Civil rights group protests outside Mexico's soccer game

Civil rights group Barrio Defense Committees gathered Wednesday near the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale to protest the soccer game between Mexico and Denmark.

The committee has worked since 2010 to boycott Arizona events and functions after the controversial immigration law Senate Bill 1070 passed.

This was the first time the Mexican national team came to play in Arizona after SB 1070.

Around 50 people held signs that read “The Mexican team came to leave money to racists” and “Don’t support deportation and racial profiling,” among others.

Salvador Reza is one of the leaders of the nonprofit organization, Tonatierra.

He has worked with the families from the Barrio Defense Committees since they formed. There are 10 committees with more than 800 members throughout the Valley.

“It’s a family-based organizing,” he said. “We are trying to recreate the way our ancestors used to organize.”

Reza reached out to the Mexican Football Federation via email to try to change the venue of the game. He did not receive a response.

“The money that they spend here is the money that is utilized for the repression, for the persecution (and) for the separation of families,” he said.

After speaking to various media organizations about the implications of the game being held in Arizona, Reza thought a protest near the stadium would not be necessary.

During the committee’s Monday meeting, however, the families decided to hold the protest.

“We thought we could do it in a self place where it would not become confrontational, but we could still deliver our message,” Reza said.

Reza said he thought the protest had been fruitful.

“A lot of people are honking in support,” he said. “Of course the fans don’t like it, but it’s been good so far.”

Josefina Nevares is a member of the committees. She stood Wednesday afternoon holding a sign and speaking through a megaphone.

“My two sons have been deported,” she said in Spanish. “There are many families being torn apart … and it’s not fair that the Mexican team is cynical enough to come here and ask for our money.”

Both the Mexican Football Federation and the fans are at fault, Nevares said.

“Our people should be united,” she said. “Enough with the hypocrisy.”

Rafael Reyes graduated from ASU with a graduate degree in education in 2000 and is now a Tonatierra spokesman. He is also an active member of the Barrio Defense Committees.

“When I was a student at ASU, I was able to do an internship at Tonatierra,” he said. “Throughout the years, I’ve been a part of Tonatierra.”

Tonatierra is a nonprofit organization that operates with a traditional counsel that meets and governs the activities of the organization.

It also puts great emphasis on indigenous cultures. They perform Aztec dances every Friday and other ceremonies throughout the year. Tonatierra also offers a food bank and homeopathic medicine for members of the community.

The Barrio Defense Committees is an organized movement that was born even before SB 1070, Reyes said.

The committees have supported an economic boycott of Arizona since 2010.

The boycott includes targeting corporations like Wells Fargo and Budweiser, which they say support anti-Mexican practices.

“Boycott is always a strategy (and) a tactic to bring attention to specific issues,” he said. “The main issue right now is the families that are being torn apart.”

The boycott has had a real impact, Reyes said.

The Sound Strike, spearheaded by Rage Against the Machine’s Zack de la Rocha, ended last year. The National Council of La Raza announced the end of the boycott in 2011.

“Unfortunately, last year organizations (and) some individuals outside of Arizona have called an end to the boycott,” he said. “But then again, they’re not affected as the communities here are.”

Artists and athletes are encouraged to come to Arizona under certain circumstances, Reyes said.

French singer Manu Chao offered a free concert organized by Tonatierra and the Barrio Defense Committees in Arizona in 2011 to combat SB 1070.

“Every time an event is booked at a publicly owned facility … 10 percent of the funds go to the state,” he said. “A lot of those funds are being used to finance laws like SB 1070.”

Jose Lopez Holds a sign and a banner on Glendale Avenue and the 101 at a protest against the Mexican Soccer Federation's decision to hold their match against Denmark in Phoenix. Lopez was there with the Barrio Defense Committee. (Photo by Dominic Valente) Jose Lopez Holds a sign and a banner on Glendale Avenue and the 101 at a protest against the Mexican Soccer Federation's decision to hold its match against Denmark in Phoenix. Lopez was there with the Barrio Defense Committee. (Photo by Dominic Valente)

ASU alumnus Xavier Flores is a member of Tonatierra and regularly attends meetings of the Barrio Defense Committees.

Flores coaches a high school soccer team and said he is a big fan of the sport. He chose not to attend Wednesday’s game.

“I think it’s very distasteful (and) disgraceful to bring the Mexican national team to Arizona just to take our money,” he said during Monday’s meeting. “The team makes more money and plays more matches here (in the U.S.) than they do in Mexico.”

The money generated during the game will benefit the state responsible for SB 1070 and other racist laws, Flores said.

“Who’s going to go the stadium?” he said. “It’s going to be those people that are directly affected by these laws.”

Flores said the boycott will continue until all Arizona laws that target minorities are stopped.

He said he knew people would go to the game to have fun, but they should realize that there are much bigger things at stake.

“I would say to them that the money they’re spending is already doing themselves in,” he said. “This culture of silence is prevailing and helps promote things like these laws.”

Sebastian Hernandez knew about the committee’s efforts to stop people from buying tickets but decided to go to the game.

“I can respect that, everybody has their own point of view,” he said in Spanish. “They’re probably right, but you just have to unwind sometimes.”

Watching the game will be a time to relax and have fun, Hernandez said.

“It’s not every day the Mexican team plays here, you know?” he said.


Reach the reporter at or follow her on Twitter @dpalomabp

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