New York’s La Morada restaurant is often bustling. It’s a gem in the South Bronx that serves yummy Mexican dishes at reasonable prices with thoughtful service. For the past several years, it’s been home base for the Saavedra family, which owns and runs the restaurant. One member of the family, 23-year-old Marco, is among the Dream 9 who crossed the Nogales, Ariz., border this week in an unprecedented action. And as Saavedra and the eight others await their fate in a privately run immigrant detention facility in Arizona, the Bronx restaurant has become an activist hub—not only for supporters, but also for the Saavedras.
Natalia and Antonio Saavedra were busy Wednesday taking phone and table orders, cooking food, washing dishes, and ringing up tabs. But in between the daily commotion, they flipped channels on a large television looking for news—any news—about Marco. Their son was finally able to call from the Eloy Detention Center that morning and check in, telling his parents that he was in good health. Aside from running a restaurant and trying to keep tabs on their son, they also greet people who come by to talk about what’s happened and what they can do to help.
Violeta Gomez, 28, is a longtime family friend. She heard about the action before it happened, from Marco’s sister, Yajaira, who is now working from Sacramento to help secure the release of all nine crossers in detention. Gomez says she once considered herself a dedicated activist, but had to stop when her mother became sick with ovarian cancer nearly two years ago. Gomez is busy: While she’s attained Obama’s Deferred Action Childhood status she’s not eligible for financial aid. That means she works up to 40 hours a week to pay for her education and help her mother out with medical and living costs. Despite her workload Gomez travelled nearly two hours by subway from Brooklyn’s Coney Island to visit the Saavedras in the Bronx on Wednesday and help them make signs for a rally later that day in Manhattan. “Marco has inspired me to be more active,” said Gomez. “I really think we’re going to get some changes [in immigration policy], but only if we put enough pressure on it,” she explained.
Gomez sat at a table where 17-year-old Rocío Gutierrez was making signs for the day’s rally that would take the shape of a human chain outside of Senator Chuck Schumer’s office. Gutierrez, who is Marco’s cousin, echoed Gomez. “Yeah, what Marco did was brave,” she said. “But not just for him—it was for everyone else who’s undocumented.”
Antonio Saavedra remarked that he’s had a hard time understanding his son’s decision, but was also quick to point out that he’s proud of him. During a brief lull between the end of breakfast service and the start of lunch, Antonio sat down at the table where his niece and Gomez were mocking up signs on white paper napkins and reflected on the fact that he often worked two full time shifts to make ends meet while his three children were growing up. “Maybe [Marco] is a better man than I am, with less fear of the future,” he said pensively.
It’s a different story for Natalia Saavedra, who was preparing for a rare break from the restaurant to attend the human chain rally in Manhattan. She said she knows that the Eloy detention facility is notoriously bad, but she wasn’t swayed. “My son is a warrior,” she said, while cleaning tables customers had just dined on. “He’s in the struggle, and victory is near.”
But it’s unknown how long that victory will take, or what, exactly, it will encompass. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), who initially expressed support for the nine via social media, has received materials about the nine. “We are currently reviewing the cases and will reach out to the proper authorities to request the release of those who have been detained and allow them to return to their communities and families,” says Gutierrez’s communications director, Douglas Rivlin.
Until that happens, the Dream 9 are facing difficulties at Eloy. Mohammad Abdollahi, who works with the National Immigrant Youth Alliance, the group that organized the border crossing, says the nine started a hunger strike because they were denied basic phone privileges on Thursday. The group is now working on garnering signatures to a congressional sign-on letter to support the Dream 9 and to ensure their release.
First published at ColorLines.com.