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'Day Without Immigrants' hits home

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Anita Carbajal opened her food truck, Anita's Taqueria Y Mas, for business Thursday, saying she had not heard about the strike.


Ginger Livingston and Beth Velliquette
The Daily Reflector

Friday, February 17, 2017

A nationwide effort to highlight the contributions of immigrants on Thursday included several business in Greenville.

Across the nation and in North Carolina, businesses closed and children stayed home from school in light of President Donald J. Trump's pledge to seal the United States-Mexico border and prevent citizens from seven predominately Muslim countries from entering the nation. The event was designed to highlight the contributions of immigrants to United States commerce and culture.

Pitt County Schools reported 528 Hispanic students were absent systemwide on Thursday, compared to 85 absent Hispanic students on Wednesday. Thursday's absentees included 68 of the 206 Hispanic students at Pactolus School and 99 of the 207 Hispanic students at Belvoir Elementary School, the two elementary schools with the largest Hispanic populations.

"Not all of our Hispanic students are immigrants, however, and illnesses such as the flu may be a factor as well," said Travis Lewis, Pitt County Schools spokesman.

The Tropicana Supermarket on North Memorial Drive across from the Pitt-Greenville Airport, several restaurants and convenience stores across Pitt County were closed.

"We have a big international customer base. A lot of Hispanic people, a lot of black people, people from all over the world," said Emmanuel Bautista, Tropicana's general manager in Greenville. "A lot of Hispanic customers came to the store and they asked me if we were going to support the situation. We wanted to help our customers."

Bautista said he was concerned some customers would be offended, which is why he posted a sign that apologized but said the business needed to support the immigrant community.

"In my opinion people have to see how important immigrant people are. When they go to shop, they pay taxes. When they go to work, they pay taxes. They'll see what immigrants use and what they spend," Bautista said.

"The owners, me and all the workers, we are immigrants."

Braxie Cox was disappointed when he pulled into the supermarket's parking lot and saw the lights were out.

"I come here almost every day," Cox said. "I shop more here than I shop at Food Lion or Piggly Wiggly because it's close to me."

Cox had not heard about the Day without Immigrants movement but he supported the concept.

"They need to do this to show that we need them as much as white people because whereever you see them they are doing the work," Cox said.

Another customer, a 52-year-old man from India who didn't want to give his name, said he thinks individuals have to make more of an effort to befriend their neighbors. He said he's lived in the United States for 22 years and has lived in places where his neighbors eyed him suspiciously. Those were the people he always made an effort to talk with and to share a joke or two.

On North Greene Street, El Alzador, a Mexican restaurant that caters to many Hispanic working people, was closed. A sign on the door simply said, "We will be closed Thursday, Feb. 16."

Up the street, Tacos Santa Rosa, a food truck, was closed.

Several other businesses in the area had their doors locked, but in a nearby parking lot, another food truck was open for business.

Anita Carbajal, who was cooking on the grill, said she stayed open because people need to eat.

"My people need to eat," she said.

A couple of miles away her son, Edwin Carbajal, was taking orders at Antia's Mexican Restaurant, located on N.C. 11 North.

Edwin Carbajal said he was asked to participate but said it wasn't economically feasible.

"I couldn't close, I'm not a chain restaurant. I'm a local business. We've struggled so much, and while we have our heads above water we're still struggling," Carbajal said. Thursday is one of his busier days at the restaurant; he can't afford to lose that business, not with four employees, his wife and himself counting on that day's work.

He wishes the organizers of a Day Without Immigrants had organized an effort to have communities support businesses owned and operated by immigrants.

"I completely support and understand the whole immigration thing that's going on," said Carbajal, "I know what it means to feel that way, that they are scared. Scared that the head of the United States wants to eliminate you."

Carbajal's parents brought him to the United States when he was 3 or 4. He later became a naturalized citizen. The first house he remembers living in was located outside Falkand and had an outdoor shower and toilet.

"I've worked on a farm. I've primed tobacco, I've picked cucumber, sweet potatoes and watermelon. I know hard work," he said. "Unfortunately there are a lot of Americans who think all immigrants are here to do bad things."

Jose Diaz, Anita Carbajal's husband, said they had been living in the United States for 35 years and became citizens three or four years ago. He said he had worked in the fields, worked construction and worked for one of the big pharmaceutical companies at different times since he came to the U.S.

He wanted to ask President Donald Trump a few questions.

"Who's going to work in the fields? Who's going to be working in construction and in the restaurants?" he asked. "Every single Mexican, they come in for work. They're not trying to take anybody's work."

Ginger Livingston can be contacted at glivingston@reflector.com or 252-329-9570. Follow her on Twitter @GingerLGDR.