When patrons started pouring into Jana Pastena’s restaurants on February 16, there were almost no staff on duty, and most of the items they wanted to order were not available. Pastena had to explain to them that she and her co-owner, her husband, supported their staff, who had decided to strike that day as part of the nationwide “Day Without Immigrants” protest, designed to show the effect immigrants have on the American economy and to protest President Donald Trump’s efforts to limit immigration from Muslim-majority countries.
The guests still stayed.
Pastena, co-owner of Calavera, Chop Bar and Lungomare restaurants, is one of the business owners in Oakland who participated in the protest. While some restaurants closed shop, others decided to open with reduced menus and to donate part of their sales to groups that support immigrant communities. Pastena gave 10 percent of her restaurants’ sales that day to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
“We raised $1,000. I think that was a pretty successful day. Maybe even more importantly is just the awareness that it raised,” said Pastena, who posted signs on the restaurants’ windows and status updates on social media. On the restaurant’s Facebook page, the restaurateur posted: “The United States cannot be great without immigrants.”
Her message continued: “’A Day Without Immigrants’ is a national day of action to protest Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant policies by demonstrating the positive contributions immigrants make every day. We support immigrant rights and stand in solidarity with this day of action.”
In Pastena’s view, the protest sent a message and educated people about what is happening and how business owners are fighting for people who work for them. “We really had an opportunity to talk with customers, passersby, regulars, and other guests, as well as each other, as a team about what these anti-immigration policies mean to us and how they’re affecting our team,” she said.
A San Francisco Chronicle preliminary list of Bay Area restaurants that intended to participate in the protest showed 93 shops, with about 10 percent coming from Oakland. These included Bar Cesar, B-Dama, Cafe Gabriela, Caffe Trieste, Cosecha Café, Dona Tomas, Hen House, Luka’s Taproom, Miss Ollie’s, Nido, Rudy’s Can’t Fail Café, The Cook and Her Farmer, and Xolo Taqueria.
Oakland restaurants also posted notices on Facebook or used the #DayWithoutImmigrants hashtag on Twitter. The staff of Luka’s Taproom & Lounge kitchen initially planned to close in the morning and open in the evening, but cancelled the opening all together. On the restaurant’s Facebook, a staffer posted: “Luka’s Taproom & Lounge kitchen will be closed in support of the Day Without Immigrants protest. We come from the United States, Mexico, Guatemala, France, Brazil and other places around the world. We are immigrant run and support immigrant rights as part of the Universal Rights of Man on which our country was founded.”
“We thrive on our staff’s creativity, energy, dedication and hard work. Without our staff we are nothing. They are the talent. They are the stars. Nido is their home, home is where the heart is and our hearts are with our amazing staff,” read a post on the Facebook page of Nido, a Mexican restaurant and bar.
Eric Wright, director of Caffe Trieste, said he had a group discussion with his staff and made sure they were making the right decision for everyone. “Ultimately, we decided to support our staff and immigrants everywhere by taking a stand against Trump’s anti-immigration policies. Our country can’t run without immigrants. Our country is made of immigrants,” Wright said. “We are run by immigrants from all over the world—multiple countries in Latin American and reaching as far as Indonesia and Australia.”
Asked why she participated in the protest, Sarah Kirnon, chef and owner of Oakland Caribbean restaurant Miss Ollie’s, said “Very simple. I am an immigrant, as is 60 percent of the staff.” Kirnon closed her shop during the protest day and paid all 16 staff members.
Miss Ollie’s, as well as most of the businesses that took part in the protest, is part of a group of Oakland restaurants, Oakland Indie Alliance. “The Oakland Indie Alliance is about feeding community, and our community—workers, patrons, neighbors—is filled with immigrants from around the world,” said co-founder Amy Hillyard, co-owner of Farley’s East cafe.
Hillyard said about ten of the alliance’s 50-plus members participated in the Day Without Immigrants protest through full or partial closures, or found other ways to raise awareness or money for non-profit organizations working on behalf of immigrant communities.
“We feel this was an important, somewhat spontaneous expression to respond to. We did what we did because we believe Oakland can be progressive and business-friendly. We saw that with the Women’s March, and to some extent we saw this with this day. If we support our community when it asks us to, we know our community will support us back,” Hillyard said.
Most businesses that participated in the protest in Oakland were small businesses, Pastena observed. “In a lot of ways, we’re a family. We’re trying to protect each other; we’re trying to help them [immigrants] protect their families to the best of our ability,” she said.
“We can’t do this without our team,” Pastena continued. “We understand the implications of anti-immigration policies and the horrible ramifications that it could have. … These policies make our team apprehensive, they feel worried about their future. We’re giving them some sense of hope that everything’s going to be OK.”