At least 40 New Haven businesses kept their stores bolted all day Monday to demonstrate the contribution that immigrants make to the region’s economy.
New Haven’s cuisine was most noticeably impacted by city’s participation in a national “Day Without Immigrants” strike — with restaurants as varied as Kasbah Garden Cafe (owned by a Moroccan) on Howe Street to La Molienda Cafe (owned by a Peruvian) on Grand Avenue all vacant for the day. Less visible were the contractors, like maids and gardeners, who didn’t take any gigs.
“The only way we can really demonstrate ourselves, especially for the ones who don’t have any documents and cannot vote, is to show that we have weight in the economy of this country,” said John Lugo, a 15-year organizer Unidad Latina en Accion (ULA).
The strike came together over the last month, as ULA activists asked Elm City business owners to shut down their operations — either to highlight their owners’ identity as immigrants or to stand in solidarity with newcomers. The organizers said they’d been hoping hundreds of thousands would participate in a nationwide general strike. Capitalizing on resistance to the Trump administration, they are aiming to surpass the massive boycotts that shuttered urban downtowns in May 2006.
ULA worked hard to convince business owners to sacrifice a day’s receipts.
Tiago Pavuna, an immigrant who owns Taste of Brazil, three doors down from City Hall, said he could lose up to $6,000 by taking a day off. Still, he said, “I’m not going to turn my back on this cause. I’m part of this. I believe in what the whole community is trying to do.”
Pavuna taped a poster in his front window, reading “No More Deportations!” and crossed Church Street to talk with protestors gathered on the Green.
The scene looked different over at Food Truck Paradise, where customers ordered burritos, tacos and quesadillas from the vans parked on Long Wharf Drive. According to Lugo, the drivers made a pact not serve food on Monday, so long as no one else showed up. But after one truck driver broke the deal, three others zoomed over just in time for lunch.
Half the parking spots were empty, but it wasn’t the symbolic gesture Lugo had wanted to see. “Que paso?” he asked the server at Ixtapa Mexican Tacos. What happened? Over the roar of the generators, the answer came back: “El dinero.” The money had been too difficult to pass up.
There’s a confluence of reasons why. For one, it’s the first of the month when paychecks are cashed and debts paid off. (Some businesses pledged to close early after completing a few morning tasks, Lugo said.)
That extra cash is particularly important to immigrant-owned businesses in Fair Haven that have seen their patrons hoarding their cash over the last few months to send back to their home country, said Miguel Xicohtencatl, the owner of Cositas Ricas, a Mexican restaurant on Grand Avenue.
Finally, because of ULA’s history of labor activism, which includes dogging business owners for underpaying their employees, they don’t have the best relationship with some of the city’s employers who have stiffed immigrants.
Despite staying open, the food truck drivers agreed to hand out Lugo’s flyers about Day Without Immigrants.
Lugo promised that the events like Monday’s will only intensify as the Trump administration continues to wreak havoc in immigrant neighborhoods. “After years of broken promises from politicians, we have woken up to the reality that only we can protect our communities,” he said. “When we go on strike, when we divest from the banks and businesses that are exploiting us, this country will not take us for granted. We will make our families safe.”
While keeping dark all day, storeowners reported they were using the extra hours to catch up on paperwork or spend time with their family. All of the owners the Independent spoke to were planning to attend a rally in the Green at 4:30 p.m., then march to Fair Haven School.