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Chicago Giant put rest of country on notice

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Chicago 'Giant' put rest of country on notice/April 2, 2006/Scott Fornek

It started with about two dozen Latino community leaders trading ideas in a former church in the Pilsen neighborhood, hashing out how best to protest a U.S. House bill that would crack down on illegal immigration.

It ended three weeks later with a rally in the Loop attended by more than 100,000.

...They employed everything from a popular radio personality nicknamed "El Pistolero" to leaflets and e-mails to signs in shop windows promising "El Gigante Despierta" (The Giant Awakes).

..."It caught like fire," said Artemio Arreola, one of the key organizers. "It surprised me, too."

..."You saw an outpouring of people closing their businesses and walking alongside their employees," said Emma Lozano, 53, a longtime Latino activist who helped plan the event. "It was a great unity."

The groups behind the impressive turnout cut across a multitude of lines -- left-leaning Mexican American activists, more centrist Mexican hometown federations based around members' villages of origin, immigrant rights advocates, soccer clubs, churches, social service agencies, labor unions and Irish, Chinese and other ethnic organizations.

...The first meeting here was held Feb. 15, at a former church at 1638 S. Blue Island, now headquarters of Casa Michoacan. Its members trace their roots to the Mexican state of Michoacan.

It was called by Arreola, 41, a high school custodian, official in an umbrella group of Michoacan clubs and an organizer in the Service Employees International Union Local 73. The other convener was Omar Lopez, 61, who runs a group that combats AIDS in the Latino community and serves on the Institute for Mexicans Abroad, an advisory council to Mexican President Vicente Fox.

...(Emma Lozano) was there, but she said the momentum began building much earlier, after a pro-immigration march in the Back of the Yards neighborhood last July.

Then, the weekend before the Feb. 15 meeting, (Emma Lozano), executive director of Pueblo Sin Fronteras -- which roughly translates to people without borders -- attended a conference of the National Alliance for Human Rights in Riverside, Calif.

There, organizers called for marches to be held across the country on March 10 in protest of the Sensenbrenner bill.

..."We were not sure it was enough time to plan anything," said Jose Luis Gutierrez, president of Casa Michoacan...

...(Rafeal Pulido) had helped rally people for the 2005 march in Back of the Yards.

..."Everyone worked in different ways," said Salvador Pedroza, 47, president of the Little Village Chamber of Commerce. "Sensenbrenner did us a favor by uniting all these immigrants."

...Two weeks later, a whopping 500,000 came out for a similar demonstration in Los Angeles. Chicago organizers say the rally here helped build the momentum -- 'a point some of them made to Fox in Mexico City this past week during a meeting of the Institute for Mexicans Abroad.

"Chicago is recognized as the place where all of these marches were born," said Juan Salgado, president of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, after delivering a speech at Los Pinos, the presidential residence. "The magnitude of the march in Chicago really elevated the whole thing."

..."It all depends on what the climate is in Congress," said Carlos Arango, 58, executive director of Casa Aztlan, a community organization...

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Sat, 10/07/2006 - 21:10 · Importance: 2