After lawyer Aaron Schlossberg was caught on camera shaming staff at a Manhattan lunch spot for speaking in Spanish, the city came out with several apt responses, one of which was a street party outside his flat — a protest in true Latino form.
In the aftermath of the 2016 elections, reports of discrimination against Latinos spiked to an all time high. It was as if many felt emboldened by the takeover of the White House by what appeared to be the far-right.
However, thanks to the widespread availability of high-quality camera phones, some of these racially motivated incidents have been recorded on camera and a nationwide wave of Latino solidarity has surfaced.
In May, New York City commercial lawyer Aaron Schlossberg lashed out against two employees of a Manhattan lunch spot for speaking Spanish.
“My guess is they’re not documented, so my next call is to ICE to have each one of them kicked out of my country.” The lawyer went on to say, “If they have the balls to come here and live off my money — I pay for their welfare. I pay for their ability to be here. The least they can do — the least they can do — is speak English.”
The video was recorded by Emily Serrano, a Puerto Rican woman residing in the Bronx, and quickly went viral.
Things didn't go well for Schlossberg in the foremost Sanctuary City in the US for immigrant rights.
Schlossberg quickly became known as the “racist lawyer”, his private law firm’s Yelp ratings tanked, and he lost his office lease. Elected officials lodged an official complaint against him with the court’s disciplinary committee; the two employees followed suit by filing a criminal complaint.
He was swiftly shamed by major outlets and social media, which then propelled Carlos Jesus Calzadilla and Luis Magana, US citizens of hispanic heritage, to help organise a protest in the form of a Latin party or “fiesta” in front of Schlossberg’s Upper West Side residence.
The organisers were able to surpass their crowdfunding goal of $500 for a Mariachi band to play in front of his apartment to roughly $1,200. The surplus was used for free snacks.
Photojournalist Alejandro Jaramillo documented the fiesta protest. He then recorded testimonies of Latinos in New York City who experienced discrimination.
On May 18, around 100 New Yorkers of various ethnic and racial backgrounds assembled for the Latin party behind a preemptive police barricade. It was a demonstration of solidarity like few others. The police asked protesters repeatedly to lower the volume of speakers playing reggaeton and latin pop, but the residential area threw its support behind the party-protest. Mexican, Colombian and Nicaraguan flags could be seen on balconies and popping out of windows.
Pinatas are a staple of Mexican parties. Often shaped like animals, these colourful paper mache sculptures are filled with candy and presents. It is tradition for kids and teenagers to sing “no quiero oro, ni quiero plata, yo lo que quiero es romper la piñata” (I do not want gold, nor do I want silver, what I want is to break the piñata) as they try to break the pinata with clubs and sticks.
One woman from Guadalajara state, Mexico changed the rhyme to suit the fiesta protest:
“I do not want gold, nor do I want silver; all I want is to silence this rat.”
She worked at a graphic design firm where all hispanic coworkers chipped in to create the sign. She was unwilling to share her name as many Latino immigrants remain uneasy with the current climate of Immigration and Customs Enforcement screenings.
Using a PA and a portable speaker, people voiced their personal experiences of discrimination in front of the fiesta crowd. Testimonies ranged from work-related tensions to a more general discomfort of how they were labelled as inferior or undeserving in various situations such as at institutes of higher-education or when accessing welfare or seeking housing.
The crowd broke into cheers when a young woman claimed it was frustrating that, while most Americans spoke only one language, people who are bilingual with Spanish as their native language are looked down upon or not seen as having an advantage.
Protesters of Puerto Rican, Dominican and Mexican descent — among others — assembled next to the Telemundo television host as they all shouted out the countdown to the live news feed.
News of this story hit US-based Latino media just days after US President Donald Trump said most undocumented immigrants coming from Central America “aren’t people, these are animals.” During the countdown, people went for popular anti-establishment chants from Latin America such as “si se puede!” (it can be done!) or “el pueblo unido, jamas sera vencido!” (the people, united, will never be defeated!) as the 2011 Occupy Wall Street leitmotiv echoed: “Tell me what democracy looks like / This is what democracy looks like!”
