En la Calle

A day after 500,000 protesters flooded the streets of Dallas, Houston stepped up to do its part in the fight against proposed immigration legislation.

The numbers weren't the same -- hey, it was a Monday -- but the event turned into a joyous, festive celebration of Hispanic culture and the American right to bitch.

Maybe 50,000 were there (actual counts vary, depending on the politics of the one doing the counting), and almost all had gotten the very clear message to wave American flags instead of Mexican flags. (Because you never see the green, white and orange at a St. Patrick's Day parade, you know.)



Few arrests, fewer confrontations between marchers and countermarchers, nice weather, happy families walking together -- as large protests go, the April 10 event was a model.

Not that there weren't some passionate feelings. Shannon Arteche illegally crossed the border with his parents when he was four; he grew up to serve in the armed forces ten years ago in Iraq and Bosnia. "Now they want to make us criminals," he says.

At the other end of the spectrum, KTRH's star anti-immigration shouter, Chris Baker, added a bit of '60s nostalgia to his frothing. Taking to the air as soon as the march was over, he denounced it as "a Communist march. That's right, a Communist march." (He apparently didn't know the Spanish term for "longhaired free-love hippie freaks.")

A few vignettes from the day:

Kids' Day Out

The Houston school district got a ton of heat for sending buses to pick up protesters after a March 28 immigration protest; no such transportation was offered this time.

Students also got criticized then. That didn't stop two tenth-graders from KIPP Academy from marching April 10 -- but it probably was the reason why they carried a banner declaring, "We Did Not Skip School to Be Here."

Oscar Gutierrez and Vanessa Rodriguez juggled their class schedules at KIPP, a charter school, so they could use free periods at the end of the day to hit the streets. "We didn't really skip any classes, any math, science, core classes," Rodriguez said.

"The teachers were all with us, they were supporting us," Gutierrez added.

How many HISD students skipped out to make their voices heard? Still smarting from the controversy it endured in March, the district wasn't exactly forthcoming with any information this time around.

"I don't have an attendance report for Monday yet," spokesman Terry Abbott said two days after the event. "I will not have such a report in time for your publication deadline."

(Man, if only HISD had things like computers or phones, it would be easy to get such a report together.)

Abbott says it will be up to individual principals to decide how to handle the many students who were taken out of class by their parents for the march.

Setting a districtwide policy, we guess, might require an actual decision. Which could then be criticized on talk radio.

We damn sure know HISD doesn't want any more of that.

Good for Business

While some local businesses might have suffered from absent employees the day of the march, others made a killing. Especially the ice cream vendors.

Armando Nieto de Villanueva couldn't believe his luck as protesters lined up for the limn and tamarindo pops. On a typical busy day, he might sell 150 pops at apartments, schools and playgrounds. At the march he'd sold 600 and counting when we talked to him.

"This is a very special day," he said, "a day of hope."

Villanueva hasn't seen his wife and three kids since leaving them behind in Matehuala, Mexico, when he undertook the risky border crossing nine years ago. Most of the protest's proceeds can't be sent home, though; he needs them for legal fees stemming from a construction accident last year. He still wears a sling.

As the protest wound down, cops with riot sticks and horses ushered marchers off the street. A group of officers then slowly and purposefully made a move toward Villanueva's cart. A large cop walked up to him with an ominous-sounding "Hi, guy." A Spanish-speaking cop stood nearby to translate. It seemed like trouble.

"You want a Pink Panther, man?" the large cop asked the other.

Before they had gone, Villanueva was holding a fistful of cop money.

So even if Congress ignores the protests and makes him a criminal, he got something good out of it.

Call to Arms

Not everyone spent the day of the march mellowing out, enjoying the to-and-fro of public political debate.

Larry Youngblood was trying desperately to sound the alarm.

Youngblood, a member of the Houston chapter of the Minutemen Civil Defense Corps, was energetically e-mailing people he no doubt would call "true patriots" to warn them the rising tide of illegals was reaching tsunami stage as the protests grew.

"Just had a 'battle cry' from Falfurrias, pleading for help, support, volunteers NOW!" he wrote April 10. "It's like the Alamo down there, being overrun...Twenty more volunteers are needed to cover BOTH sides of the road at the same time. Amnesty talks HAVE TRULY opened the flood gates!"

Crackers with Alamo delusions covering "both sides of the road." What could possibly go wrong?


Immigration wasn't the only thing inspiring a rush to man the barricades in Houston recently. A number of folks have taken on the FIT Athletic Club in Montrose.

Being in Montrose, the large facility has a substantial gay clientele. And those customers who aren't gay are typically pretty liberal in their attitudes towards their same-sex neighbors.

So it came as a bit of a surprise in the past week or so when patrons walked through the lobby to be greeted by a large poster-sized advertisement plugging Second Baptist Church's mega-service Easter Sunday at Minute Maid Park (Second Baptist's Ed Young to Lakewood's Joel Osteen: "I see your basketball arena and raise you a baseball stadium! For the greater glory of God, of course.")

It actually wasn't that much of a surprise to those who exercise on Sunday mornings -- the lobby TVs have lately been broadcasting Second Baptist services then.

Young and Second Baptist aren't exactly gay-friendly. The church has been criticized for handing out political pamphlets that take pains to note which candidates have been endorsed by the Gay & Lesbian Political Caucus, and Young has been elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention, which has consistently condemned homosexuality.

"The old worn clich [is] you love the sinner, but you have to say the sin is wrong," he told reporters after the convention kicked out two churches for being, we guess, suspiciously gay. (And doesn't that quote just make you feel his burning desire to "love the sinner"?)

"I feel very uncomfortable going to the gym as a gay man surrounded by anti-gay messages," one FIT member wrote Hair Balls.

Another member, attorney Marianna Cline, says she just doesn't want religion thrown in her face. "I didn't want to be preached at while I was exercising," she says.

Jack Tompkins, chairman and CEO of FIT, says he never intended to offend anyone; he just wanted to let people know about the event.

And, he adds, "I don't think Second Baptist is anti-gay at all. The pastor has said, 'Come one, come all, come on down and sit in the front row'...The pastor would love to have homosexuals attend the church. Now, they may or may not like what he preaches, but he does want them to come."

Tompkins says all complaints were supposed to be directed to him and he hasn't received any. Cline says she was given a different person's name to call and never heard back.

She isn't backing down, though. She took a camera to the club to photograph the offending bit of religious imagery.

"The girl [at the front desk] said, 'Why are you photographing?' and I said, 'You know, I have a problem with Easter, it's very anti-Jewish.' And she's like, 'Well, we'll put something up for Passover,' and I'm like, 'That's not the point.' "

Something Happening Here

Springtime is becoming the time to protest in Houston and elsewhere. Opponents of the proposed immigration bill took to the streets April 10, of course, but things won't end there. Supporters of the bill, such as Texans for Immigration Reform, have announced plans to attend the annual event at the San Jacinto Monument April 22 re-creating the battle where Sam Houston routed Santa Anna. How can you tell which protest you're at? Click here to view our chart.


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