Mexicans hold placards during march in Mexico City in favour of migrants in the U.S.
Andrew Winning  /  Reuters
A Mexican holds a placard reading "All united with the migrants" during a Monday march through Mexico City in support of Mexican and latino migrants in the United States.
updated 5/1/2006 4:56:42 PM ET 2006-05-01T20:56:42

Thousands of union members rallied Monday to support Mexican migrants working in the United States and call for a boycott of American goods in what was dubbed “A Day Without Gringos.”

At least a half-dozen state governors in Mexico endorsed the boycott of McDonald’s, Wal-Mart and hundreds of other U.S. companies — an action timed to coincide with a call for immigrants to boycott work, school and shopping in the United States to show their importance to the country.

Measuring the impact of the boycott in Mexico was likely to prove difficult: Business normally drops to a fraction of its ordinary volume on May Day, the international workers’ holiday.

But Marina Serna, deputy manager for Burger King in downtown Mexico City, said she believed the boycott was having an effect. The restaurant had only one client during the first 90 minutes it was open.

“I’d say that this is bad because even if we work in a company with an international brand, the owners are not from the United States, they are Mexicans,” Serna said.

But there was a steady stream of customers at one Wal-Mart “Super Center” in Mexico City. Celestino Garcia, a 32-year-old sandwich seller outside the store, said the flow was normal.

Juan Ortiz, a 28-year-old salesman who left the store pushing a full cart, said he supported legalizing migrants in the United States but did not believe the boycott was practical.

“You have to buy what is least expensive here and I have to buy things for my family,” he said.

Mexico’s restive union movement — which traditionally holds rallies on May 1 — dedicated this year’s demonstrations to the boycotts here and in the United States.

Riot police at the embassy
At the U.S. Embassy on Mexico City’s central Paseo de la Reforma boulevard, about 50 police officers — many of them carrying helmets, batons and plastic shields — massed behind 15-foot barricades as supporters of the Zapatista rebel movement prepared to welcome their leader, Subcomandante Marcos, who has supported the boycott and U.S. work stoppages.

One supporter wore Nike Air Jordan pants and Converse sneakers along with the group’s traditional black mask and a T-shirt bearing a likeness of Cuban revolutionary icon Che Guevara.

Mexican federal officials have tried to distance themselves from protests in both nations. President Vicente Fox on Sunday urged Mexican protesters to be prudent.

“They shouldn’t be an element of provocation or one that promotes xenophobia or opposition” to immigration reform in the United States, Fox said.

Fox hopeful of U.S. solution
Fox said he was convinced legislation benefiting undocumented Mexican migrants living and working north of the border likely would be passed by U.S. lawmakers soon.

“They know the importance and value of immigration for the United States and they also know that it’s a topic that can benefit both countries,” Fox said. “It’s a topic that brings us closer together and that allows us to understand each other better.”

Since taking office in 2000, Fox repeatedly has called for a migration accord that would legalize the millions of undocumented Mexican workers living in the United States.

He also has criticized as “stupid” a U.S. House of Representatives bill calling for the construction of 700 miles of fence along the 1,952-mile U.S.-Mexican border.

However, his administration has held back from getting involved in the protests, saying it does not want to violate U.S. sovereignty.

The president also said his government must “generate opportunities here in Mexico.”

“And then, if someone wants to leave, to conquer new horizons, they should go ahead and do it,” Fox said, “but only after there are opportunities in Mexico."

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