Local businesses close in solidarity with immigrant protest

At Dona Maria's...this should be the lunch rush...

“We would have about 12 to 15 people working in the back of the house right now cooking, prepping,” owner Neriza Johnson told me, as we stood in an eerily empty kitchen. Pots that should be simmering, hung from the ceiling. Beyond the kitchen door, the restaurant, which should be bustling, was empty.

On the door, the reason why. A poster said, “we stand with solidarity with the cause.”

Dona Maria's is one of a host of local businesses closing on this Thursday to honor "A Day Without Immigrants." Immigrant Alfredo Martinez began this business 37-years-ago, and for him, this is payback.

“And thanks to our people they like our food and we trying to help as much as we can. In our community they always giving the support to us,” he told me, sitting at a table with his daughter Neriza.

From the restaurant to an eastside car dealer, to the La Bonita Grocery Store, to a taco truck at the corner of the Strip and Sahara, silence today was making a statement, in the form of empty parking lots or empty businesses.

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Mariana's also closed today. This grocery store's customer base is 85% Hispanic. Closing four costing this family-run business hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“And we felt since the Hispanic community has been there for us over 27 years that we have been open here in Las Vegas that it was important to them that we stand with them in the cause,” says Ruben Anaya, Mariana’s Chief Operating Officer. His parents began the business almost three decades ago.

Customers, who met locked doors, came face to face with the immigration debate.

“The value of immigrants is they all work. They all do the same as Americans, and they have their rights as well,” says Dona Maria customer Paula Medina. “I wish they were open because I wanted Mexican food. But I guess I’ll find somewhere else to go today,” she said.

It was a familiar scene today: unaware customers walked up to doors that were locked, and read a note that explained why. For some, it didn’t sit well. One couple who did not want to be identified told me this was being done to embarrass President Trump, whom they both support.

RELATED LINK | 'Day Without Immigrants' protests being held across US

Another woman, in front of the closed La Bonita grocery store, said simply, “we have laws. And people should honor them.” She was wearing a “USA” t-shirt.

Also outside La Bonita, an immigrant who came here 42-years-ago on a green card, weighed in on this silent protest. He wanted to shop but found the store closed.

“I love this country, but I don't want some unwanted people entering this country and ruining this country. They ruined this country, mostly. that's my feeling - as an immigrant,” said Sirali Peiris.

For any business, closing is something they do not do lightly. At Dona Maria’s, taking a day off, Neriza Johnson tells me, will cost “thousands and thousands, but you know, if it wasn’t for the community, you know, we wouldn’t be here today. So if I am going to lose money today to support our community, then I stand by it, because I think that’s the right thing to do.”

“A lot of these people that are here -they’re here to work. They’re not here to do anything wrong,” Johnson says. “They want to come here. They want to be successful. They’re looking for a better life.”

Businesses were not the only scenes of silent protest. The Clark County School District says two schools – Rancho High School and Hyde Park Middle School, had, what it called, an “irregular dip” in student attendance.

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