‘Day without immigrants’ empties schools and shops
4 NEW YORK >> It first spread on social media, rippling through immigrant communities like the opposite of fear and rumor: a call to boycott. In the New York region and around the country, many cooks, carpenters, plumbers, cleaners and grocery store owners decided to answer it and not to work Thursday as part of a national “day without immigrants” in protest of the Trump administration’s policies toward them.
The protest called for immigrants, whether naturalized citizens or undocumented, to stay home from work or school, close their businesses and abstain from shopping. People planned for it in restaurant staff meetings, on construction sites and on commuter buses, but the movement spread mostly on Facebook and via WhatsApp, the messaging service. No national group organized the action. “It’s like the Arab Spring,” said Manuel Castro, executive director of NICE, the New Immigrant Community Empowerment, which works primarily with Hispanic immigrant day laborers in New York. “Our members were coming to us, asking what the plan was. Frankly, it kind of came out of nowhere.” But what began as a grassroots movement quickly reached the highest levels of federal government. In Washington the Pentagon warned its employees that a number of its food concessions, including Sbarro’s, Starbucks and Taco Bell, were closed because immigrant employees had stayed home and that they could expect longer lines at restaurants that were open. Restaurants, from San Francisco to Phoenix to Washington, D.C., were some of the most visible spots affected, with wellknown chefs closing some of their eateries for the day in support. Rick Bayless, the Chicago chef and owner of the Frontera Grill, closed several of his restaurants and said he would give a portion of the revenues from others to an immigrant rights group.
“I can’t say enough about the lack of respect and the fear-mongering and hate-mongering that I’m sensing around us these days,” Bayless said. Some people felt support for immigrants who are undocumented was wrongheaded.
“Of course, nobody wants to do without immigrants. They are what made America,” Sarah Crysl Akhtar, 67, a writer in Lebanon, N.H., said. “But there is a difference between legal immigrants and illegal aliens.” Some schools and child care centers across the country experienced a drop in attendance.
At KIPP Austin Comunidad, a majority-Hispanic charter school in Austin, Texas, one teacher posted on Twitter that only seven of her 26 students came to school Thursday. “Some of our school buses were coming to school with two and four children on them,” said Sarah Gonzales, a second-grade bilingual teacher at the school. “Nothing like this has ever happened before.”
By the end of the day, the KIPP Austin Public Schools network executive director, Steven Epstein, said only 60 percent of students attended its 10 schools with 5,000 students. Usually the attendance rate is 98 percent or above.
More than half of all students stayed home from schools in Mendota, Calif., a small city in the state’s Central Valley, where undocumented immigrants make up the vast majority of agricultural workers.
A spokesman for the school district said that while school officials had heard of the protest beforehand, they did not expect so many of the roughly 3,300 students to be absent. Still, cities did not grind to a halt, and for most people the action was an inconvenience — a longer wait for lunch, a favorite restaurant closed, a bus driver who wasn’t there. Mexican workers participated in large numbers in New York. In Sunset Park, Brooklyn, bakeries and taquerias were closed, and a public library was crowded with parents and children they kept home from school. The action was not limited to Hispanic immigrants: In several blocks in Brooklyn, virtually all stores were shuttered Thursday as part of a protest planned by Pakistani shop owners.
The Davis Museum at Wellesley College in Massachusetts took an innovative approach to the protest. It removed or cloaked 120 works of art that had been either created or donated by an immigrant — about 20 percent of the museum’s display.
With entire galleries shrouded in black felt and placards replacing paintings, the director of the museum, Lisa Fischman said, “I’ve been calling it an intervention because it takes what we have and reframes it.”
Passers-by read a sign posted at a San Francisco restaurant announcing its closure Thursday in solidarity with the national “day without immigrants.”