Page One

Latinos silent on U.S. war effort, leery about citizenship status

By Ofelia Madrid Special to the Daily Planet
Thursday March 14, 2002

Every week, Gabriel Gutierrez, associate editor of the San Francisco bilingual paper, El Mensajero, does a “word on the street” column and on the afternoon of Sept. 11 he had no trouble finding immigrants who wanted to talk. Nowadays, readers are more hesitant to comment on the war. 

“They don’t want to talk, or don’t want their photo,” Gutierrez said. “And when they give me their name, it sounds like they’re thinking about it or making up a name and it could be for whatever reason.” 

The change underscores a growing concern among Latinos about legal status in the United States. In the days following Sept. 11, El Mensajero readers, were concerned about how terrorism was going to effect their safety. Now those readers worry about new immigration laws and losing their jobs. 

“Little by little, people began to realize that (the war) was going to affect immigration issues,” Gutierrez said.  

As a result, border issues have become the hot topics of the weekly paper that serves the Latino community in the San Francisco Mission District, but is distributed in areas as far north as Concord and south as San Jose. At Christmas, readers wanting to travel home for the holidays were concerned about getting back to the United States.  

Readers have also begun to focus on job loss because tourism in the city is down.  

“People tend to work in hotels or restaurants, service industry type of jobs,” Gutierrez said. “And were afraid they were going to lose their job. It was having a domino effect all the way down, whether they could cross the Golden Gate Bridge or if they’d have a job the next day.”  

Between increased security along the border and service industry jobs being lost, readers are paying more attention to policy meetings between President George W. Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox. The two are expected to meet on March 22, in Mexico.  

Many of the policy initiatives on the agenda the last time they met in early September, including amnesty for many living here illegally and a guest worker program have, Gutierrez said, gone “out the window.”  

“George Bush put it on the back burner,” Gutierrez said referring to the amnesty proposal, “and that’s one of the changes that people are directly feeling. If they had hope before, now they’re in limbo.” 

Many of his readers are also less interested in the war nowadays because the dangers of anthrax and a bomb on the San Francisco/Oakland Bay Bridge feel less imminent.  

Moreover, those readers from Central America look at the war against Afghanistan as somewhat mild compared to what they experienced in their own countries.  

“They didn’t think it was as bad as the media was portraying it because the bridge wasn’t being bombed, downtown San Francisco wasn’t being bombed, there wasn’t fighting in their backyard like some of the countries they did come from,” he said.