A range of Valley businesses – from convenience stores to a taco truck, a tea shop to the cafe at Fresno City Hall – closed Thursday and took part in A Day Without Immigrants, a nationwide effort to show how critical they are to the nation’s economy and daily life.
There was an unexpected result of the protest: thousands of schoolchildren skipping classes across the Valley.
“We had anticipated some absences, but not to this extent,” said Debbie Wood, director of educational services at Firebaugh-Las Deltas Unified, in western Fresno County. About a third of students in the district were absent Thursday. Wood said the school board voted last week to mark the district a “safe haven” to show its support for undocumented students.
More than 1,700 students at Mendota Unified were absent Thursday – about half of the rural district’s student body. At Mendota Unified, about 98 percent of students are Latino. Mendota’s superintendent and school board members declined to comment about the issue.
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At Fresno Unified, attendance was down across the district, but not in a big way: Elementary schools were down 12 percent, middle schools 17 percent and high schools 14 percent.
At Kings Canyon Unified, 2,046 of the 9,800 students did not attend schools in Reedley and Orange Cove.
Turtle Cafe inside Fresno City Hall closed for the day with a sign on its door in English and Spanish stating that the cafe was taking part in the protest. Notes left on the door expressed anger and disappointment about the decision.
By the early afternoon, the sign and the notes had been taken down, although it’s not clear by whom. Some notes remained on the cafe’s side door.
Madeline Gartin at the information desk said the cafe is popular with City Hall employees, particularly as a coffee stop in the mornings. She said its closure was disappointing for a few would-be customers. The restaurant is run by a private vendor.
Raizana Tea in downtown Fresno participated in the protest. Owners Pablo and Sol Orozco decided to close their shop and online tea selling business.
“We wanted to post a symbolic message there, both of us being immigrants from Mexico,” Pablo Orozco said.
A post on Raizana’s Instagram account explained the closure and noted that workers normally scheduled on that day will be paid.
They have worked the same jobs many immigrants today are working and run a food-service business, a category that employs many immigrants, Orozco noted.
Sol Orozco came to the U.S. on a work visa and got a job at a restaurant in upstate New York.
Pablo Orozo was born in Mexico, but his mother was born in California. Her family came to the state as part of the bracero – or guest worker – program that filled a labor shortfall in agriculture. He and his family have worked in the fields in Gilroy and other areas.
Protests in the U.S. were held in metropolitan areas such as Philadelphia, Washington, Los Angeles, Boston, Houston, Chicago and New York. A Day Without Immigrants is a response to President Donald Trump, whose administration has pledged to increase the deportation of immigrants living in the country illegally.
The Orozcos are watching national conversation about immigrants and debate over policy under the Trump administration. It affects them because they run a business that relies on immigrants.
“Everything food-related is something that is greatly affected by those type of policies,” he said. “We usually don’t contribute to any kind of conversation (like this), but in this case we have a personal connection being immigrants.”
In addition, taco truck Gerardos Tacos posted a video about it on its Facebook page. “Be advised that Gerardo’s tacos won’t be selling on the 16th of February for the reason to support the cause a day without immigrants.” A sign with a similar message was affixed to all Al’s Ricos Tacos restaurants, including the one on Ventura Avenue in downtown Fresno.
Yemeni man closes stores
Fathi Hussein made the decision to close his businesses, which includes a convenience store in Fresno and Kettleman City and a market in Dinuba. “We closed all of them,” he said.
Hussein, 32, was born in Yemen and came to the United States as a refugee in 1994. He is one of the business owners who belong to the Central Valley Yemeni Association who made the decision to close stores for the day.
Hussein said the association held a meeting Wednesday and the majority voted that businesses should be closed. The association has about 400 members, he said. Members made the decision knowing they might lose customers, he said. “Their biggest fear is that they’re losing that customer to a different competition.”
But Hussein said he made the decision to close his stores to stand in solidarity with the Hispanic immigrant community. He is a citizen, but said: “But we are all immigrants. You can’t be greedy and say, ‘I’m here now and let’s forget the rest of the people.’ ”
Since it was his decision to close, employees were paid. “It’s a free paid day,” he said.
