OPINION: “A Day Without Immigrants” is a day too long

I sat there in amazement, Thursday afternoon, as Donald Trump wrapped up his 77-minute horror show of a press conference. It was hard to fully accept what had just unfolded. The President fantasized about blowing a Russian spy ship “out of the water.” He described his administration’s disastrous travel ban, which has been struck down by the courts, as having a “very smooth roll-out.”

I watched, with jaw dropped, as Trump rambled about a potential nuclear holocaust “like no other,” between Russia and the US. It was just another distressing moment as Trump continues to frighten and embarrass the country. I could not have been alone in the need for a good meal to reset the senses, or a drink to dull the anxiety brought on by such a jarring display.

Maybe I’d grab something exotic at Oasis Brazilian Steakhouse, or Shojo. Perhaps I needed a specialty cocktail at Doretta Tavern and Raw Bar.

If you did head to any of these establishments Thursday, you were in for some bad news. These were just a few of the restaurants which were closed in support of “A Day Without Immigrants.”

Across the country, a call went out to immigrants and in large numbers it was answered. Thousands protesting the current administration’s immigration policies stayed home from work, school, and avoided spending money. The aim was to demonstrate the impact and contribution immigrants from around the world have on the United States economy and culture.

More than a dozen restaurants in the Boston area alone closed their doors completely on Thursday. Many others scaled-back services to support their workers who participated. Others, like multi-faceted restaurant and market complex Eataly, offered support in statements and apologized to customers for delays.

I’ve worked in the service industry for ten years. I’ve sweated through chef coats for 14 hours in unbearable heat. I’ve burnt my fingers into calluses transferring cast-iron dishes of Parmesan crusted potatoes to plates. I’ve branded my arms on the edges of ovens retrieving Mother’s Day omelets.

Standing with me all the while, working just as hard if not harder, were the immigrants that make up the best of the service industry. Men and women from Brazil, Mexico, El Salvador, Peru, Guatemala, among others, whom I’ve been lucky enough to work with and call my friends.

I’ve watched in disgust as the Trump administration begins to implement its xenophobic and frankly un-American policies. It was refreshing to see some of the restaurant industry’s biggest celebrities closing their doors in honor and support of the men and women who truly make the industry run.

José Andrés, celebrity chef from Spain, closed his five restaurants in Washington D.C. He took what he estimated to be a $100,000 loss of revenue to support the “Day Without Immigrants.” Andrés is currently being sued by President Trump for pulling out of a deal to open a restaurant in one of his hotels after Trump’s campaign announcement.

“When he called Mexicans rapists, it was very obvious that my business couldn’t survive with this rhetoric,” Andrés said to TIME.

Anyone who’s spent any time working in the Restaurant business knows what a vital role immigrants play in the industry. Maybe that’s why I’ve had such a hard time imaging how people could disparage and scapegoat immigrants, some of the finest people I know. Also, anyone who is honest with themselves, knows that it’s America that many times takes advantage of its immigrants, not the other way around.

Triple shifts, low wages, and difficult if not dangerous working conditions are often what our nation’s immigrants face while cooking our meals and washing our dishes.  Some are forced to exchange overtime pay for extra hours to make enough money to pay their rent. Many immigrants who don’t have the legal and financial resources to secure citizenship drive to work every day in fear of getting pulled over, facing arrest or worst.

They do it because they seek a better life. To escape the dangers and poverty of their home countries. To support themselves and their loved ones. To take part in a society built by immigrants. The same reason immigrants have been coming to this country since its inception.

I can tell you that in my 10 years in the business, from dishwasher to sous chef, there aren’t many American’s applying for dishwasher jobs. I can count with my fingers the number of American dishwashers that I’ve worked with, none of them lasting very long.

It’s very troubling to see the aggressive moves that the Trump administration has been making right out of the gate.  678 people were picked up in Trump’s first major immigration raid, according to USA today. 74% of those undocumented immigrants had a criminal record. Similar raids under former President Barack Obama, who was dubbed the “deporter in chief,” detained people with a criminal record at 90% in 2016.

It is time for not only immigrants, but all American’s to stand in support of those who come to this country looking only to share in the seemingly limitless opportunity we so often boast about.

Many look to disparage and downplay the impact of such movements like “A Day Without Immigrants.” Many try to discourage those from engaging in such displays of solidarity, painting them as futile enterprises. Cities did not grind to a complete halt on Thursday, this is true, but this is just the beginning for what is shaping up to be a strong resistance to the divisive policies of the Trump administration.

Hundreds of events took place, as people took to the streets as part of a “general strike” this past Friday, following the “Day Without Immigrants.” Already on the books for March 8th, the organizers from the Women’s March on Washington are planning a “Day Without Women.”

One day in this country without immigrants, is a day too long. Anybody who has had their lives enriched by the presence, participation, and friendship of immigrants would never want to imagine what our country would be like without them.

Hopefully, with the help of an increasingly organized and inspired resistance movement, we’ll never have to.

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