Metro-East News

Local Mexican business owners understand — but can’t afford — immigration protest

News-Democrat

'I'm with them': Local Mexican market owner supports immigration protests

Felix De Santiago, owner of La Jerezana, a Mexican store in Belleville, didn’t close his doors to customers on Thursday, but said he stood in solidarity with immigrants across the country who participated in the protest.
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Felix De Santiago, owner of La Jerezana, a Mexican store in Belleville, didn’t close his doors to customers on Thursday, but said he stood in solidarity with immigrants across the country who participated in the protest.

A national movement held Thursday to protest President Donald Trump’s immigration policies had little visible participation in the metro-east, but there was support to be found.

Organizers of “A Day Without Immigrants” had asked immigrants to skip work or not open their businesses Thursday. They also implored immigrants to skip school and keep their children home from school; immigrants were also encouraged not to shop, eat at restaurants or buy gas.

It was business as usual Thursday afternoon at the Mexican market on North Illinois Street in Belleville. Felix De Santiago, owner of La Jerezana, didn’t close his doors to customers, but said he stood in solidarity with immigrants across the country who participated in the protest.

“I’m with them,” De Santiago said. “I support all of my people, and I don’t agree with the stuff that’s happening right now.”

De Santiago opened his market nine years ago with a dream of no longer living paycheck-to-paycheck. For a year and a half, he worked two jobs to save money for the market that supports his family of four.

Revenue from the market also pays for a family trip to Mexico, where his parents reside.

De Santiago was born in Washington State. His parents moved back to Mexico when he was 2. At age 16, he decided to make the United States his permanent home, and eventually opened the market near downtown Belleville.

“We’re important to this community,” De Santiago said. “We bring in items that people can’t find at other stores. That’s why we are still here.”

We’re important to this community. We bring in items that people can’t find at other stores. That’s why we are still here.

Felix De Santiago, owner of La Jerezana

A survey of more than a dozen metro-east Mexican-style restaurants showed that all were open as normal on Thursday.

At Zapata’s Mexican Restaurant in Fairview Heights, owner Courtney Zapata said closing for the day was not an option for her.

“I’m a little restaurant, I’m a mom-and-pop restaurant,” Zapata said. “I wouldn’t be able to afford closing and paying my employees, and I wouldn’t ask employees to take a day unpaid.”

Zapata said she didn’t want to comment on Trump’s immigration policies, but said she’s supportive of people and business owners who took action Thursday. “Sure, everyone has that right,” she said.

I wouldn’t be able to afford closing and paying my employees, and I wouldn’t ask employees to take a day unpaid.

Courtney Zapata, owner of Zapata’s Mexican Restaurant

At Mi Casa Mexican Restaurant in Belleville, owner George Sirio said he saw news on TV about the movement, but didn’t consider closing.

“We’re happy to take in the customers,” he said. “We don’t want to make trouble.”

Other restaurants contacted by the BND that were open Thursday included:

▪ Cholulas, Swansea

▪ El Sombrero, Mascoutah

▪ Ramon’s El Dorado, Collinsville;

▪ Mariachis, Belleville;

▪ Margaritas, Belleville;

▪ Dos Gorditos, Belleville;

▪ Casa Maria, Belleville;

▪ Los Tres Potrillos, Millstadt;

▪ Tequila’s Mexican Restaurant, Freeburg;

▪ El Arado, Breese;

▪ La Casa Mexicana, O’Fallon.

Several businesses along Cherokee Street in St. Louis were not open Thursday, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The Riverfront Times also reported on a number of businesses participating in the protest by not opening Thursday, including Nixta and Local Chef Kitchen.

In Chicago, a large rally in Union Park drew hundreds of participants.

The Chicago Tribune reported that a popular restauranteur closed four of his businesses to show his support. Famous chef Rick Bayless closed Frontera Grill, Topolobampo, Xoco and Fonda Frontera on Thursday. Bayless is host of the highly rated public television series, “Mexico — One Plate at a Time,” and has earned the James Beard Award seven times.

Several other Chicago businesses closed Thursday, including Pete’s Fresh Market, which closed five of its 12 grocery stores. Owner Vanessa Dremonas said her Greek immigrant father started Pete’s and helping immigrants is “in his DNA.” Stores and taquerias selling tortillas made by Chicago-based El Milagro also closed for the day.

According to ABC News, business owners in Washington, D.C.; Pittsburgh, Boston; Philadelphia; Austin, Texas; San Jose, Calif.; and Des Moines, Iowa, had shut down for the day to join the protest.

Trump has promised to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, deport unauthorized immigrants and use “extreme vetting” on immigrants from some countries.

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