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Immigrants stitch American dream
Tuesday, June 14, 2005
Times Staff Writer
Half of workers at local flag factory come from Mexico

In observance of Flag Day, the Flag Manufacturers Association of America urges you to fly your American flag.

American, as in, "Made in America." With a multitude of manufacturing jobs going abroad where labor is cheaper, it's not uncommon to find American flags bearing something other than a "Made in the U.S.A." label.

"It's the symbol of our country," said David Krieger Jr., account executive at CF Flag in Huntsville. "What product out there is more American than this? American flags should be made in America."

At the Huntsville flag factory, more than 5,000 flags are made a day, four days a week. Half of the hands they cut, sew and pack those flags aren't American.

They're Mexican immigrants.

A metal guide attached to a folding machine shows workers which side to put the rojo fabric and which side to put the blanco fabric.

Rojo and blanco. Red and white.

Sylvia Portilla moved from Mexico with her family four years ago. In a conversation interpreted by her 19-year-old daughter, Katy Saabedra, who started working with her at the flag plant six months ago. Portilla said when she was in Mexico, she worked 14 hours a day in a restaurant.

She made $48 a week.

Portilla started at CF Flag 41/2 years ago making $240 a week.

"We live better here," Portilla said. "We have a car. We eat better. It's better here."

Krieger said most workers are hired through a temp agency - "Our work tends to be seasonal" - which ensures they have proper documentation. If they're hired on a permanent basis, Krieger said, the flag company then gathers the necessary immigration papers.

Some workers hope to gain citizenship; others just want to save as much as they can before they have to - or want to - go back south of the border.

Leticia Toxqui was a law student in Mexico before she and her husband moved here in 2000. Both worked at the flag factory until he found a job making more money. She's still here and she has an after-hours job cleaning offices.

"We work hard so we can save money and go back to Mexico," she said. "We buy everything we need, and still we can save money."

They're Mexicans, sewing American flags and, in the process, stitching up their own version of the American dream.

"I like work," Toxqui said. "It is good to be here."