Some Brazilian-born workers join protests
On a day when hundreds of thousands of legal and illegal foreign-born residents and workers marched in organized demonstrations in major cities to demand changes in the country's immigration laws, a group of Brazilian workers staged an impromptu Vineyard version of Monday's nation-wide protest.
Across the country, immigrant advocates had urged foreign-born workers to walk off jobs, close their shops and boycott businesses in a day of protest billed as "A Day Without Immigrants." According to press accounts, millions heeded the call, with thousands of people marching in major American cities.
Some estimates of the Island's Brazilian residents, legal and illegal, put the figure as high as 3,000. Whatever that number may be, only a small fraction of the Island's Brazilian workforce decided to take the afternoon off.
A group of about 40 mostly Brazilian workers staged an impromptu demonstration Monday afternoon at Five Corners in support of nationwide demonstrations and boycotts intended to reinforce a call for changes in the country's immigration laws. Photo by Susan Safford
There were no reports of major absences or disruptions on the Vineyard.
Dave Richardson, owner of Tony's Market in Oak Bluffs, said about half of his 20 employees come from overseas, although not all from Brazil. Mr. Richardson said none of his employees were absent due to the demonstration Monday.
"There was some discussion of world events like the Red Sox, and a little talk about other things as always," Mr. Richardson said. "Everybody that we expected to come to work came, and I think there were certainly a lot of people in the store yesterday."
One business that did close was the Brazilian-owned Island Star shop in Vineyard Haven, which displayed a large sign in the window supporting the call for a boycott.
On Tuesday James Weiss, Vineyard school superintendent, sent an e-mail to Island principals in an effort to measure the number of Brazilian students who failed to attend classes. According to Mr. Weiss, 30 to 40 percent of the system's Brazilian students did not show up for class. As to why, Mr. Weiss said he would not hazard a guess.
The owners of Island Star, a small Brazilian-owned market in Tisbury, joined the national call for a boycott and closed for the day. Photo by Susan Safford
The Vineyard demonstration began as an informally organized, word-of-mouth affair, according to several men waiting about 1 pm in the parking lot of the Tropical Bakery off Upper Main Street in Edgartown, the appointed gathering spot. As Brazilian workers continued to drive into the lot, some only intent on buying lunch and getting back to work, there was discussion among those waiting about what to do next.
A little after 2 pm Brazilian workers in pick-up trucks, vans, and cars pulled out of the lot carrying a collection of hastily made signs and Brazilian and American flags. The horn-honking caravan made its way through Edgartown and on to Tisbury and Five Corners, the Island equivalent of London's speaker's corner.
A group of approximately 50 people, mostly men, gathered at Five Corners holding signs, including one that read, "Don't take away our dreams," and waving flags at the vehicles passing by. Many drivers offered a honk of support, but a few made less supportive hand gestures reflecting the political tension that surrounds the volatile issue of illegal aliens.
Brazilian workers gathered in the Tropical Bakery parking lot waiting for others to arrive. Photo by Sara Piazza
A good place to live
On Monday, John Ribeiro of Oak Bluffs, a construction worker for Hob Knob Contractors, stood next to his pickup truck in the Tropical parking lot and said that he was not illegal but had come to support his friends after receiving a call telling him about the demonstration. "I believe Bush should consider giving them a way to work legally," he said. "I don't think they should be treated as criminals."
Mr. Ribeiro lives here with his wife and three young children. He said his brother introduced him to the Vineyard 11 years ago. "It was a nice place according to him and here I am," he said.
Antonio Silva, bakery owner, watched as people entered and left the Island's first Brazilian bakery, which opened in September 2004. He said closing was not an option with perishable goods. "I sell it or it is trash and I hate to see things go in the trash," he said.
An Island resident since 1989 after a cousin suggested he come, Mr. Silva said the Brazilian population had been growing, "no question about it." Mr. Silva lives on the Vineyard with his wife and their three-month-old son. His work resume includes a long list of familiar restaurant names.
Tisbury officer Leo deOliveira, the Island's only Brazilian policeman, helped keep traffic flowing during the demonstration. Photo by Susan Safford
Mr. Silva said many of the Brazilians who live on the Vineyard come from small towns in Brazil and like the Island's family atmosphere. Observing the discussions taking place in his shop, he said the demonstration should have been better organized. "Either do it right or don't do it, that's my way," he said. Still, he was supportive of the goals.
"I think it's good," he said. "At least they are trying to tell people they are here and the government should do something about it."
Standing in the bakery, Carlos DeOliveira of Edgartown said he and others began talking after hearing about the demonstration on television and decided to start calling people that morning. "It was not really planned," he said.
Mr. DeOliveira said he had come to the Vineyard more than five years ago and worked for Alexander and Dyke HVAC. Originally from a small town in Brazil, he said that after a bad experience living in Boston he liked the safety and security he found on Martha's Vineyard. "I fell in love with it and wanted to stay here," he said. Being able to do that legally with a green card cost him three and a half years and $10,000, he said.
Carlos DeOliveira of Edgartown, a heating and air conditioning technician, helped organize the Vineyard's impromptu demonstration. Photo by Sara Piazza
As a result, Mr. DeOliveira can travel back and forth to Brazil, unlike many of his countrymen who work years and are unable to visit their families because they have no legal documents. "I feel sorry for them," he said. " I lived seven years and was not ever able to go to see family."
Although people were asked to assemble at 1 pm, few people arrived at the appointed time. Looking out at the parking lot, Mr. DeOliveira said, "Brazilians are always late, we should have organized this a few days ago."
He added, "Brazilians love this Island. We don't want to go anyplace else because this is a good place to live."
He estimated that there might be as many as 3000 Brazilians living and working on the Island. Asked about the crowded living conditions many Brazilians are willing to accept to stay on the Vineyard, Mr. DeOliveira said that it is all part of an effort to save as much money as possible in the face of possible deportation should they be caught by immigration. "They don't want to go home empty-handed," he said, "so the less money they can spend the better."
Mr. DeOliveira said that many Island employers were supportive of the demonstration and had allowed their employees to take the day off without risk of losing their jobs. As he prepared to leave to join the car caravan, he said. "We want them to see us and hear us."
Mr. DeOliveira hurried off toward a waiting car, then darted back and pulled a flag from its holder by the bakery entrance door. "I'm going to take the American flag too," he said as he ran to join the others.