04/11/06 — Workers protest with their wallets

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Workers protest with their wallets

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on April 11, 2006 1:48 PM

Fernando Valencia wasn't one of the hundreds of Wayne and Duplin residents who headed for Raleigh and Wilmington Monday to protest legislation before Congress concering illegal immigration.

He read about last week's demonstrations, but thought the issue had "calmed down."

Still, many Wayne County businesses lost a chunk of their workforce Monday, as a large group of Hispanics called in sick or walked off their jobs to be part of the nationwide protest concerning the bill that would change the way the nation handles illegal immigration.

Some of those who did head to the rallies organized at a Duplin County church. Others, including Valencia and the eight other men sitting with him outside a Seven Springs grocery store protested from home -- with their wallets.

The men said they staged an economic boycott -- refusing to spend any money to show businesses the importance of Hispanic customers.

"I heard nothing about the protest until today," Valencia said. "Now that I know, I won't buy anything today."

He said he bumped into his friends early Monday afternoon and they told him not to buy anything. If there was anything he or his family urgently needed, they would help provide it to avoid any purchasing.

"He told me not to buy groceries today," Valencia said, pointing across the parking lot at Hector Martez. "We want Americans to know we are a part of this country."

Martez, 23, said he has always been a man who "leads the fight." He has been living in Duplin County for less than three years and remembers fending off racial slurs, standing up for Hispanic children and, most recently, convincing his friends to support the economic boycott for the day.

"I have always wanted to fight things that are bad," Martez said. "When I heard people talking about leaving work and protesting, I joined."

But he didn't want to go to a rally. Staying closer to the apartment he calls home was a way to spread the message.

"There will be many people at the protest," he said in slow English. "Here, we can make our neighborhood see the problem. That's why we are sitting (here)."

Raul Martinez nodded his head and smiled.

He said he he wanted nothing more than to live free in the U.S. and to be accepted for all his hard work.

"Bush might let us stay and be like Americans," he said. "That's what I hope for."

Martinez has been in the country for a little more than a year. At 19, he wakes up before sunrise every morning to work on a nearby farm. But not Monday, he said.

"There are many farms here," he said. "I came because there is work for me."

All of the men said they came to this country to work, but current immigration discussions make them nervous. After all they have been through, some might have to go back to Mexico and "wait in line" to return.

Martez said he and other illegal immigrants should be allowed to stay if they have jobs.

"We all should be treated the same," Martez said. "In Mexico, our people would not kick out Americans. And we work hard. Let us stay here and work."

At close to 7 p.m., the men said their goodbyes. Some jumped into the back of a red pickup truck and headed home. Valencia decided to walk.

"It's not that far," he said. "I'll be home soon."

The men and other Wayne County Hispanics will have other chances to show their opposition to recent immigration discussions.

Despite large turnouts at rallies held across the country Monday, more have been planned -- some locally. According to a Web site, www.april10.org, a walk has been scheduled for Wednesday in Dudley.