The Boycott from Both Sides of the Border

It's a public holiday for the much of the world. In fact, I'm severely disappointed if you're reading this in anything other than pajamas.

Though International Workers Day (better known as “May Day”) was first established in the United States after the Haymarket Riot, government fear of spreading socialism caused then-President Grover Cleveland to adopt the September commemoration of Labor Day as the official federal endorsement. As a result, many – if not most – Americans did not know what May Day is nor what it celebrates.

That has changed this year, however, thanks to the Great American Boycott, or in Spanish, El Gran Paro Americano. Or “El Boicot.” Or, “A Day without an Immigrant.” Or, the “Nothing Gringo Boycott.” In fact, as we shall soon see, the titles for the day are as varied as its participants. Bloggers on both sides of the border have expressed conflicted feelings about the cause, which includes an international boycott against all products of American-based companies in a show of solidarity against the bill “H.R. 4437.”

Eduardo Domínguez of Monterrey, Mexico acknowledges in his post “Boicoteando” that:

Hay cientos de razones por las cuales estar a favor o en contra del mentado boicot que se haría en México a los productos gringos este primero de mayo.

A mi gusto, es cándido pensar que Washington se intimidará por un boicot de esta naturaleza, porque, seamos honestos, nos gusta lo gringo y a lo gringos lo mexicano (toda proporción guardada) y nadie quiere cambiar eso. Give me Mcallen or give me death. Eso del boicot pareciera ser un “Hoy no compro gringo. Mañana sí”. La verdad no hay mucha ganancia por ahi.

There are hundreds of reasons for those who are in favor of or against the boycott of “productos gringos” that will be held in Mexico this May first.

According to my own tastes, it's simplistic to think that Washington will be intimidated by a boycott of this nature because, let's be honest, we like what's American and we like Americans. Give me McAllen [a Texas border city popular for weekend shopping trips by Northern Mexicans] or give me death. All this talk of the boycott seems to be “today I won't buy gringo, but tomorrow sure.” Honestly, there's not much won in that.

Domínguez goes on to say that if Mexicans are serious about making social change, that they should start in their own country.

Raúl Ramírez of the popular Mexico City-based design blog Isopixel, makes note of just how difficult a true boycott against American products is in our globalized world.

Muchas cadenas de emails piden apoyar a los migrantes de este lado de la frontera, no comprando productos gringos, algo complicado por la proliferación de mercancías provenientes de Estados Unidos. Además es harto complicado estar buscando de donde demonios proviene un producto para consumirlo o no. Salvo las multinacionales muy reconocidas como Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Mc Donald's, Starbucks y Domino's. Mi mismo proveedor de hosting es americano, así que ni modo de no conectarme.

Desde aquí nuestra solidaridad con nuestros compatriotas indocumentados en una tierra ajena.

On this side of the border a lot of chain emails are asking that we support the migrants by not buying gringo products; something difficult due to the proliferation of merchandise from the US. Plus, it's plenty complicated just looking for where the hell a product came from in order to decide whether or not to consume it … my own hosting provider is American …”

From here we offer our solidarity to our undocumented compatriots in a far land.

Hector Centeno says he will join the boycott, but then wonders if the sushi restaurant he plans on eating at is an American chain.

Quoting a news item from Notimex, Eduardo Arcos titles his post, “the boycott in Mexico could amount to 36 billion dollars in lost revenue.” Attempting to clarify the confusion of which companies are American and which are not, Arcos mentions that the popular convenient store chain, Oxxo belongs to Coca-Cola, but that Starbucks, Domino's, Burger King, and Popeye's “belong to Grupo Alsea, which in reality is Mexican.” But when someone suggests boycotting the internet because it was “invented by Americans,” Arcos responds that he believes that the internet belongs to everyone, concluding that, “what many simply don't understand is that this boycott is a symbolic form of supporting the boycott being carried about by the Latinos in the United States.”

Still the suggestion of boycotting the internet creates a debate in the comment thread over whether American products should just not be purchased or not be used at all. When Arcos contends that using an American product is not the same as purchasing it, “DRG” replies:

no trates de defenderte diciendo que usar no es lo mismo que comprar y por eso está bien, porque hasta vos te das cuenta que ese argumento hace agua por todos lados. para usar algo tenés que haberlo adquirido antes. o haberlo robado. como sea. es un acto de consumo igualmente. además, qué sentido tiene boicotear los productos estadounidenses donde sea *UN DÍA* si el resto de los días se vuelven a consumir (sea de la manera que sea, comprándolos, hablando positivamente de ellos -cofapplecoff- o como sea) como si fueran vitales. ni los propios latinos en EEUU van a dejar de hacerlo. peeero… es más fácil no ir a comer la hamburguesita del día y sentirse revolucionario por ello que hacer algo al respecto…

Don't try to defend yourself by saying that using is not the same as buying and so it's ok because even you realize this argument is flawed. To use something you have to have bought it before. Or have stolen it. Whatever, it's an act of consumption regardless. Furthermore, what sense is there in boycotting American products for ONE DAY if the rest of the days mark a return to consumption. Not even the Latinos in the US are going to stop [buying and talking about products]. but … it's much easier to not eat a hamburger one day and feel revolutionary for it than really do something about [the real problem]

Another commenter, Karina, also says she is against the boycott.

Ayer (no recuerdo el nombre) decia que la mejor manera de apoyar el boicot es generando más empleos en México.

Femsa es una empresa mexicana por lo mismo no estoy de acuerdo en dejar de comprar productos hechos en México. Eso de boicotear a empresas que generan empleos en México como que no le veo caso.

Yesterday, (I don't remember their name), someone said that the best way to support the boycott is by generating more jobs in Mexico.

