They pour drinks. They clean rooms. Latin American workers wish they had more to say at the 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 ninth Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, she got excited.

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

Diaz is slated to work as one of the bartenders serving libations at Friday night’s closing ceremony at the Los Angeles Convention Center — the nerve center of the summit, bringing together political leaders, community organizations and business leaders from the North, South, and Central America and the The Caribbean.

Diaz believes that a “good change” could come from the leaders who talk about important issues, especially immigration – a cornerstone of the summit. Diaz only wishes she had more of a say.

The President of the Dominican Republic, Luis Abinader, arrives in LAX for the Summit of the Americas to be held this week in Los Angeles.

(Chandan Khanna / AFP/Getty Images)

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

This week, domestic and foreign dignitaries from across the Western Hemisphere are delivering speeches and brainstorming big ideas behind closed doors under heavy security, while Hispanic immigrants and their US-born children of the last generation form the infrastructure that buzzes the conference.

Latin America’s diaspora — one of the largest immigrant populations in the US, with arguably the largest share of the summit’s results — was on the periphery.

These immigrants served coffee and occupied tables at lunches and dinners. They made beds and vacuumed hotel rooms where many top visitors spent the night. They brought attendees to events across downtown LA

While grateful for the work, many were not quite sure what the summit was about. Some felt privileged to be in the room with influential people. Some hoped the summit would bring something positive for them or family and friends living in Latin America.

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

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

(Chandan Khanna / AFP/Getty Images)

Others didn’t think the summit affected their lives, believing it was more talk than action. But almost all of them felt they should have more of a voice at the top.

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

On Tuesday, Teresa Trejo, a 48-year-old living in Inglewood, spent most of her day setting up and furnishing the concession stands at the Los Angeles Convention Center. She is scheduled to prepare lattes, cappuccinos and other specialty coffee drinks on the summit.

“I see working at this summit as a privilege,” said Trejo, who was born in the US but grew up in Michoacán. Mexico. Although she hadn’t known much about the summit before, she was excited when she learned how important it was a few months ago.

At 4 a.m. Monday, Blanca Alas, a 59-year-old immigrant from Guatemala, left her Lancaster home for her morning shift in Intercontinental Downtown Los Angeles, which hosts many of the summit’s foreign leaders.

Unfortunately, she usually comes home at 7pm. She eats, sleeps and does the same the next working day. She doesn’t have much time for the news. She didn’t know much about the top until her colleagues 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 a lot of problems,” said Alas. “These leaders should at least come and talk to each other about it.”

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 of El Salvador pushed a cart full of cleaning supplies, towels and mini soap. At 8 a.m. she had started her shift as a housekeeper. Nearby, guests in smart suits rushed to the nearest elevator to the lobby floor.

Mejia, 55, said she heard something about the top at work after managers advised her to leave home earlier because traffic was likely to be busier than usual.

Just outside the Westin, and in the workers’ cafeteria, Mejia and her colleagues — many of them immigrants from Mexico and Central and South America — were bustling over which leaders failed to show up and which had boycotted the summit.

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

Mejia was disappointed that Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele would not come. 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 part in what she described as a “key event.”

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

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

(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

Mejia, who fled El Salvador during their civil war in the 1980s, said she is happy living here but hopes she can get a legal residence permit soon. She was able to save up to buy a house in Huntington Park, saying she is optimistic about the future and what may come off the top. For now, she only has temporary protected status, which allows her to work legally in the US and protects her from deportation, but which must be renewed every few months.

“I would like to ask American leaders to implement some sort of immigration reform and Latin American leaders to encourage and support them in doing so,” Mejia said.

Reyna Hernandez spent the first two days of the summit transporting participants around town. The 61-year-old, who drives for Uber and Lyft, says he has been following the event for years.

She’s happy with the work, but she doesn’t think much will come of all those encounters.

“They just meet within four walls and talk to each other. That’s all,” said Hernandez, an immigrant from Puebla, Mexico. “Yes, of course, they talk about important topics. They have been doing this for years, but they do not come up with real solutions. I don’t see these governments really caring about their people.”

Hernandez said she had heard about an immigration statement but doesn’t believe there will be a tangible positive impact for immigrants like her. She rents out a room in a house in El Monte for $700 a month and has more immediate needs. She is more concerned about rising gas prices than about immigration issues.

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

She mocked the conference theme: “Building a Sustainable, Resilient, and Equitable Future.”

Hernandez left Puebla for Los Angeles in 1995 when she became a single mother of five children after her husband passed away. She thought she would find a better life, and in a way she did. But after years of toiling in low-paid jobs as a nanny, housekeeper and now 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 should all work with the possibility of good wages that enable us to live with dignity. With good health care so we don’t have to rush to the emergency room for illness.

“That’s not going to happen,” she said.

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