Latino community divided over protest participation


Amber Mangione | Photo Editor

El Cerro Grande is a popular restaurant in the Wilmington community and was one of the establishments that participated in the “Day Without Immigrants” protest.

Jack Bailey, Contributing Writer

Members of the Latino community in Wilmington, N.C. are polarized over participation by Hispanic business owners in last month’s “Day Without Immigrants” protest in Hugh MacRae Park.

Businesses that remained open on the day of protest have drawn fire from the local Latino community collective for a perceived lack of solidarity, even going so far as to “blacklist” them in retaliation. On the Facebook group entitled “Latinos en Wilmington,” members have listed and posted photos of businesses owned by Latinos, such as La Costa Mexican Restaurant and San Felipe Mexican Restaurant, that did not participate in last week’s protest.

Julio Camberos, a chef at the popular Mexican restaurant El Cerro Grande located on South College Road, disagrees with this tactic saying, “that reaction is not constructive and just flat out wrong.” Various messages on the “Latinos en Wilmington” Facebook page indicate that El Cerro Grande was pressured to close its doors on the day of the protest after the owner remained silent regarding his businesses participation in the event.

Felipe Medina, owner of El Cerro Grande, did not attend the protest but insists that the decision to close his restaurant was to “show respect to Hispanic immigrants and our many customers who are immigrants.” However, a photo was uploaded to the “Latinos en Wilmington” Facebook page showing a message from “El Cerro Grande Group” stating that the closing of the restaurant was due to the inability to remain open with a large portion of absent employees. Medina notes that if there is another protest in the future that requires him to close down his restaurant, he will not be participating. Medina states that “the message is not worth losing a whole day of business for.” Julio Camberos has not observed and is not concerned about the effect of business either way, stating that, “the majority of our customers are college students and most likely don’t care or are unaware of the protest at all.”

Patrick McFarland, a student at UNCW, is a frequent customer of El Cerro Grande and stated, “I didn’t even know that there was a protest going on.” Camberos did not attend the event but stressed the importance of such a protest saying, “the message is so important that it is not only worth losing one day of business, it’s worth losing a whole week of business.” However, Camberos points out that the protest will probably not lead to any “big-picture change,” due to the small size of the city. Another employee at El Cerro Grande, Marshal Deval, expressed his opposition for the protest, saying “I did not attend the protest because I do not believe that the protest is understandable or correct.”

Over 30 Latino businesses closed their doors last month in response to the anti-immigration actions that are being made by President Donald Trump’s new administration. Miguel Angel Villaseñor is the owner of Supermercado Los Portales, a supermarket popular within the Latino community on Kerr Ave. Villaseñor not only participated in the movement by closing his store, but was an early advocate for the protest and the event in Hugh MacRae Park. “We pledge to help and defend the Latino community,” Villaseñor said, explaining that many of his customers are Latino and feel that it is necessary to act.

Following a massive increase in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids and continued anti-immigrant rhetoric from President Trump, a national protest was formed to bring attention to the importance of the role that immigrants play in the United States. The protest was modeled after the successful “Women’s March” that took place across the world in January. Maria Castillo of Wilmington, N.C. is one of the chief organizers for the protest and wanted to send a sign to her opposition that illustrated resistance.

More than 250 businesses closed in Charlotte, N.C., where a schoolteacher tweeted a photo that went viral that indicated that more than half of her class was missing.  For this protest, many immigrants did not necessarily go to a demonstration to participate in the protest. Many Latino parents took a sick day from work, let their child stay home from school, and stayed inside their homes for the purpose of showing how immigrants are necessary and vital to the United States of America and the economy.

Following the nationwide protest, around 100 workers across the country that had participated in the demonstration were fired from their jobs. In a small town in Colorado, 30 bricklayers were instantly fired when they did not show up to work for the protest that day. However, many companies reacted positively towards those employees that planned to march and decided to close their store in support of their cause.

For over a year and a half, Mexican-American communities across the country expressed concern over the specific promises that President Trump made while rallying. Some of these include President Trump’s continued focus on building a wall on the Mexican border as well as controversial statements implying that masses of Mexican immigrants are committing waves of serious crime like rape and murder. In fact, the last time that a major protest occurred involving Latino immigrants was from over a decade ago and focused on the Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005. Clearly, the same anti-immigrant theme is associated with both protests and the Latino community responded in kind to both.