By Valeria Fernández
New America Media
PHOENIX, Ariz.— It’s hot just like any other afternoon in the Arizona summer, as baseball fans rush into the Chase Field stadium to watch a game between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Colorado Rockies.
Before they get to the entrance, something grabs their attention on the crowded sidewalks: a group of about 15 people drumming and chanting, “Stop 1070! We will not comply.” They hold signs with the message, “Don’t play ball with bigotry.”
The protesters have been chanting outside every game since May, a few days after Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed a law that would make it a state crime to be an undocumented immigrant.
They are protesting the Diamondbacks because the team’s main owner, Ken Kendrick, has donated millions to the state and national Republican Party, whose Arizona politicians have sponsored and supported SB 1070.
Some attendees frown on the group, clearly annoyed. Others sympathize. But for some baseball fans, like 36-year-old Rafael Simon, sports and politics don’t mix.
“I think it makes no sense. Sports have nothing to do with political discussions,” said Simon, a Latino who lives in Tucson. “It’s fun and it’s supposed to be fun. There shouldn’t be any type of political involvement.”
Many of his friends agree with that assessment, including his father-in-law, who is Mexican and often travels from the city of Hermosillo in the Mexican state of Sonora to watch baseball games with him.
But those who are part of the national movement to boycott of Arizona don’t see it that way.
Although SB 1070 was written and supported by Republican leaders in Arizona, Kendrick himself issued a statement in April, after the boycott began, rejecting SB 1070 and calling on the federal government to pass immigration reform.
That wasn’t enough to appease the opponents of the new law.
“People need to be aware of where the money is going,” said Sandra Castro, one of the activists from the PUENTE movement that has been leading the protests.
But not all baseball fans see a connection between the team and the politics.
“The D-backs is a business,” Simon said. “I want to enjoy the game. I don’t care what they do with the money.”
A registered Democrat, Simon has conflicting views about the way Arizona is handling the issue of illegal immigration.
“The bottom line is that law has been there for a while. Whoever is illegal needs to show their immigration status,” he said. “When I was in Mexico, I was forced to get my papers every year.”
As a native Puerto Rican, Simon attended medical school in Enseñada, Baja California, and had to renew his student visa to prove to the Mexican government that he was still in school.
He believes the United States shouldn’t treat its immigrants any more leniently than Mexico does.
What he dislikes, however, is the extremes to which Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has gone in his targeting of undocumented immigrants.
“He shouldn’t be going after people that are working like anybody else,” Simon said.
It’s unclear how successful the boycott will be among Latinos like Simon, who are avid baseballs fans. On Friday, 26,294 people attended the game, about half of the stadium’s capacity. Only 15,509 people went to the game on Wednesday, a near-record low for the team. But it’s difficult to measure whether calls for a boycott contributed to the low turnout. The Diamondbacks reportedly had expected a drop in attendance in the 2010 season.
Rosendo and Carmen Tirado attended the game because their daughter bought them tickets. “We couldn’t just say no,” said Rosendo Tirado. “But wouldn’t it be good if no Latinos showed up?”
Fred Michaels and his wife, Sherry, said they were in favor of repealing the law, calling it “a dry fascism” and “redundant” in trying to take on the job of the federal government.
Yet, Michaels believes the effort to boycott the team is “foolish, because there are so many companies that supported SB 1070” that it’s difficult to know which ones were more involved.
Other fans said they supported the new immigration law.
“We don’t understand why a business with ties to Arizona has to be punished,” said Chris Crosson, who traveled from California with his wife, Laura, to see the game. Crosson said he’d like to see a similar law in his state and this only made him want to spend more money in Arizona.
The Diamondbacks are not the only targets of a boycott. On Monday, the Somos America Coalition, which is made up of more than 40 groups, will announce a national boycott against Budweiser, whose major distributor, Hensley & Co., has made financial contributions to political supporters of SB 1070.
“The intent of the business boycott is not to punish companies by asking our supporters to not purchase their products. It is to get Arizona business to realize that their support of these individuals for even ‘strictly business’ purposes is creating conditions of hate, fear, and violence against Latinos and immigrants in Arizona,” said former Arizona Senator Alfredo Gutierrez, chairman of the Somos America boycott committee.
Activists are also trying to pressure Major League Baseball into moving the 2011 All-Star Game out of Phoenix. A similar boycott was successful in the 1990s, when Arizona’s opposition to instituting Martin Luther King, Jr. Day cost it the 1993 Super Bowl. That year, Arizona lost up to $190 million in revenue when the National Football League decided to move the game from Tempe to Pasadena, CA.