They pour drinks. They clean rooms. Latin American workers wish they had more say at Summit of the Americas

When Ana Diaz, a Salvadoran immigrant living in Van Nuys, found out she would be mixing cocktails for world leaders at the 9th Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, she was thrilled.

“I could probably serve Mrs. Kamala Harris or Mr. Biden,” thought the 48-year-old.

Diaz is scheduled to work as one of the bartenders at Friday night’s closing ceremony at the Los Angeles Convention Center — the nerve center of the summit, which brings together political leaders, civil society organizations and leaders from North, South and Central America and the Caribbean.

Diaz believes some “good changes” could come from leaders speaking out on important issues, particularly immigration — a cornerstone of the summit. Diaz just wishes she had more say.

Dominican Republic President Luis Abinader arrives at Los Angeles International Airport

Dominican Republic President Luis Abinader arrives at LAX for the Summit of the Americas taking place in Los Angeles this week.

(Chandan Khanna/AFP/Getty Images)

“I think there should be a place for people like me — an immigrant,” she said.

This week, domestic and foreign dignitaries from across the western hemisphere deliver speeches and brainstorm big ideas behind closed doors and under tight security, while Latino immigrants and their last-generation US-born children provide the infrastructure that keeps the conference running holds.

The Latin American diaspora — one of the largest immigrant groups in the US, and arguably the largest contributor to the summit’s outcomes — was on the periphery.

These immigrants served coffee and occupied tables at lunch and dinner. They made beds and vacuumed hotel rooms where many summit participants stayed. They took attendees to events scattered throughout downtown LA

While grateful for the work, many didn’t know exactly what the summit was about. Some felt privileged to be in the room with influential people. Some hoped the summit would result in something positive for themselves or their families and friends living in Latin America.

President of Ecuador Guillermo Lasso arrives at an event at the Wilson Center

Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso arrives for an event at the Summit of the Americas.

(Chandan Khanna/AFP/Getty Images)

Others didn’t think the summit had any impact on their lives, believing it was more talk than action. But almost everyone felt they should have more of a say at the summit.

“You have to talk to the ordinary people in these countries and ask them what they really need,” Diaz said, she would tell summit leaders if she had the chance.

On Tuesday, Teresa Trejo, a 48-year-old resident of Inglewood, spent most of her day setting up and decorating the concession stands at the Los Angeles Convention Center. She is supposed to prepare milk coffee, cappuccino and other coffee specialties on the summit.

“I see working on this summit as a privilege,” said Trejo, who was born in the United States but grew up in Michoacán. Mexico. Although she hadn’t known much about the summit before, she was excited to discover its importance when she found out about it a few months ago.

At 4 a.m. Monday, Blanca Alas, a 59-year-old Guatemalan immigrant, left her Lancaster home for her morning housekeeping shift at the Intercontinental Downtown Los Angeles, which houses many of the foreign leaders at the summit.

Unfortunately, she usually comes home at 7pm. She eats, sleeps, and does the same the next workday. She doesn’t have much time for news. She didn’t really know much about the summit until her co-workers told her about it. She was upset that Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei would not attend and speak to US leaders.

“So many of our people have left these countries out of necessity…because they have to. These countries have many problems,” Alas said. “These leaders should at least show up to talk to each other.”

Maria Mejia, 55, outside the Westin Bonaventure Hotel and Suites where she works in downtown Los Angeles.

Maria Mejia, 55, outside the Westin Bonaventure Hotel and Suites where she works in downtown Los Angeles.

(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

On the 19th floor of the Westin Bonaventure Hotel and Suites, Maria Mejia from El Salvador pushed a cart full of cleaning products, towels and mini soaps. At 8 o’clock she had started her shift as housekeeper. Nearby, guests in smart suits walked briskly to catch the next elevator to the lobby floor.

Mejia, 55, said she heard about the summit at work after managers advised her to leave home early because traffic was likely to be more congested than usual.

Just outside the Westin and in the staff cafeteria, Mejia and her colleagues—many of them immigrants from Mexico and Central and South America—were excited about which leaders weren’t coming and which were boycotting the summit.

A Mexican housekeeper shook her head when she learned that Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador had declined to attend in protest at the Biden administration’s decision to exclude the autocratic left-wing leaders of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua from the summit.

Mejia was disappointed that Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele would not attend. She is a fan of the former mayor and businessman and considers him “her president”. She feels the same about President Biden and is excited to play a small role in what she describes as a “major event.”

Police officers patrol the LA Convention Center in preparation for the Summit of the Americas.

Police officers patrol the LA Convention Center in preparation for the Summit of the Americas.

(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

Mejia, who fled El Salvador during the civil war in the 1980s, said she is content with her life here but hopes to one day be able to get legal residency soon. She was able to save up to buy a home in Huntington Park and said she was optimistic about the future and what might come out of the summit. For now, she only has temporary protection status, which allows her to work legally in the US and protects her from deportation, but which has to be renewed every few months.

“I would ask US leaders to pass some sort of immigration reform and Latin American leaders to push and support them,” Mejia said.

Reyna Hernandez spent the first two days of the summit taking attendees around town. The 61-year-old, who drives for Uber and Lyft, said she’s been following the event for years.

She is happy about the work, but believes that all these meetings will not bring much.

“They just meet in four walls and talk to each other. That’s all,” said Hernandez, an immigrant from Puebla, Mexico. “Yes, sure, they talk about important issues. They’ve been doing this for years, but they don’t find any real solutions. I don’t really see these governments caring about their people.”

Hernandez said she’s heard about an immigration statement but doesn’t think there will be any tangible positive impact for immigrants like her. She rents a room in a house in El Monte for $700 a month and has more pressing needs. She worries more about rising gas prices than about immigration problems.

“How am I supposed to make the rent with gas prices so high?” she asked.

She scoffed at the conference’s theme: “Building a Sustainable, Resilient and Equitable Future.”

Hernandez left Puebla for Los Angeles in 1995 when she became a single mother to five children after the death of her husband. She thought she would find a better life, and in a way, she did. But after years of slaving away at low-paying jobs as a nanny, housekeeper, and now a driver, she no longer believes in the American Dream.

“I think it’s a lie. To be able to do this… to build a sustainable future we would all need to be given the opportunity to earn good wages that enable us to live in dignity. With good health care so that we don’t have to rush to the emergency room because of illness.

“That’s not going to happen,” she said. They pour drinks. They clean rooms. Latin American workers wish they had more say at Summit of the Americas

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