The marching orders were clear: Carry American flags and pack the kids, pick up your trash and wear white for peace and for effect.
Many of the 500,000 people who crammed downtown Los Angeles on Saturday to protest legislation that would make criminals out of illegal immigrants learned where, when and even how to demonstrate from the Spanish-language media.
For English-speaking America, the mass protests in Los Angeles and other U.S. cities over the past few days have been surprising for their size and seeming spontaneity.
But they were organized, promoted or publicized for weeks by Spanish-language radio hosts and TV anchors as a demonstration of Hispanic pride and power.
In Milwaukee, where at least 10,000 people rallied last week, one radio station manager called some employers to ask that they not fire protesters for skipping work. In Chicago, a demonstration that drew 100,000 people received coverage on local television more than a week in advance.
A matter of paying attention
“This was a much bigger story for the Latino media,” said Felix Gutierrez, a professor at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication. “If the mainstream media had been paying better attention, there would not have been the surprise about the turnout.”
Adrian Velasco first learned of House legislation to overhaul immigration policy on Los Angeles’ Que Buena 105.5 FM. Over two weeks, the 30-year-old illegal immigrant soaked up details about the planned march against the bill from Hispanic TV and radio. On Saturday, he and three friends headed downtown.
“They told all the Hispanic people to go and support these things,” Velasco said. “They explained a lot. They said, ’Here’s what we’re going to do.”’
One of those doing the most talking was El Piolin, a syndicated morning show radio host who is broadcast in 20 cities.
El Piolin, whose real name is Eduardo Sotelo and whose nickname means “Tweety Bird,” persuaded colleagues from 11 Spanish-language radio stations in Los Angeles to talk up the rally on air.
Bring flags! Bring trash bags! Bring the kids!
He said he devised the idea of telling protesters to wear white and carry flags to symbolize their peaceful intent and love of the United States. He also urged parents to bring their children to minimize chances of violence and reminded everyone to bring plenty of water and trash bags.
“I was talking about how we need to be united to demonstrate that we’re not bad guys and we’re not criminals,” said Sotelo, 35, who crossed into the United States as a teenager and became legal in 1996.
In Milwaukee, the Spanish-language station WDDW 104.7 made a point of publicizing the House legislation and the protest against it on its morning and drive-time shows two weeks ahead of time.
Operations manager Armando Ulloa said his goal was at least 10,000 people — and police estimated that was what the rally attracted. After the march, Ulloa said, he called some employers and asked them to be lenient on protesters who missed their shifts.
Message: Do it with pride
In Los Angeles, 10 prime-time Spanish-language news anchors filmed a promotion urging demonstrators to show respect, said Julio Cesar Ortiz, a television reporter who covers immigration.
“The Spanish media said, ‘Do it in a proper way. Do it in a way where’s there’s pride behind it when you’re done,”’ Ortiz said.
Telemundo Chicago, a Spanish-language TV station, began its coverage blitz 1½ weeks before a recent rally, though there was no urging that viewers attend, said news director Esteban Creste.
“We just told them what was going on,” Creste said. “While we were not trying to mobilize people, it might have prompted people to decide to go there.”
The protests continued Tuesday in at least three states, with thousands of students leaving school again in California, Arizona and Texas.
In Los Angeles, teens rallied despite campus lockdowns, but their numbers were far smaller than the tens of thousands who marched Monday. Authorities thwarted efforts to block freeway traffic, rounding up some youngsters and issuing truancy citations.
In Phoenix, about 1,000 students marched to the state Capitol for the second day in a row.
And in Dallas, students crowded in front of City Hall, waving Mexican and Salvadoran flags and shouting “We can do it!” in Spanish.
The protests jammed roads, and Dallas school district spokesman Donny Claxton said a girl’s hand was severed when the sport utility vehicle she was in sped into an intersection and overturned.