Femsa [the bottler of Coca-Cola in Mexico] is a Mexican business, which is why I don't agree with not buying products that are made here in Mexico. All this talk of boycotting companies that create jobs in Mexico doesn't make any sense to me.

Some Latino bloggers in the United States, despite their clear solidarity, also feel conflicted about joining the school and work walkouts. Lotería Chicana, the weblog of a Mexican-American graduate student at UCLA, explains how she came to the difficult decision of participating in today's protests despite skipping out on her new job.

Although I respect decisions to go to work, I know that I had to change my mind. I thought of my grandparents who came here with several children in hopes of a better life. Although my parents and their families did not come as undocumented immigrants, I know well that I have a number of extended family members and good friends who do not have that privilege.

“Xoloitzquintle,” who describes himself as “a thirty-something freelance anthropologist and university instructor” is also conflicted. In the end he says:

It seems like this immigrant will be around on Monday. I will not buy anything and I will probably attend the rally again, but my commitment to teaching is greater than my immigrant solidarity.

This notion finds resonance with other Latino teacher-bloggers. Jennifer, a professor in Texas who recently held class at a protest against H.R. 4437, comments:

i'm also teaching on monday. i had my reseravations, but it's the last week of school, and my students are doing group presentations. i canceled class on april 10th, but we don't have any more days to “make up.” anyway. i do plan on participating in the economic boycott that day…

“MsAbcMom,” a Panamanian-American teacher in California explains her decision to hold class today:

While I support the boycott, I also support my student's need for an education. All but one of my students are either immigrants themselves or children of immigrants. The majority of the kids in my class come from very modest, humble and hard working families. Their parents value their education tremendously and have done an excellent job of instilling this value in their children … I guess you could say that I feel like I will be doing my part in participating in the boycott by coming to work and educating these immigrant children, mi gente, on that day.

Regarding the question of whether or not she'll discuss the boycott with her students:

I am a little torn on this subject too. Part of me thinks that I need to keep my personal politics out of the classroom. My students think that everything I say is what is right. While I kind of like that, I want to make sure that I don't abuse that power I have over them. It is important that I help them to be independent critical thinkers. The subject will probably come up though and we will discuss it in our circle/calendar time. If it doesn't though, I might even bring it up myself. We do discuss current events during our circle time so it isn't like it is something out of the ordinary.

It is law student César Garcia who most passionately articulates his participation in “El Gran Paro” in a post that was also published on AlterNet.

Some have noted that, historically, one-day boycotts have little lasting economic impact. Consumers simply shop a bit more the day before or the day after. Such criticism is valid of boycotts intended to bring the targeted businesses to their knees. That is not my goal, nor that of the thousands who I will join.

I do not intend to wreak economic havoc on any business. After all, their economic well-being provides jobs for immigrants. The millions of people who have taken to the streets in recent weeks have done so expressly to protect the ability of immigrant workers to work.

Instead, I will cease my economic activity on May 1 to remind our legislators that this economy functions only because immigrants carry it on their shoulders as workers and consumers.

I will join the boycott to remind our legislators that they serve me. Their distant debates are my concerns, the concerns of my family, friends, and neighbors. Yes, I am watching the discussion in Washington. And on May 1, I will remind them that I have not stopped paying attention.

But John Guzman, a native of Colombia who has lived most of his life in the United States, disagrees:

I am not boycotting anything. In fact I urge everyone to go to work and not observe this movement. People need to understand the issues that they are fighting for and what they are going to be able to accomplish with their efforts. This movement is not going to help anything. Sure it might illustrate the buying power of Hispanics in this country, or their impact on some cities with a high concentration of Hispanics. But then what? Whose cries are going to be heard? Whose demands would be met?

I have felt like an outsider since I moved to the U.S. I am sure my position on this subject is not going to make me new friends in the community. I am sorry but I love America, I love the dream that I fight for every single day and I wish people would try to fight just as hard instead of waiting for a favor or a handout.

This is just a small, though hopefully representative sample of what bloggers from both sides of the border have been saying about today's boycott. Of course, a thin slice of cyber-chatter cannot be taken as a measurement of overall opinion, but it does go to show that complex reactions have been inspired by a complex movement.


  • […] A rare double post from Global Voices. (I apologize for the missing formatting) […]

  • Very informative and I am not reading it in pajamas, because I am ready to go out and pleadge Hispanic!

  • Ese, antes que nothing I wanna give you las gracias por mencioning el blog that the xicano blogsphere in good ol’ Aztlán has forgotten, wait, was that too rueful? waht the heck, mira, i just wanna redirect you to Raza Cósmica, a blog I started well over two years ago with the intention of collecting blogs from mexicans living in Sweden (15 so far), wait, I know I ought to put one of them fancy orthographical thingys around here ….either güey, if interest is aroused, and I hope this message isn’t classified as spam after saying that, go give it a look.

  • A day without good Tex-Mex food

    Yesterday was “A Day Without Immigrants”. A large number of citizens and immigrants protested against proposed immigration law changes by skipping work and taking to the streets. We watched the local news last night (yes, ugh) to see their coverage….

  • […] Ethan Zuckerman says all thisgoes to prove the need for projects like Global Voices and Blogamundo: All of which suggests that English-language blogging is becoming a smaller plurality each day. Which makes me very happy that we made the decision a few months ago at Global Voices to focus heavily on translating blog posts as well as linking to them. Haitham, Veronica, David, Feng and Alice have been steadily translating content from Arabic, Russian, Spanish, Chinese and French, respectively, and we’ll be introducing our new Portuguese translator in a few days. This has let us run fantastic posts, like this analysis of the Spanish blogosphere’s reaction to today’s boycott of US goods in much of the Spanish-speaking world by David Sasaki. But it makes me hungry for even more, including projects like Blogamundo, which promise large-scale systems to help translate blog content. […]

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