The massive pro-immigrant rally on Monday, May 1, was supposed to begin as a silent march from the Central District to Downtown, but the shouts started going up as soon as people began gathering in Judkins Park, at 20th Avenue South and East Yesler Way: a call-and-response chant of "¡Viva Mexico!" and "¡Viva America!" The river of mostly Hispanic faces that rolled slowly out of Judkins Park was an astonishing sight, particularly in a city where Latinos are rarely seen outside Hispanic neighborhoods. They carried hundreds of handmade signs: "Those who deny freedom for others deserve it not for themselves." "We didn't cross the border. The border crossed us." "My parents are honest." "826,785 Mexicans deported. 1 was my dad."
Marching alongside thousands of individual marchers were a mariachi band, a group carrying coffins adorned with aluminum-foil crosses ("to remember all the immigrants who died crossing the border," one told me) and organizations like the Teamsters, who have not always been friendly to immigration rights. However, even the Teamsters have taken a public position against the legislation the marchers were protesting, which would make it a felony to be in the United States illegally and criminalize assisting illegal immigrants in any way, including giving them food and water. March organizers also sought several specific changes to immigration law, including immigration reform that would allow people to get on the path to citizenship—the right for legal immigrants to bring their families into the country, civil rights for immigrants who get arrested, and workers' rights for all immigrants, including those who are undocumented.
Jasmine Rodriguez, an employee at Providence Hospital in Everett, said she told her employer she "would be unavailable today," but didn't say why. "I knew they wouldn't understand," Rodriguez said. "My mom is an immigrant. Our country would be nothing without immigrants." Alex Flores, who grew up in Mexico, said she was marching in solidarity with her fellow immigrants' struggles. "It wasn't that tough for me, but it was tough for a lot of immigrants who came to this country," she said.
Nationally, the "Day Without Immigrants" led major agricultural corporations like Tyson Foods and Perdue Farms to shut down plants for the day. Businesses along the march route, including many Vietnamese restaurants and Chinese markets, were mostly open, although the march reportedly affected the restaurant, housekeeping, and construction industries across Seattle.
One such local business, Cafe Septieme on Broadway, was shut down on Monday for the march. Most of the cafe's staff members, the majority of whom are Hispanic, attended the May Day immigration rally, which drew tens of thousands of marchers between the Central District and downtown Seattle that afternoon. In the window, behind Septieme's sign, was a banner announcing: "In support of the immigration rally, we will be closed today." (Owner Victor Santiago reportedly also stopped by Sunday's Latino night at Neighbours, the gay dance club at Broadway and East Pike Street, to tell the hostess that he would be closing Septieme on Monday in support of the march.)
But the shutdown hardly seems a voluntary statement of political support from Santiago. It seems he had no choice but to close. Santiago fired manager and longtime employee Vance Wolfe on Sunday night, after Wolfe told Santiago he was not scheduling any of the workers Monday because they wanted to attend the march. According to Wolfe, "Victor had always said anybody who doesn't show up to work is going to be fired... So the whole Septieme staff got together and said we're all going to do this. Nobody's coming in to work. We're going to close the restaurant for the day."
Wolfe says Santiago, who also owns the La Cocina y Cantina Mexican restaurant down the street, told him, "'I have to protect my business'" and then fired him. Wolfe calls it "strange that somebody who's Mexican, who's a business owner, doesn't support [immigration rights]."
On Monday, Santiago told me he would only talk about the incident in person, at La Cocina. Late that night, while the usually bustling Septieme was closed, La Cocina was open for business. Santiago, who was sitting with a Latino employee in the back of the restaurant, refused to talk about Wolfe's firing, saying I should read an account of the story (which broke on The Stranger's blog earlier that day) in the Tuesday, May 2, P-I. "I have nothing to say to you," Santiago said, smiling tightly as Mexican pop blared from the speakers.
A frequent customer named Marie Gagnon posted about Wolfe's firing on her blog Monday. "This breaks my heart on so many levels, including the fact that the owner who did the firing is a Latino man," Gagnon wrote. "It was Vance that worked so hard to keep the original spirit of Septieme. He is also the best service person I've ever encountered... I may need to stop going." Gagnon, along with numerous Slog readers who posted comments in response to the post about Santiago on Monday, went as far as suggesting a boycott.
On Tuesday, two Septieme employees—waitress Amanda Zumwalt and another waiter who didn't want to be quoted by name—said they were looking for other jobs, and that other servers were planning to quit as well. "I don't want to be there because the energy that's going to come out of this is very bad," the Septieme waiter said. "All the regulars who come to Cafe Septieme are going to stop coming." Zumwalt says she expects there to be "long-term ramifications" for the restaurant, adding, "A lot of the regulars come there for the service. They're not coming there for the food"—a statement that was echoed by frequent Septieme patrons Catleah Cunanan and Colleen Lynn, who marched with Wolfe and several other Septieme employees.
The crowd had dwindled by the time the politicians and activists (few of them, oddly, Latino) started making their speeches, nearly four hours after the march had begun. Larry Gossett, a King County council member and former Black Panther, told the crowd of thousands: "I would like to tell you, brothers and sisters, so that you know: You are not alone... You're not the first group of workers that have been able to gain victory when nobody thought they could get themselves together... If the AFL and the CIO and the Wobblies were able to do that then, we can do it again today."email@example.com