Thousands of Yemenis across New York City gathered to protest against Trump’s immigration ban in front of Borough Hall in Brooklyn on Thursday. Many Yemeni bodega owners closed their shops early in the day to attend, waving flags and holding signs with anti-ban slogans.
Over a thousand bodegas across the city closed for eight hours from noon until 8 p.m. to protest the administration’s travel ban against seven Muslim-majority countries, including Yemen.
“When Trump discriminates against Muslims, I feel like I’m a terrorist. I’m just a human being. I do mistakes, but they don’t belong to the Muslims, they belong to me. We are honest people. We work in this country and support it,” said Saeed S. Ali, an owner of three bodega stores, who closed all of them. “I lose money, but it’s worth it.”
“We will continue fighting for freedom and justice. My message for Americans today is to be humane,” he added.
The crowds at the plaza started building around 2 p.m., according to a server at a Waffles and Dinges kiosk next to Borough Hall. Many were waving Yemeni and American flags, which were offered for sale across from the Hall. The protest started at 4 p.m. with speeches given by various political figures and American-Islamic activists including Linda Sarsour from the Arab American Association of New York. Eyewitnesses and protesters say that the crowd grew to over a thousand people in the plaza by the time the protest started.
The NYPD estimated the crowd to be somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 people.
“I’ve lived in New York for 28 years and never seen anything like this,” said Al AlSaidi, a Washington Heights bodega owner. Bodegas are known for always being open, whether late at night or on holidays, according to him. “We don’t close for nothing.”
With bodegas closed, many frequent customers appeared vexed by the situation. Outside of Golden Deli on Broadway in Hamilton Heights many patrons approached the bodega to find a sign taped on the metal grill announcing the temporary closure due to the protest.
“I’ve lived in this neighborhood for 30 years,” said Dose Medina, a 50-year-old building maintenance employee. “I feel really sad for the owner and his family. They are nice people.”
While the majority of bodega store visitors expressed sadness and empathy about the shutdown, Mike Sheppard, 41-year-old construction worker, was more on a practical side. “I’m just mad I can’t get my sandwich!” said Sheppard.
Still, most customers seemed to accept the temporary inconvenience.
“The great thing about a bodega is that they have everything you need as a New Yorker,” said Will Luckman, a Brooklyn resident and protester. “I’m here essentially out of solidarity to support our bodega owners.”
The Trump travel ban upset the city’s Yemeni community, since so many have their families abroad in Yemen. A lot of Yemenis in the U.S. are economic migrants, who come here to earn and send money to their families back home. And, while many are U.S. nationals there are still those who are immigrants on visas and now are afraid to travel back.
“My wife is in Yemen, my kids are in Yemen,” said bodega owner Ali. “This breaks up my family. I am worried if they are still there then they are stuck. It’s unfair.”
Trump’s immigration ban that went into effect last Saturday involved seven Muslim majority nations, including Yemen. It led to hundreds of people getting stuck at airports around the world or prevented from traveling to the U.S. But many in the Yemeni community and other immigrants from the banned countries were not going to accept this ban without voicing their opposition.
“You will always see us in the street fighting for our rights,” said Abdulhamad Kharma, famously known as the Banana Man. “No ban, no wall! I am an American too, but originally from Syria.”
The protesters, the majority of whom were from Arabic speaking backgrounds, were joined by people of other creeds, colors, and nationalities.
“I’ve seen people I haven’t seen for years,” said AlSaidi. “[We’re all] speaking out about this racism and fascism.”
And, while Yemenis and allies were fighting for their rights, young protester Amir kept them full and entertained by giving out free halal sandwiches.