NEW YORK -- As Donald Trump prepared for his big "Saturday Night Live" appearance, Latino activists and supporters gathered outside the NBC studios and protested the network's decision to feature a man who has called Mexican immigrants "rapists."
"Allowing Trump to host 'Saturday Night Live,' a storied comedy show, is nothing short of a slap in the face to the more than 57 million Latinos living in the U.S., whose only wish is to work hard, provide for their families and live the American dream," said Brent Wilkes, the national executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens, which organized the protest.
Activists have been upset with NBC's decision to feature Trump not only for his divisive rhetoric about the Latino community, but also because "Saturday Night Live" has had very few Latino hosts and cast members over the years. In fact, just 19 of the 790 "Saturday Night Live" episodes over the past 40 years have had a Latino host, and only two Latinos have ever been part of the full-time cast of the show.
The group of anti-Trump protesters started out at Trump Tower in Midtown Manhattan and marched down Fifth Avenue to Rockefeller Center. Along the way, they passed the expensive stores lining the famous street, with shoppers stopping to gawk and take pictures with their cellphones. People cleared the sidewalks for them, and some cab drivers honked and yelled in support along the way.
Chants included "When I say 'Lorne,' you say, 'Michaels'!" and "Hey hey, ho ho, racism has got to go!"
"That's what happens when you mess with the Mexicans -- you become a pinata!" yelled Jaime Gonzalez, 47, who was carrying a large pinata made to look like Trump. Gonzalez was born in Mexico and came to the United States in 1982. He now lives in Queens.
"By saying all those things [about immigrants], he's waking up a monster," Gonzalez said.
"I don't think he should be leading in the polls because that's a message of hatred America is sending to the rest of the world, which is watching our elections right now," added Gabriela Bermudez, 21, who was at the protest with New York University's Dream Team, a pro-immigration group at the school.
About a dozen pro-Trump counter-protesters also showed up Saturday night and stood across the street from the action. Most of them refused to be interviewed, and one man even refused to have his photo taken; he said he's currently involved in a court case and did not want to show up in a news article and have it affect the outcome of the case.
One woman, Diane Atkins of Brooklyn, did agree to speak. She is backing Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) for president but wanted to show her support for "Saturday Night Live" featuring Trump.
"Where do we live -- in Nazi Germany? We're allowed to have freedom of speech," she said. "Popular or unpopular. It is what it is. ... I'm here to support Trump tonight as a New Yorker and an American."
A lone wolf counter-protester carrying a sign reading "Google it!!! Jews control Comcast NBC" was shouted down by chants of "Stop the hate!" and escorted out of the main protest area by police and taken to the other side of the street.
The Democratic National Committee also weighed in on Trump's appearance Saturday night, putting out a statement saying it was "no laughing matter given his offensive rhetoric and the tone of his campaign."