In retrospect, it was dumb to ask Raphael Santos, the guy who’s been here 20 years and who is now a citizen, what he thinks Americans think about immigrants. “I don’t know, because I’m an American,” he says, eyes widening under the Dominican Republic ball cap from the recent World Baseball Classic. “Who’s an American? I feel like American, 100 percent.”
His wife, daughter, and baby granddaughter were with him. He’s a doorman who took a sick day to be there on Fordham Road for the Bronx installment of the citywide human chain in support of immigrants’ rights. A lot of people took the day off, he says. But why him, since he’s an American? “I’m an immigrant,” he says, pointing to his chest. “I have to support the immigrants because I’m an immigrant.”
May 1 was supposed to demonstrate the price all the rest of us would pay if immigrants disappeared. On Fordham Road, where the line was 99 percent Latino and bathed in supportive honks from the passing traffic, what came through instead were the prices immigrants themselves are willing to pay—like taking a precious sick day.
Or waiting five years for your husband to come home. Leticia Flores, a woman pushing a baby stroller for a friend, is from Mexico City and has been here 10 years. Her husband is still in Mexico, and she hasn’t seen him since 2001. Why does she stay? “The people, the city, everything that’s nice,” she replies. When she’s asked whether she’s a legal immigrant, her answer is ambiguous: “I want to stay here legally.”
Gus Garcia came here as a kid from the D.R. Now he owns a pharmacy, and he told his employees to close down for lunch and come over for the protest. (He insists that none of them are illegals.) “I just feel for them, the way they have to struggle,” he says. Closing for the hour would cost him about $1,500 in sales, he adds. Even though he is “better off than a middle-class man,” what with the pharmacy and a “super-laundromat” on the side, he says, “I felt that something has to be done—not that I’m particularly going to do anything.”
Jacob Hernandez, flanked by his two daughters, at first asks one of them to translate, and she tells me about her upcoming birthday. Then he jumps in and says, “I got my papers, but a lot of people don’t have their papers. When you go to buy food, do anything, it’s all immigrants. Originally, this country for immigrants. Why they say immigrants are criminal? It’s not criminal. Everybody gotta live.” Hernandez didn’t have to work Monday, so he was observing the consumer boycott. And he was being strict about it too. No lights were on in his apartment, and there’ll be no TV tonight, he says, “because I don’t want to buy nothing today.”
A small-business owner, William Flores—here 11 years since he left Guatemala—shut down for the day and trucked his young family in from Mt. Kisco. A lot of his neighbors made the same trek, he says. “We just want to work, that’s all,” says Flores’s wife. “We don’t want to take jobs from you guys.” What will closing for the day cost Flores? “A lot, bro,” he replies. “I need it, you know?” But he says he has to support his family and friends who aren’t here yet, or aren’t legal.
Garcia’s pharmacy and Flores’s small business weren’t the only ones ponying up. McDonald’s and Duane Reade didn’t skip a beat, conducting business as usual despite the throngs chanting out front. But Easy Pickins, Beauty Zone, and Fino Fine Menswear and Shoes did shut their gates. On Fordham Road, the difference between May Day and just plain Monday depended on what you were in the market for.