NYC's Yemeni Americans close shops to protest Trump's Muslim ban

New York City's Yemeni-American shopkeepers went on strike on Thursday to show how immigrants are essential to the city.

Reuters/Handout: Lucas Jackson
Reuters/Handout: Lucas Jackson

Demonstrators participate in a protest by the Yemeni community against President Donald Trump's travel ban in Brooklyn, New York City, February 2, 2017.

New Yorkers saw something on Thursday they might have never seen before: The shutters of their local corner stores, usually open day and night.

A Yemeni run business in Flatbush shut down on Thursday to protests Trump's Muslim ban.

Thousands of Yemeni-Americans rallied in New York City after closing their corner shops for eight hours starting at noon in protest of the continuing ban on travel to the US from their war torn home country. 

Photos from the rallies showed red, white and blue American flags fluttered alongside red, black and white Yemeni flags in a cold January wind in downtown Brooklyn, as Yemeni American shopkeepers chanted “USA! USA! USA!”

Joined by hundreds of other New Yorkers of all backgrounds, the demonstrators gathered at 5 pm for the Muslim call to prayer and speeches by Yemeni Americans. About 1000 stores participated.

“The news hit of the executive order, the whole community was shocked and scared, they didn’t know what to do, they were paralysed,” Zaid Nagi, 36, a Yemeni American who is the part owner of shops in The Bronx and in Brooklyn, told local news site DNA Info.

"Then we saw everyone from everywhere jump in to protect us, to defend us. All over the Yemeni community there was this feeling of we could speak and people are here to help us and we have a voice,” he said.

“We must do something. If we don’t do something then who’s going to protect us?"

It’s not the only protest of its kind. On the night the ban began, New York City cab drivers also stopped taking people to John F. Kennedy Airport, the city’s international travel hub.

The eight hour closure represents a significant sacrifice for these 1000 small businesses that pay high rents and make slim profits in one of the most expensive cities in the world, but the shops did it to prove a point.

“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 and, during this period, grocery store owners will spend time with their families and loved ones to support each other; many of these families have been directly affected by the Ban (sic),” organisers wrote on Facebook.

“Bodega” is New York slang meaning an independently run convenience store, often owned and operated by Arab, Hispanic or South Asian immigrants.

“We want to keep America American,” said Abu Fadl, a 52 year old shopkeeper from Flatbush, Brooklyn, who has been living in the US for 20 years. “People want to come to America because there is freedom. I’m worried for the future of the country. Trump is acting like a dictator, but the American people support us.”

"People want to come to America because there is freedom here," he added. 

Last year, he brought his family here from Yemen, after several years of processing by US immigration authorities.

Yemeni Americans like Abu Fadl’s family are threatened by the 90 day ban on visits from Yemen, an executive order from the White House that also applies to Sudan, Somalia, Iraq, Iran and Syria, whose refugees are prohibited from coming to the US indefinitely.

A Yemeni run business in Flatbush shut down on Thursday to protests Trump's Muslim ban.

The White House says it needs time to review security procedures, but thousands of Americans have taken to the streets, often outside airports, calling the new rule unjust and unconstitutional.

Even the former acting US attorney general, Sally Yates, denounced the measure as potentially illegal, defiance that lead to Trump firing and replacing her with a more loyal federal lawyer. Lawsuits brought forward by civil rights groups have challenged the order , and managed to free travellers from these countries detained at border crossings.

The shutdown interrupted the afternoon routines of Brooklynites like Thomas Roberts, 28.

“I’m frustrated I can’t get coffee and shoot the shit with Yemeni neighbours. Closing for a whole day can’t be easy to afford. So it’s a big gesture,” he told TRT World. “Glad they get a sunny day off for once, never seen them closed before.”

AUTHOR: Wilson Dizard