BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Given the chance, most any New Yorker will tell you that bodegas are a city institution, like libraries or the subway. They are overwhelmingly immigrant-owned and open 24 hours, dispensing basic groceries, household needs, and bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches at all hours.
Accordingly, it was jarring for many New Yorkers to see the ultimate symbol of consumer access suddenly close en masse. In a strike organized by Yemeni-American business owners, approximately 1,000 bodegas and other businesses shuttered on Thursday in protest of President Trump’s controversial executive order on immigration, which went into effect last week. The strike was inspired by a work stoppage last week organized by the New York Taxi Workers Association, another Muslim-majority organization in the city. “This shutdown of grocery stores and bodegas will be a public show of the vital role these grocers and their families play in New York’s economic and social fabric,” read a statement on the event’s Facebook page. For eight hours across the city, many delis and corner shops went dark and as many as 5,000 people gathered for a rally at Borough Hall, a government complex in downtown Brooklyn.
Unlike many of the recent protests across the city, Thursday’s gathering was conspicuously patriotic in theme. Among the placards decrying the immigration ban, there were also countless demonstrators waving American and Yemeni flags. In between the speeches, many of which were delivered in Arabic, chants of “U.S.A.” echoed across the plaza. But the theme was also economic. That the rally was accompanied by a work stoppage didn’t just convey that the administration’s executive order was harming American citizens and their families, but that it was also harming American business owners and taxpayers.
Ali, who declined his give his last name, is an American citizen from Yemen who owns a bodega in Park Slope, Brooklyn. He arrived in the United States when he was 20. Now, 20 years later, he has a wife and four children living in Egypt. “I have an American passport, she has a green card,” he explained the evening before the strike. “My plan was to go [to Egypt] in April to bring my wife and kids and to find an apartment and get everything ready here. Now I can’t travel. I’m scared that I won’t come back. I’m scared they’ll stop me and I’m a citizen!” He added that he feared he would lose his business if he got stuck while traveling abroad, leaving his family without means to pay for anything or his children to go to school.