Berkeley businesses strike to recognize contributions of immigrants to economy

Heather Feibleman/Staff

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The doors at Mi Ranchito Bayside Market were locked this morning, Los Cilantros did not open for lunch or dinner and Cancún Sabor Mexicano did not serve fish tacos or horchata.

Signs displayed on windows indicated that these businesses closed Thursday as part of a nationwide boycott and strike called “A Day Without Immigrants” intended to show the contributions of immigrants to the U.S. economy. The strike was organized amid recent policies instituted by President Donald Trump’s new administration that restrict immigration into the United States and have increased staffing for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“It’s very sad what’s happening,” said Dilsa Lugo, director of Los Cilantros, in Spanish. “We all are, or someone dear to us is, an immigrant. I am a person who is fighting for them.”

Lugo, who is from Mexico, began her business as a catering company eight years ago and moved into a brick-and-mortar restaurant almost three years ago. The restaurant’s nine employees serve meals for 60 to 80 people on a typical day, but no handmade tortillas or pozole were served Thursday.

In the same building as Los Cilantros, La Peña Cultural Center also closed its office, which will remain closed Friday as part of a nationwide general strike.

The center — which rents space for theater performances, music classes and events — was founded by Chilean refugees about 40 years ago.

“For us, the reason that we want to participate is we’re trying to let other immigrant and refugee organizations know that we are a safe space, and they can come to us,” said Natalia Neira, a spokesperson for La Peña.

Neira originally heard about the strike from contacts in Texas, not the Bay Area. Neira’s mother learned about the strike from a janitor in the school where she teaches who inquired if she would be going to work, and, indirectly, from a carpenter who informed a friend about the upcoming strike.

“Of all the people who I know here who are so progressive in California, I didn’t hear about it from them,” Neira said. “I heard about it from my bilingual elementary assistant teacher mom in Texas.”

On its Facebook page, Reforma Migratoria — a youth-led immigration reform coalition — calls to unite undocumented individuals, residents, citizens and immigrants not to go to work, open their businesses, buy gasoline or go to classes in order to raise their collective voice to the president.

Participants such as campus junior Alondra Martinez, membership chair of Cal ACLU, noted that people who could not participate in the strike for fear of losing their jobs could take part in other methods of solidarity such as not purchasing products today.

“I think this is the first time I missed all of my classes,” Martinez said. “It feels weird.”

A January border security executive order states that people who enter the country illegally present a threat to national security and public safety because they have not been federally screened.

Celine Bookine, a campus freshman studying political science and a spokesperson for Berkeley College Republicans, previously said immigration is something the country should foster, especially for scholars and those who contribute positively to society, but she disagrees with the normalization of unauthorized immigration.

Thursday was the first workers’ strike Berkeley restaurant Cancún Sabor Mexicano participated in since its opening in 1994, according to chef and owner Jorge Saldana.

The about-25-person staff decided to close for the day, forfeiting 20 percent of their weekly wages and serving approximately 600 fewer customers.

“By closing today we at Cancun want to show how valuable migrants are for our country,” Saldana said in an email. “Many of my staff risked their lives for the American Dream. The dream for opportunity and to be treated equal and with respect.”

Other businesses that are confirmed to have closed include César, Iyasare, La Marcha Tapas Bar, Masse’s Pastries, Saul’s Restaurant and Delicatessen, Soop, Tacubaya and Zut Tavern.

Pamela Larson covers city government. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @pamreporting.