At 12:16 p.m. Monday, the rumbling began. Across a stretch of Coney Island Avenue known as Little Pakistan, store owners began pulling down their shop gates to show their solidarity with striking immigrant workers across the country, along with their disdain for HR 4437, the draconian anti-immigrant legislation that passed the House on December 16.
More than 100 businesses from this neighborhood that borders the Midwood and Kensington sections of Brooklyn closed down for about 40 minutes. Among them were Pakistani-, Russian-, and Mexican-owned restaurants, pharmacies, barbershops, beauty parlors, travel shops, call centers, and cell phone stores, a Bangladeshi wholesale distributor, and a Muslim bookstore.
The initial plan was just to shutter their stores, but then a group of about 50 Mexicans and Central Americans who work in the neighboring Parkville section of Brooklyn marched over to protest with them.
“Si, se puede!” they chanted in unison as Pakistanis and Bangladeshis linked arms with the Latinos and whites from the neighborhood, among them the Irish American owners of a plumbing supply store on Coney Island Avenue that also closed down.
They were cheered by passing drivers and big rigs blasting their horns in support.
It wasn’t the biggest demonstration on May 1. But the decision of so many South Asians here to step out of their stores was significant, since this is a community which has already experienced firsthand the impact of mass deportations.
Following 9-11, the Department of Homeland Security set up a special registration program requiring immigrants from 25 countries—24 of them Muslim—to register with the FBI and immigration officials.
More than 13,000 Muslims were put into deportation proceedings. Many others left for fear of being locked up in detention centers.
“We’ve already taken the hit,” says Mohammed Razvi, executive director of the Council Of Peoples Organization (COPO), a social service group that serves South Asians and other immigrants in the community. In Brooklyn alone, Razvi estimates some 20,000 South Asians have left since the special registration program was implemented.
“If you go though my neighborhood you see Russian stores opening up because there were vacancies. That’s the demographic shift that’s happened here.
“People were afraid to go to the police to report crimes or the hospitals because they were undocumented. If they pass this new legislation, that is going to affect 11 million undocumented people, what will that do?” Razvi asks. “That would be devastation for the whole country.”