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Latinos invest in immigration reform

Francisco Javier Hernandez, who came to the U.S. from Zacatecas, Mexico, 35 years ago, gains U.S. citizenship.

TEXT OF STORY

TESS VIGELAND: This weekend, about 100,000 activists are expected to converge on Washington D.C. to rally for reform. Health care reform? No. Financial reform? No.

Immigration reform. It's a pocketbook issue for many in the immigrant community. And, in a sense, just getting to the demonstration presents a financial hurdle. To help foot the bill for Latinos to lobby Congress, communities have held grassroots fundraisers across the country.

Marketplace's Jeff Tyler takes us to a couple of them.


Jeff Tyler: We start in northern Ohio, in Ashtabula. It's a Rust Belt town of 20,000 on Lake Erie. Here, near the border with Canada, you wouldn't necessarily expect to hear this:

[Mariachi music]

The Hispanic community makes up about 5 percent of the town's population. Two weeks ago, they held a fundraiser at a local church -- but it wasn't called a "fundraiser."

Veronica Dahlberg: It's actually a Mexican word, it's "kermesse."

That's Veronica Dahlberg, executive director of a local nonprofit Latino organization called Ola. The goal was to raise $1,200 to pay for buses to bring people to Washington.

Dahlberg: This is a perfect fundraising tool for our community, because, with the economy being so hard right now, you can't charge folks a lot of money.

Folks at this fundraiser buy tickets for about a dollar each. Then, they exchange the tickets for food -- tostadas de ceviche, tamales, enchiladas.

Dahlberg: It's kind of like a spaghetti dinner, but with Mexican food.

Angel Zavala owns a Hispanic grocery store in town; he donated ingredients for the food. For him, investing in immigration reform protects his own economic interests. He says business at his store has been slow.

Angel Zavala: Last year, we lost a lot of people, because immigration police were taking too many people and sending back to Mexico.

The kermesse is a lot like any conventional American fundraiser, though you hear a bit more Spanish. Kids played games for a dollar a pop, like throwing darts at balloons.

[Sound of balloons popping]

Like any good civic citizens anywhere, the local Hispanic businesses leaders donated prizes for a raffle.

[Person announcing name of raffle winner]

Organizers decided not to include one fundraising gimmick that had previously backfired. Veronica Dahlberg says, a woman at another event was raising money by selling fake marriage certificates.

Dahlberg: I think, adults were $2 and kids were a dollar to get married. And she would perform a little ceremony. And it was really cute, and the people were paying it.

A married man bought a marriage certificate, but not for his wife -- she learned about the fake marriage when the DJ announced it.

Dahlberg: And his wife said, "What? What is this?" And she went over and literally whacked him in the back of the head with her hand.

No one got whacked in the head at this event. And the kermesse brought in $1,500, $300 more than their goal.

Hispanic groups all over the country have been holding similar fund-raisers.

In Los Angeles, one organization gathered money by throwing a house party. Under disco lights in the backyard, people did a Texas-style line dance to a Spanish-language version of "Achy Breaky Heart."

[Spanish version of "Achy Breaky Heart."]

The cover charge for the party was $5. Margaritas cost $4. The party raised a few hundred dollars for the trip to D.C. Tony Bernabe organizes day laborers for CHIRLA, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles. He estimates that each person needed $600 to pay for the flight, hotel and food. The organization could help, but nobody got a completely free ride.

Tony Bernabe: Sometimes, they are being helped with a donation or somebody's paying for them. But they have to put $100 to go.

Why require poor laborers to come up with $100? He says the money demonstrates commitment.

Bernabe: We have to pay for our struggle. Nothing is for free.

Bernabe won't compromise -- even for his own daughter.

Bernabe: She's saving the allowances to pay for $100. Because she has to pay $100 like any other flying to D.C. with us.

One of those flying to D.C. is 17-year old Anna Juarez. To raise money, she bought Mexican candies from the store and sold them at school.

Anna Juarez: For everything, it cost me like $25. And I was going to earn $46. But I stopped selling them.

She had plenty of customers, but she also had an ethical problem.

Juarez: I don't eat candies. So, it's like, weird, because I'm selling candies, and I don't eat them. It's unhealthy and everything, so I stopped it.

She still raised enough for the trip, with some left over, though she can't really expect any appreciation on $10 worth of lollipops flavored with chili.

In Los Angeles, I'm Jeff Tyler for Marketplace.

Featured in: Marketplace Money

About the author

Jeff Tyler is a reporter for Marketplace’s Los Angeles bureau, where he reports on issues related to immigration and Latin America.

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