Margarita Castillo closed El Gallo and her surrounding businesses on West Main Street in Medford Thursday in support of The Day Without Immigrants strike. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch

Conspicuous by their absence

A nationwide protest hit home as several Latino-owned businesses closed their doors and hundreds of students stayed home Thursday.

Absences at Kids Unlimited Academy were nearly 10 times the typical number, according to Martin Mares, the public charter school's director of culture. The school usually sees about 2 percent of its 350 students absent, or about seven of them. On Thursday, 66 stayed home.

"That's a lot," Mares said.

In protest of President Trump's efforts to ramp up deportations and build a wall at the Mexican border, immigrants around the country participated in A Day Without Immigrants and stayed home.

In front of El Gallo Mexican Supermarket's locked front doors, owner and operator Margarita Castillo said she came to this country as an immigrant with nearly nothing and created a successful business.  Castillo said she was particularly concerned about efforts targeting young immigrants, because she sees them as an important part of the United States' growth.

On the market's front doors were fliers in English and Spanish urging immigrants — be they citizens, residents or undocumented — to participate by staying home from work, closing their business, making no purchases and skipping school Feb. 16.

"Mister President, without us and without our input, this country will stand still," the flier stated. "Prepare yourselves to stay at home. We may lose a day of work but we could be gaining so much more."

The market on West Main Street wasn't the only business observing the closure. Also closed were surrounding merchants serving the Latino community, such as general store La Placita and Novedades La Mexicana. Down the road in front of a car wash, the picnic table remained but the taco truck that's usually stationed there never showed.

Roughly 230 more Medford students were absent compared to the previous Thursday, according to figures provided by Medford School District spokeswoman Natalie Hurd. She said the attendance rate among the 14,000 students dipped from 92.9 percent Feb. 9 to 91.22 percent Thursday.

Mares said the absences were noticeable during the assembly that starts the day at Kids Unlimited Academy.

“You could definitely tell the classes were much, much smaller,” Mares said.

The demonstration reminded Mares, who grew up in the Los Angeles area, of California school walkouts protesting immigration reform in 2006.

“It’s pretty cool, it’s definitely making some noise and letting the country know that this is really going to impact a lot of us,” Mares said. “It’s important for our families to stand up for what’s right.”

Aside from those who stayed home, there were no known rallies or demonstrations Thursday in Southern Oregon. Michelle Glass with UniteOregon said she'd heard from partner agencies that many in the Latino community were afraid to gather, lest they become a target for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

"People were hearing about the raids around the nation, and they were really afraid today," Glass said.

Instead, the demonstration was set up like a "general strike," according to Glass.

"That's kind of the idea, you don't have to go to a rally," Glass said. "You just have to not show up."

— Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or Follow him on Twitter at @MTCrimeBeat.

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