Boycott Doesn't Close All Immigrant Businesses

While many immigrants across the nation boycotted work, school and shopping, others simply continued their regular routines. Washington, D.C. was one area where some businesses run by Latinos and West Africans stayed open.

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Here in Washington, D.C., most immigrant advocacy groups, along with Hispanic chambers of commerce and Latino lawmakers, urged people not to boycott. Instead, they staged a day of civic action. Church and student groups held rallies where immigrants could sign petitions to Congress and register to vote. But not all immigrants followed the advice to go to work.

NPR's Jennifer Ludden reports.

JENNIFER LUDDEN reporting:

In Langley Park, Maryland, just outside D.C., it was oddly quiet at La Unyon(ph), a nearly all Hispanic shopping mall. The Jennifer Latino Market and Deli had a closed sign on the door. Inside, a Hispanic bookstore, clothing shop, and computer store--all were closed. But a few voices drifted from the tiny Chapina Bakery.

(Soundbite of women speaking in foreign language)

LUDDEN: Manager Lilly Noreiga(ph) said she did feel pressure to close from the other shop owners here.

Ms. LILLY NORIEGA (Manager, Chapina Bakery): Yeah. Some people get mad. It's like hey, you're going to open? Why?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. NORIEGA: It's very hard, but we are here. We are open. We are open, and we are going to stand here, because we are doing the right decision.

LUDDEN: The right decision, she said, because Congress is still debating changes to immigrant law, so she has hope. We boycott in Latin American countries, she said, because that's how we get the government's attention. But Noriega feels sure Congress already knows the economic value of immigrants. She worried the boycott tactic would not go over well.

Ms. NORIEGA: Because I think the right way to do something is in a peaceful way.

LUDDEN: Behind the counter, cashier Karina Espana(ph) agreed.

Ms. KARINA ESPANA (Cashier, Chapina Bakery): (Foreign language spoken)

LUDDEN: If we want to stay in the United States, she said, we need to respect the ways and laws of this country. And yet, Espana said her husband had stayed home for the day, along with virtually all his co-workers. The roofing company he works for was shut down.

Customer Silvio Ariano(ph) also revealed a deep ambivalence about the boycott. Immigrants were supposed to avoid buying anything, but Ariano was picking out a bag full of pastries.

Ms. SILVIO ARIANO: Today, we're continuing, yes. But I'm continuing from Hispanic store, which I think is different.

LUDDEN: Ariano's 14-year-old daughter was with her. She'd wanted to stay out of school to show support for the boycott, and Ariano agreed. But her younger daughter didn't understand the day, so Ariano sent her to school. And Ariano's husband, well, he kept his business open, but gladly agreed when one of his Latino employees wanted the day off.

Ms. ARIANO: It's like, I'm so proud of the one side and proud of the other side. And I don't really think it's a right or wrong answer to it. We all come here. We all work here because we all need it.

LUDDEN: Ariano herself is a student studying to be a teacher. But she was relieved not to have to decide what to do. She doesn't have class on Mondays.

Immigrant advocacy groups have been trying hard to attract non-Latino immigrants to their cause. But across the mall from the bakery, the People's Exchange Money Transfer Shop was also open. The West African owner said he had to keep working to survive. One of his customers, Sediki Moriba, said he was sympathetic to the cause, but...

Mr. SEDIKI MORIBA: Black African didn't take part of this that much like Latinos. Because we African, when we come here, we come almost legal, because nobody comes from Africa without visa in this country.

LUDDEN: Moriba said plenty of Africans may overstay their visas, but they don't consider themselves illegal in the same way as those who sneak across the border. Despite this, Moriba agreed that whatever comes of this Latino-driven groundswell to legalize undocumented workers, it will affect all immigrants in this country for good or bad.

Jennifer Ludden, NPR News.

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