ... after I finish my mocha."

Ms. Harman is Latin America correspondent for the Monitor and USA Today.

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