Nahuatl and Quechua were dominant indigenous languages of the Aztecs and Inca respectively at the time of the arrival of the Spanish to the Americas. A common complaint among Latinos in the US is that they are also Americans — Latin Americans.
Protesters carrying posters gathered around the news host and took turns in front of the camera.
“Deportation is violence”
“#HablamosEspanol” (We speak Spanish)
“America is a continent not a country”
“Decolonize Puerto Rico”
were among the many signs that reflected the larger state of affairs surrounding Latinos in the US.
“Nuyoricans”, a portmanteau of New York and Puerto Rican, have long protested what seems to be a systematic neglect towards the structural needs of their homeland, which came to the fore with the devastation left behind by Hurricane Maria in late 2017.
The most audible cheers, however, were reserved for the five members of The NYC Mariachi Inc band, who arrived in a chartered bus at 6 pm local time (2200 GMT). A traditional Mariachi band consists of a Guitarron – a bass guitar with a large rounded body – a violin, a classical Spanish guitar and at least two trumpets.
Before their arrival reggaeton, salsa, and Latin pop kept the crowd in high spirits.
Mariachi band leader Alvaro Jr Paulino was received by a cheering crowd. Alvaro and his crew played memorable songs like “Guantanamera”, “El Rey”, and the all-time favorite “Cielito Lindo.” But before the band started playing, Alvaro congratulated the audience and the organisers for an event that made him proud of his heritage.
New York City is home to 2.4 million Latinos, a whopping 29 percent of the city’s population. Most Latinos in New York City can only find affordable housing outside Manhattan in boroughs where immigrant communities have settled in historically low-income and working class neighborhoods.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a federal agency in charge of addressing claims of workplace discrimination, received close to 90,000 claims in 2017 related to unequal job offers and pay from Latinos in the US.
Martha Palafox, 36, lives in Jackson Heights, Queens, one of the most diverse neighbourhoods in the city in terms of nationalities and foreign languages spoken natively. She migrated with her whole family from El Salvador 18 years ago and runs a street stall selling beauty products.
Although she said she has not faced much discrimination, that has not been the case for other members of her family who live in the neighbouring state of Connecticut. “My cousins often run into someone who curses at them because of their supposed undocumented status, or simply calls them ugly and dirty Mexicans,” Palafox said. “I tell my cousins to move to Jackson Heights, where immigrant communities support or at the very least respect each other. Here people know that you’re from El Salvador when you speak and that makes me feel at home.”
Emilio Gonzalez, 50, is originally from Ixcamilpa de Guerrero in Mexico. He came to the US on his own more than 30 years ago. Gonzales has spent 20 years working in the restaurant industry in Manhattan, making his way from dishwasher to cook. For the past 10 years, he has been running a bodega, a small corner store, in Bushwick, Brooklyn which sells all kinds of Mexican products.
“Working as a dishwasher or a cleaner at a restaurant was sometimes hellish. Once a chef saw me and my buddy eating an untouched leftover meal. He screamed at us and told us not do that as he threw the food in the garbage can. Only people who knew English well could work as servers.”
It was common practice for chefs or restaurant owners to ask undocumented and documented Latino workers alike to eat their home-cooked meals in the alleyways, Emilio recalled. “They wouldn’t say why, neither would we ask for an explanation in fear of being laid off.”
Eliana Osorio is a 23-year-old from El Cairo, Colombia and has only been in the US for six months. She has been staying with members of her extended family in Queens while she learns English.
“I’ve had a hard time here. My English is poor and I get a lot of attention when I say I am Colombian. Right now I am trying to sue a man for harassment. People here think that all young and attractive women from Colombia are prostitutes. It is exhausting to try and repel all the stereotypes that my country is associated with.”