May 4, 2006

K.C. ALFRED / Union-Tribune
Gabriel Pollack kept his barbershop open Monday when other businesses near him were closed for the pro-immigrant boycott. He said people have told him they don't want to patronize businesses that shut down that day.
When three businesses on his block closed in observance of a national pro-immigrant boycott Monday, barbershop owner Gabriel Pollack stayed open.

With a large American flag displayed prominently outside his downtown San Diego shop, he watched bemusedly as lunchtime customers peered quickly into the darkened storefront of a juice bar next door, then moved on.

Yesterday, however, after two days of boycott news dominating media reports, the barber said he'd had enough of all the protests lately.

“It is like a tire that is getting overinflated,” said Pollack, 58, who is a member of an anti-illegal immigration border watch group. “I believe they are going to blow themselves up eventually.”

“Protest has its place, but the last thing you want to do is turn public opinion against you,” said Phil Saenz, a political science professor at Southwestern College in Chula Vista who, on the day of the boycott, held a teach-in on immigration and Latino affairs as a way of keeping students on campus.

In the past few weeks, Saenz said, some Americans have been connecting dots between the marches, a recording of the national anthem in Spanish by Latino pop stars, marchers displaying Mexican flags and, most recently, a move by the Mexican government to legalize possession of small quantities of drugs.

Radio talk show host Rick Roberts, who regularly comments in favor of immigration restrictions, posted an item on his Web site Monday making that connection. The Weblog called the boycott “A Day Without a Taco.”

Saenz, who supports comprehensive immigration reform but not the boycott, said too many protests created conditions for a backlash.
“Calling for students to leave school was not a good idea,” he said. “Whenever they do have some type of effort, it should always be motivated toward getting positive results. They didn't calculate public perception.”

Not necessarily, organizers of the recent demonstrations say. Armando Navarro, a UC Riverside ethnic studies professor who helped organize boycott efforts and a massive March 25 rally in Los Angeles, believes that part of the backlash has to do with those who favor tighter immigration controls finding themselves drowned out by a louder crowd in recent months.

“It has got them to the point where they have become increasingly frustrated,” Navarro said.

Wherever the backlash is coming from, it's there, said Pollack, the barber. He said that in recent days, passers-by have commented to him that they don't want to patronize the next-door juice bar or the Chinese and Mexican restaurants down the street because they shut down Monday.

“Eventually they might go back,” he said. “But for now, they are boycotting these places.”

Politically, however, whatever backlash comes out of the boycott and other demonstrations probably won't be detectable at polls in the coming elections, said Allan Hoffenblum, a political analyst who publishes the California Target Book, a bipartisan analysis of state political campaigns.

Politicians campaigning on tough-on-immigration platforms can expect to do well only in certain districts, he said.

“Those (politicians) who are shouting the loudest still happen to be those representatives in safely gerrymandered Republican districts where they don't have to appeal to Latinos,” said Hoffenblum, a Republican himself. “Those that have statewide ambitions need to temper their remarks.”

As for the recent demonstrations, while they will not change the minds of those who hold deep-seated feelings against amnesty or guest worker programs, Hoffenblum believes they have influenced a broad base of voters.

“I do believe it is having an impact on public opinion,” he said. “It is putting a human face on who these people are.”

Those who are offended by the protests feel differently, however. Tim Donnelly, the leader of Minuteman Civil Defense Corps of California, a border-watch group that spent the weekend putting up fencing along the border near Boulevard, said he had one man call him the day of the boycott to join up.

“We don't take to the streets. We don't have demonstrations,” Donnelly said. “But we're going to do it in November, at the polls.”