Roberto Fernandez and his family faced a tough decision when last week’s “Day Without Immigrants” protest took hold.
If they joined their fellow Wichita restaurant owners planning to close for the day to demonstrate what life in the United States would be like without immigrants, they’d lose a full day of business at their two Juarez Bakery stores, 1068 N. Waco and 2209 S. Seneca, and risk angering a certain segment of customers.
If they didn’t close, they’d appear to be abandoning the rallying cry of the people who make up their core base of customers, Wichita’s Hispanic community, and risk angering them.
In the end, Roberto and his father, Manuel, who owns the businesses, decided to participate in the demonstration and joined several dozen local Mexican restaurants in keeping their doors closed on Thursday. The backlash seemed to be minimal until Roberto, who manages the South Seneca store, opened Tuesday’s mail.
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In it, he found a letter from a customer whose signature was illegible.
The letter, which Roberto posted on his personal Facebook page Tuesday morning, said that the author respected his right to close and protest the immigration policy but therefore would be choosing not to patronize the bakery any longer. The author also indicated that he’d made a list of all the local restaurants that had participated in the protest and would be sending them to all his friends. “Maybe in the future, you can be a little more appreciative of all your clientele,” the author wrote. “Maybe in the future you can find a place where you can support the President of the country that has given you so much.”
“My dad always tries to be very nonpolitical in regards to work,” Roberto said on Tuesday. “At the end of the day, everybody has their opinion. But when people don’t understand, it’s pretty upsetting.”
Roberto said his goal in posting the letter was just to vent. But by the end of the day, a grassroots event designed to support Juarez by flooding it with business for a day had been organized and was gaining steam on social media. Juarez Bakery fan Erik Mallory put the event page together and invited everyone he knew to shop at the Juarez stores on March 5 for “Juarez Bakery Appreciation Day.”
By late Wednesday morning, more than 300 people had said they’d be attending the event, and another 784 indicated they were “interested.”
“I wanted it to be a cash mob for Juarez Bakery while showing community support for our citizens of Mexican heritage,” Mallory said.
The “Day Without Immigrants” protest spread all over the country on Thursday, as people stayed home from work and school to show how vital immigrants were to the U.S. economy and way of life. Wichita schools reported a sharp drop in attendance, and a long list of local businesses stayed closed, posting signs on their doors or Facebook pages saying they supported the movement. Reports after the protest said that as many as 60 people in five states lost their jobs for staying home from work to participate.
My Dining with Denise post on Thursday listing the Mexican restaurants in Wichita that were closing for the day received dozen of comments on Facebook. Though many commenters said they stood with the protesters, many others condemned the move. Some wondered what the businesses hoped to gain. Others vowed to never patronize the businesses again.
“Thank you for the list of places I will never go eat at,” one wrote.
“Sad,” said another. “If they close, it only hurts them.”
“Ridiculous,” wrote another. “I don't know anyone who has an issue with LEGAL immigrants; it's the ILLEGAL immigrants who need to go.”
Roberto said he was grateful to Mallory for organizing the appreciation day but hoped that it was seen as a way to support all Hispanic-owned businesses, not just his.
He said he respected his customers’ right to their opinions about his participation in the protest. But at the end of the day, he said, he’s just trying to sell bread.
“If they decide to bring me down and say things like that, that’s on them,” he said. “I’ve always been told to be the better person and do unto others what you would want done to you. And I’ve always been like that.”