Two important new studies show that this year’s dramatic events have created heightened consciousness, unity and mobilization among immigrants — especially among both immigrant and U.S.-born Latinos. The results put some force behind the slogan, “Today we march, tomorrow we vote.”

The first study was carried out by a team from the University of Illinois-Chicago, headed by professors Nilda Flores-Gonzalez and Amalia Pallares, who interviewed 410 participants in the May 1 march for immigrants’ rights in Chicago.

Though both supporters and opponents of immigrants thought most marchers were undocumented or at least non-citizens, a surprisingly large proportion of the marchers (73 percent) said they were U.S. citizens and 43 percent said they were U.S.-born (children were not interviewed). Eighty-six percent reported speaking some English.

Giving the lie to the idea that the marchers were illiterates mobilized by demagogues, the marchers reported a relatively high level of education. Only 29 percent had less than a high school education, while 26 percent were college graduates. But their occupations were solidly working class. Of those working outside the home, 48 percent were in unskilled jobs, 21 percent in skilled jobs, and 31 percent in white collar occupations. Seventy-four percent had incomes below $50,000 per year.

Self-reported political activity was high, with 62 percent of citizens saying they voted in the last elections. Fifty-five percent of all marchers attended public meetings, 37 percent wrote letters to officials or signed petitions, 32 percent put campaign posters or stickers on their homes or cars, 39 percent attended political rallies, and 23 percent gave money to political causes.

The marchers were primarily Latino and a majority were of Mexican heritage. Many said they had learned of the protest via Spanish-language media. In other communities, such as Los Angeles, Spanish-language disc jockeys also played a major mobilizing role. This points up the validity of using Spanish and other languages for political education and organizing, even with populations speaking some English.

Though most marchers were Catholic, few said churches had actually mobilized for the march. This suggests work is still needed to get religious denominations fully behind the immigrants’ struggle. Results reported so far do not tell us about the role of unions and other grassroots groups.

In June, the Pew Hispanic Center interviewed 2,000 Latinos nationwide by telephone. Results reinforce the impression that the Latino community, especially, has been galvanized by the debate on immigration, suggesting a high level of Latino participation in the coming November elections. The study reveals that 54 percent of Latinos think the debate on immigration has worsened discrimination against Latinos but nearly two-thirds see the marches as a breakthrough. Not surprisingly, they blame the Republican Party for this. A drop of Latino Republican-registered voters from 25 percent in 2004 to 16 percent this year is not yet reflected in a similar gain for the Democrats.

These studies show that Latino and immigrant communities are angry about the anti-immigrant campaign, positive about the marches and other immigrants’ rights mobilizations, and ready to vote in November to punish those politicians who have subjected them to vicious racist attacks. However, Democrats need to make sure they are taking positions clearly opposed to the anti-immigrant blitzkrieg, such as supporting legalization for the undocumented and opposing harsh anti-immigrant actions of all kinds.

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