Making Room at the Inn

By Claire LewandowskiDecember 15, 2023

Making Room at the Inn

A WORKER’S POSADA, Sheraton Gateway, Los Angeles, December 8, 2023.

The first thing I saw upon approaching the Sheraton Gateway was a swarm of hotel workers in red T-shirts. The second was a volunteer carrying an armful of linen smocks, hunting for some willing souls to play Mary and Joseph. It was a brisk Friday evening and someone yelled out, “¡Más cerca, más calientitos! Like penguins!” The hundred or so folks present huddled closer around the lone mariachi with a guitar.

Unite Here Local 11, the union representing hotel workers in Los Angeles County and Orange County, has been on strike since July. Visit one of the 60-plus hotels involved and you might encounter full-on revelry outside the hotel door, complete with banging pots and pans, squawking megaphones, and variations on the chant “sin contrato, no hay paz.” That’s the workers’ goal: a signed contract at every hotel that guarantees a wage that allows them to afford to live in the same areas where they work.

This evening, the tactics were a little different. Las Posadas is the traditional reenactment of the biblical story of Mary and Joseph seeking shelter at an inn as Mary is about to give birth. The word posadas literally means “inn” or “lodging,” so the parallels practically write themselves. Hotel workers, seeking a living wage, go door-to-door at their hotels, facing down the heartless managers? It’s labor activism poetry. But the reality turned out to be both less confrontational and more playful. 

We walked to the Sheraton singing Christmas carols as the mariachi’s wireless mic cut in and out. The crowd nudged Mary and Joseph forward. Mary, a young woman in torn jeans with sewn-on cactus patches, covered her face with the song sheet as though suddenly shy. Joseph, equally fresh to the role, drew closer to her in a display of teenage solidarity. 

The Las Posadas song is notoriously hard, but the point is to sing it loudly, not well, which we did with gusto right outside the Sheraton’s front doors. The security guards stared at us, confused. One surreptitiously got out her phone and started recording us while hiding a smile. Hotel guests, their faces carefully set, ushered their curious children away from our crowd. 

The word disarming came to mind. Show up at a picket line banging on a drum and someone can meet you with equal force, demanding that you leave. Show up in costume, play-acting an old story, and people don’t quite know how to respond, except that force suddenly doesn’t seem so appropriate.

The rest of the evening passed in a swirl of camaraderie. We walked to Four Points, another striking hotel in the area, singing “Feliz Navidad” and a bilingual rendition of “We Shall Not Be Moved.” Airport shuttle drivers, upon seeing our picket signs, laid on their horns in raucous solidarity. After performing our final Posadas song outside of Four Points, a Unite Here organizer got on the megaphone to announce the breaking news that yet another striking hotel had signed their contract. The crowd erupted into cheers and thunderous chanting.

A volunteer ushered me toward the sidewalk where a table with hot chocolate and sugary conchas had been set up. I chatted with a few folks and learned that most of the people present had been involved in Unite Here actions since the start of the strike, or even years before. 

It’s easy to get disillusioned about labor movements: there are so many actors with power, and wherever there’s power, the possibility of corruption isn’t far behind. But in that moment, what struck me most were the genuine connections I observed between volunteers, organizers, and workers. Most conversations I overheard were about ordinary happenings such as a family member’s health or someone’s plans for the weekend. These were folks with an ongoing commitment to each other.

It was fully dark now and the crowd was starting to thin, carrying their cups of hot chocolate into the night, but a small group of women broke off to continue chanting outside the Four Points door: “¡Se ve, se siente! ¡La unión está presente!”


Photo by contributor.

LARB Short Take live event reviews are published in partnership with the nonprofit Online Journalism Project and the Independent Review Crew.

LARB Contributor

Claire Lewandowski is an educator and writer living in Los Angeles. She is part of the Los Angeles Catholic Worker, an anarchist living community that operates a soup kitchen on Skid Row. Her writing has appeared in numerous hard-to-find places.


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