For Alex and Laura Leon, the decision to close their Las Vegas hair salon Thursday as part of a nationwide protest to show how critical immigrants are to the U.S. economy and way of life was an exercise in democracy.
They sat down with the four stylists who work for them at Lala’s Style Hair & Makeup Studio, all of them from immigrant families, discussed recent immigration policies and rhetoric flowing from Washington, and then jointly decided to shut the shop to show support for the “Day Without Immigrants” protest.
“I’m a firm believer that these people are like my family,” Alex Leon said. “They came here to contribute to the community and the economy.”
The Leons, who estimated they lost at least $1,700 by closing, were pleased that other stores in the shopping center at 2483 E. Tropicana Ave. reached similar decisions to support the one-day boycott.
While other Las Vegas Valley businesses participated in the protest — including Mariana’s Markets, with four locations, and La Bonita Market, with seven, the downtown VegeNation restaurant and several Mexican restaurants — boycotts in other cities were more noticeable.
Philadelphia’s Italian Market was uncommonly quiet. Fine restaurants in New York, San Francisco and the nation’s capital closed for the day. Grocery stores, food trucks, coffee shops and ethnic restaurants in places like Chicago, Los Angeles and Boston shut down. Rallies also were held in several cities.
The protest, which gained momentum on social media and by word of mouth, was aimed squarely at President Donald Trump’s efforts to crack down on immigration, legal and illegal, by such means as a wall at the Mexican border. In addition to closing businesses, flyers urged supporters to keep students out of school for the day and not to patronize businesses that remained open.
The Latino community in Las Vegas appeared to be more energized over the protest than other immigrant populations.
Emily Higby, the director of the Las Vegas Asian Community Resource Center, said her group avoids political actions like this.
Ana Wood, who sits on the board of directors for the Asian Chamber of Commerce, said she had not heard anything about the protest before Thursday.
Rokai Yusufzai, who helped found the Islamic Association of Las Vegas and is chairman of the Las Vegas Afghan Community, had not heard of the protest before a reporter contacted him. Yusufzai said he didn’t know of many immigrant business owners who would shut down to protest because they’re here to make money.
The family behind Mariana’s Supermarkets doesn’t often use the business to make statements on social issues, chief operating officer Ruben Anaya said, adding that it last did so about a decade ago. .
But Anaya, whose father Hipolito grew the current business from a tortilla factory he founded in east Las Vegas in 1989 after emigrating from Mexico, said family members decided to close after employees began inquiring about taking the day off.
“We’ve been here over 27 years, and our employees are a big reason for that,” Anaya said. “The Hispanic unity here is a big reason for why we have grown.”
Anaya estimated that Mariana’s lost hundreds of thousands of dollars on Thursday.
Some would-be customers arriving at the businesses were supportive of the protest, despite the inconvenience.
“I think this is great,” Walt Walters said. “The Hispanic community works so hard to get their needs met everyday, but they are often looked down upon by government officials. I’m rooting for the Hispanic community.”
Others said they were unhappy that rival Cardenas Markets opted to remain open.
“I’m out here today to see what businesses are supporting the Latino cause, to see what businesses I should continue supporting,” Martin Barrientos-Gomez, speaking Spanish, said. “After seeing Cardenas open for business I will no longer be supporting them. I’m going to tell my friends to do the same.”
That posture was not universal.
“I think this type of protest is bad for the economy because it only affects us, not the government,” said Jose Montenegro, outside a La Bonita Supermarket. “It affects us Latino workers and Latino customers. There are better ways to get our point across, like street protests. Not this.”
Lucero Ramirez said she shopped at Cardenas before learning about the Day Without Immigrants protest. She wished she hadn’t.
“I think Cardenas should have closed today to show their support for Latinos because they’re in business because of us,” Ramirez said in Spanish. “We need to support each other and help the cause.”
SCHOOLS SEE ATTENDANCE DIP
Two Clark County schools — both with significant Hispanic populations — saw a dip in student attendance, spokeswoman Michelle Booth said. The district did not report an unusual number of teacher absences.
About 71 percent of the 3,255 students at Rancho High School and about 45 percent of the 1,699 students at Hyde Park Middle School identify as Hispanic, according to state data from 2014-15. The district does not track whether students are immigrants, Booth said. Both schools are also Title I schools, a federal designation meaning they serve students living in poverty.
“While Clark County School District encourages students to express their beliefs about national policy changes, we want to remind our CCSD families that our school campuses remain a safe and respectful place for our students and staff,” Booth said in a statement.
Review-Journal staff writers Blake Apgar and Gabriella Benavidez and The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact Sandy Lopez at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4686. Follow @JournalismSandy on Twitter. Contact Meghin Delaney at email@example.com or 702-383-0281. Follow @MeghinDelaney on Twitter. Contact Wade Tyler Millward at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4602. Follow @wademillward on Twitter.