Latinos did not take to the streets of St. Louis Thursday, as they did in other major cities across the nation, but they did participate in a mass demonstration withholding labor and consumerism.
Cherokee Street in south city west of Jefferson Boulevard is the largest a hub of Hispanic business and dining in St. Louis. Nearly all of the businesses stayed closed Thursday.
Restaurants remained empty. The panaderia was not selling bread. The barber was not cutting hair.
“I want [Americans] to understand we are indispensable here and we do very important work and some don’t understand that,” said Nemorio Flores, a local business owner.
Keeping an eye on his family’s radio station, WQQW AM 1510, Kyle Garcia tweaked a sound level.
The disc jockeys aren’t coming in, and he said that is OK.
“The community we cater to, they don’t hear DJ’s on; they’re saying, ‘They’re taking a stand, they’re speaking up for us,'” said Garcia.
The family also closed their other businesses, the newspaper El Hispano and the liquor store, restaurant and grocery under the La Tejana name, that fill out most of the rest of the strip mall.
“I work with my community, I know what they feel and that why I guess we have to make a point across,” said Antonio Garcia, the businesses owner.
Still, Garcia admits it’s a point that could easily be forgotten.
Unless this one day demonstration grows in size.
“Yes, it’s just one day, but the streets are empty,” said Flores. “What if that happened for a longer time?”
That is not some idle pondering.
Latinos en Axion STL, a group that assists the Hispanic community here in St. Louis, is helping to organize another demonstration. This one scheduled for May 1st.
“We ask for dignity, respect, and permanent protection for immigrants and it’s going to lead to eventually a seven-day strike,” said Areli Munoz Reyes, and organizer with the group.
The effort will be pushed in at least 25 states, after getting commitments from groups last week at a meeting in Boston, Massachusetts.
Munoz Reyes said, seeing how successful Thursday’s demonstration turned out to be, she is hopeful a bigger show of economic force will be possible later this spring.
Antonio Garcia said, if they do pull off a seven-day strike, it could impact Americans in a significant way.
He points out that crops would go unpicked, hotel rooms will go uncleaned, and who is to say what will happen if professionals like engineers, doctors, and lawyers simply disappear for a week.