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THE STATE

Flag's Meaning Is in the Eye of the Beholder

When protesters wave Mexico's colors, illegal immigration foes are angered. But some marchers see it as a symbol of their unity.

March 29, 2006|Anna Gorman | Times Staff Writer

As high school senior Saul Corona protested proposed immigration reforms in front of Los Angeles City Hall on Monday, he did so with a Mexican flag on his head.

"It's my pride. It's my roots," Corona, 18, said in an interview Tuesday. "I want to express it and show to other people where I come from, what Mexico has done for the United States."

That image -- protesters waving and wearing Mexican flags -- has angered anti-illegal immigration activists.

"This isn't Mexico," said Joseph Turner, founder of Save Our State. "This is America.... What [annoys me] most is the arrogance that they are going to fly a foreign flag on my soil."

The Mexican flag has long been an issue in the immigration debate. For some, it represents pride and unity among Mexicans and Mexican Americans fighting for their rights. For others, it symbolizes an invasion of the United States by Mexicans.

During the anti-Proposition 187 rallies of 1994, the flying of the flag may have increased support for the initiative, which would have denied public services to undocumented immigrants. It was passed by voters but overturned by the courts.

Ron Prince, a co-author of Proposition 187, said the flag is a clear sign of Mexicans' allegiance to their native country. "It reinforces what we keep hearing from the protesters: that this land used to be Mexico and they are going to take it back."

But UC Irvine professor Frank Bean said the flag doesn't signify loyalty to Mexico but rather loyalty to one another.

"They are saying, 'We are together in fighting against these people who are trying to make felons out of us,' " said Bean, co-director of UC Irvine's Center for Research on Immigration, Population and Public Policy.

This week's student walkouts, as well as a march that drew an estimated 500,000 protesters to Los Angeles on Saturday, were in opposition to proposed legislation passed by the House in December that would criminalize undocumented immigrants and those who help them.

A Senate committee voted this week to eliminate both proposals and to create a program that would allow foreign workers to enter the U.S. under a program that could lead to citizenship.

During Saturday's march, American flags appeared to outnumber Mexican flags, in large part because the Spanish-language DJs who promoted the demonstration during their radio shows urged participants to carry American flags to show their patriotism.

"If we want to live here, we want to demonstrate that we love this country and we love the American flag," DJ Eddie "El Piolin" Sotelo said.

But during the student walkouts this week, hundreds wore the red, white and green Mexican flags. Some were immigrants, but more were U.S. citizens.

Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, said many young people feel a need to defend their Mexican heritage.

"Their identity has not always been respected," Salas said. "It's a wonderful time for them to say, 'I'm proud to be Mexican.' "

Garden Grove High School junior Jose Covarrubias, 16, carried both flags Monday. He doesn't think anyone should read too much into protesters' use of the Mexican flag.

"St. Patrick's Day just passed," Covarrubias said. "Just because they wave an Irish flag doesn't mean that they care about Ireland more than they do the U.S."

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