Wednesday, May 3, 2006

Some immigrants stay home; others go to work or school

Hispanics react with mixed opinions to 'A Day Without an Immigrant'


Express photo by Michael Ames

Although there were no organized protests or boycotts, significant portions of the Wood River Valley's Hispanic population observed Monday's "Day Without an Immigrant" event by staying home from school and work.

Several construction sites around Ketchum were noticeably silent as largely Hispanic construction crews stayed home.

At the Olympic Terrace building site, on the corner of Washington Avenue and Sixth Street in Ketchum, framing contractor Sparr McKnight saw no problems with his employees observing the walkout.

"They asked me for the day off a week and a half ago and I agreed to it. They are good workers and I would definitely like to keep them," McKnight said. "I did not pay them for the day off."

McKnight, owner of FDC McKnight Construction, oversees 98 workers in the Wood River Valley, roughly half of them of Mexican or Latin American descent. On Monday, McKnight was down 35 men.

The nationwide boycott and protests were organized to highlight the roles of immigrants in American society and to speak out against policies that would make it difficult for undocumented immigrants to remain in the United States.

Wood River High School saw a significant walkout on Monday as 105 Hispanic students stayed home from school.

"It was nice and quiet here," said Vice Principal John Blackman, who explained that the large majority of immigration-boycott absences had been pre-approved.

In total, 111 students were absent on Monday, said Attendance Secretary Marti Martin. By Tuesday, that number had dropped to a still-high 53.

Not all families condoned the school walkout. "I had a couple of parents drag their kids back in after calling to see if their child was in school," Blackman said.

For Luisita Regalado, 16, missing school would be missing the point. "I went to school because you go to school to become someone in the future. I don't want to be cleaning houses."

Regalado, whose family moved to this country from Michoacan, Mexico, when she was 8 months old, is a legal resident of the United States and says she doesn't have strong feelings about proposed immigration laws causing such a stir nationwide.

Regalado's sister, Manuela Herrera, who owns Hailey's La Colmenitas Mexican market, was in her store on Monday, making it apparently the only immigrant-geared market in the valley open that day.

"All my family went to work," Regalado said. "They support (the immigrant cause), but not enough to take the day off."

In Sun Valley, Shannon Besoyan of Sun Valley Co., reported that the valley's largest employer had been "minimally affected" by walkouts. In Ketchum, the Sun Valley Garden Center was missing roughly a half dozen workers. Chip Atkinson, president of Atkinsons' Markets, said not a single worker requested the day off in any of his three valley grocery stores. Additionally, sales were not affected, hinting that local Hispanic shoppers did not follow the nationwide efforts to skip shopping for the day.

The boycotts Monday varied greatly from one local industry to the next. The vast majority of the valley's Mexican restaurants were closed, some in support of the day's aims, while others seemed to be at the mercy of absent employees. Hailey's Lago Azul Mexican Restaurant displayed a sign reading, "We will be closed today because the workers did not show up. Sorry for the inconvenience." Less than a mile north, though, a sign taped to Viva Taqueria's front door said the restaurant was closed "out of respect" for employees.

Chapala, a chain restaurant with franchises in Boise and Hailey, was one of very few Mexican restaurants operating on Monday. Manager Cesar Espinoza found himself in the kitchen, cooking for the day after his entire kitchen staff stayed home from work. Waitress Claudia Valencia came to Chapala on her day off to wash dishes. Espinoza allowed the walkouts, but felt that had the decision been his, shutting down for the day would have been logical.

Espinoza, who was born in Mexico but is a legal resident of the United States, illustrated the many sides of the immigration debate, locally and beyond.

"I would have closed to show support, but at the same time I did show support by telling my employees that they could take the day off," he said. While he wanted to support the day's purposes, he also felt that closing "would have been a slap in the face" to Americans who support Chapala. Espinoza was torn between a movement he supports and a boycott he felt would have little local impact.

"In the valley, I don't think it really accomplished much."

The "Day Without an Immigrant" was organized to coincide with May Day, also known as "International Worker's Day." Although the holiday has its roots in America as a commemoration of Chicago's 1886 Haymarket Riot, the U.S. stopped celebrating May Day after it was co-opted by leftist governments. The former Soviet Union made May Day particularly infamous with its annual parade of weapons through Moscow's Red Square.

May Day remains a holiday in several countries worldwide, including the Vatican, where in 1955 the Roman Catholic Church commemorated May 1 as Saint Joseph's Day, after Jesus Christ's father, the patron saint of workers.

In 2006, George W. Bush proclaimed May 1 would be celebrated in the U.S. as Loyalty Day. Public Law 85-529, written by the president, states that "on Loyalty Day, we celebrate the gift of liberty and remember our own obligation to this great nation."

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