200 protest illegal immigration signPublished 11:55am Tuesday, August 7, 2012
Protesters from Austin, Owatonna and Waseca converge on Albert Lea
ALBERT LEA — Almost 200 people from across the region marched the streets of Albert Lea Monday night to speak out against what they call hate and intolerance toward the Latino community.
The protest, which began at a house near the corner of Jefferson Avenue and Front Street, moved west on Front Street to Pearl Street, where a controversial electronic sign, owned by Albert Lean Mal Prinzing, has been hanging high on the side of Dima Corp., 628 Pearl St.
Up until shortly before the protest began, the sign read: “Catch and Release — No!; Deport Illegals — Si.” Prior to the protest, the sign was changed to say, “Wise up. Check Dictionary, Illegal is Criminal.”
Protesters said the signs target the Latino population and create an unwelcoming environment for Hispanics in Albert Lea.
“There’s a climate of intolerance and hate toward the Latino people in Albert Lea, and the sign plays into this climate,” said Jeffrey Jurewicz, protest organizer with Owatonna-based Centro Campesino.
Jurewicz said Centro Campesino, a nonprofit advocate group for the Latino and migrant community in southern Minnesota, heard about the sign and decided to protest.
They spread the word via phone and other social media sites, and the people responded.
There were more than 100 local residents already participating when a busload of residents from Owatonna and Waseca joined.
“We recognize that Mal Prinzing has the right to free speech, but we also have the right to free speech,” Jurewicz said.
The protesters were young and old alike — and not all were Hispanic. They carried signs with messages of respect, dignity and even some scripture.
They marched around the block at least five times shouting, “Yes we can!” in both English and Spanish before walking up to the Iglesia Pentecostal Emmanuel church on Washington Avenue for an additional meeting.
Prinzing, whose business owns adult-novelty stores and circulates adult videos, was nowhere to be found; however, at one point after 7 p.m., a yellow plane could be seen flying over downtown Albert Lea, carrying the same message that had formerly been on the electronic sign. Jurewicz said the same message was being flown in Owatonna today.
Prinzing didn’t respond to requests to speak with the news media.
“We need respect for everybody,” said the Rev. Frederico Rivera of Iglesia Pentecostal Emmanuel.
Rivera said he has been in Albert Lea for five years, and two years ago he opened the doors to the church. People from many walks of life attend.
“I love the community, and I love the people,” he said. “All people, we are equal.”
Eleazar Duenez-Sanchez, of Austin, said his father, two sisters and two brothers live in Albert Lea, and he heard about the sign.
Though he did not have perfect English, Duenez-Sanchez conveyed his frustration with the sign and its effects on the community.
He has lived in the United States for 23 years and has worked for Hormel Foods Corp. for 11.
“I’ve lived here, working for my family, paying for my bills. That’s it,” he said.
Monica Hernandez, who was born in Austin and raised in Albert Lea, said the sign has had a direct effect on her and her family.
Hernandez said she and her children used to be able to watch movies on their back porch; however, now, every time they do, they see the sign.
“Your point has been made,” she said. “Now show some respect. … It’s effecting everyone in the community.”
Albert Lea 3rd Ward Councilor Ellen Kehr, who is also a member of the Albert Lea Human Rights Commission, came to the event mainly to observe.
“I am particularly concerned about the message we give our children,” Kehr said. “It’s about our children, keeping them safe.”
Jurewicz said Centro Campesino would be willing to organize a forum to discuss the different sides of immigration, but it has not received feedback back from Prinzing or others about participating.