Hussein said he gave his five school-age children the choice of staying home. Four chose to stay home. “One went because he was afraid to lose his position in basketball,” he said.
Selma shop takes part
Kery Caballero, 29, the owner of Kery’s Fashion Bowtique in Selma, said her mother convinced her to post a notice on her store’s Facebook page that explained to customers why she closed her store that makes tutus, hair bows and other items for girls.
The decision was difficult, she said, but as a business owner “my voice sometimes is a little louder than some other people and it is my obligation to use it to stand up, not just for my people but also for my beliefs.”
The majority of her customers are “Anglos” who were born here, she said. “I have many friends on Facebook who are on the side with the president and all the immigrant policies. So it was hard for me.”
Caballero, whose family is from Mexico, asked her Facebook friends and customers for tolerance and respect in light of her taking a stand for her convictions. “Sometimes (it) is just not about glitter, tutus and fun,” she said.
Caballero said she tried to be respectful. “I’m asking for respect and it would be totally backward to be disrespectful to my customers.”
She’s been pleasantly surprised by the response, she said. Since her Facebook post, Caballero said she has had more than 100 likes. “I don’t think it’s going to affect me at all.”
Caballero, who has owned her business for five years, said she has never received financial assistance from the government. She’s married, but has no children. She’s tired of hearing “people complain about us having children like rabbits. It’s not true.”
And she wants to reach people to tell them about the success she’s built as a business owner. “This is the American dream. I’m from a large family of immigrants and I’m doing something this country gave me the opportunity to do. And I’m really grateful for that.”
Honoring Latino customers
Madram Shuaibi, president of the Central Valley Yemeni Association, said his members were respecting Thursday’s boycott in large part to respond to Latino customers.
Shuaibi, who owns a convenience store near Dinuba, said fellow Yemenis throughout the Valley and the Bay Area were participating. He estimated dozens of Yemeni-owned stores in the Fresno area were closed, but didn’t know how many overall.
“Our customers are mostly Mexican and they asked us if we were going to close,” he said. “We are respecting their wishes and their goals because we’re on the same road.”
That road he referred to is the executive order and travel ban signed by Trump, opposing travel from Muslim-majority countries, including Yemen.
“We are among that order and this is an opportunity to show our opposition,” Shuaibi said.
Adam Ahmed, who owns a corner store in Merced, said many of his customers are farmworkers who fear deportation if they leave their homes.
“We want to show that most immigrants are not criminals, but hardworking people trying to seek a better life for their families,” he said. The store’s Facebook post about the boycott had been shared over 1,400 times by Thursday afternoon.
The heart of Philadelphia’s Italian Market was uncommonly quiet. Fine restaurants in the nation’s capital and New York closed for the day. Grocery stores, food trucks, coffee shops and taco joints in places like Chicago, Los Angeles and Boston shut down.
Immigrants around the U.S. stayed home from work and school Thursday to demonstrate how important they are to America’s economy and way of life, and many businesses closed in solidarity.
The boycott was aimed squarely at Trump’s efforts to crack down on immigration, legal and illegal, by such means as a wall at the Mexican border. Organizers expected thousands to participate or otherwise show their support.
The protest even reached into the U.S. Capitol, where a Senate coffee shop was among the eateries that were closed as employees did not show up at work.
The day’s activities also included rallies in several cities.
Organizers appealed to immigrants from all walks of life to take part, but the effects were felt most strongly in the restaurant industry, which has long been a first step up the economic ladder for newcomers to America with its many jobs for cooks, dishwashers and servers.
Since the end of 2007, the number of foreign-born workers employed in the U.S. has climbed by nearly 3.1 million to 25.9 million; they account for 56 percent of the increase in U.S. employment over that period, according to the Labor Department.
The foreign-born – who include American citizens, green-card holders and those working without legal authorization – tend to be younger and to take jobs in fields that have been growing fastest, including restaurants, hotels and stores.
Roughly 12 million people are employed in the restaurant industry, and immigrants make up the majority — up to 70 percent in places like New York and Chicago, according to the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, which works to improve working conditions. An estimated 1.3 million in the industry are immigrants living in the U.S. illegally, the group said.