SAN JUAN, RGV – Mexicanos and Muslims will unite in a march against racism and anti-immigrant rhetoric in McAllen next Saturday, La Unión del Pueblo Entero executive director Juanita Valdez-Cox has announced.
The march is part of a national “community gathering” effort taking place in 50 cities a week before Donald Trump’s inauguration as president of the United States. Among the national groups involved are United We Dream, Center for Community Change, SEIU, CASA, and Voces de la Frontera.
The aim is to build momentum to prevent deportations, preserve the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and create sanctuaries of safety and deportation defense networks in cities, schools, churches and states.
“The whole community is invited to participate as we march from McAllen High School on Bicentennial to Archer Park in McAllen. This is against the hate, against the racism, against the fear that has been created by those who were elected last year,” Valdez-Cox said.
“And, it is not only going to be the Mexican community, but the Muslim community also. The Muslim community was hit very hard by the anti-immigrant rhetoric. We have invited them and they are going to participate. The message we want to send is that we are here and we are together. We stand with pride.”
Valdez-Cox said the McAllen march will start at 10 a.m. and finish at 12 noon on Saturday, January 14. “We have invited the DA and other elected officials and they will be joining us on that day,” she said. “We have also invited the LGBT groups. We will have 35 to 40 from Aquí Estamos coming. A lot of them are DACA students.”
DACA is an executive order from President Obama that allows some undocumented students an opportunity to work legally, free from the threat of deportation. The order could be overturned once President-elect Trump takes over.
Valdez-Cox revealed details of the Jan. 14 march in a lengthy interview with the Rio Grande Guardian about the year ahead.
In the interview, the LUPE leader said 2017 promises to be very busy, with heightened interest and civic activity among immigrant and low-income communities. She said LUPE’s membership has soared as a result of Trump’s presidential campaign and victory in the November election.
“After October, our paid membership usually dwindles as families start saving money for holidays. This past year it was different. It went up. Our paid membership has gone up from 7,200 to 8,000 over the past year. I think this last election brought fear into our community. Our people saw that through LUPE, by being in the union they could have some protection; that they were not alone, that they could look out for each other.”
On the day after the presidential election, Valdez-Cox said, many members visited the LUPE HQ in San Juan to talk about what was going to happen next. Many were in a state of shock. One major talking point, she said, was the fear of mass deportations under the next president.
“The day after election we closed the office, just to gather and to talk. We opened the hall to listen to the concerns. People were asking, ‘what is going to happen now, I have children that are undocumented.’ They just wanted to talk.”
A Day Without a Mexican
Valdez-Cox said that since the election a mood of defiance has developed among some immigrant and low-income families. “People were saying, how dare the government talk about us in this way, do they know what would happen to this country if they hauled us all off. Do they know who cooks our food in the restaurant, or who cleans the hotels, who works on the construction site? If we had a couple of days, and we all said, we will not work, do they know what would happen?”
Valdez-Cox said she liked the commentary of one gentleman that came to the LUPE HQ. “He said, where are they going to send us back to? All of these states, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Texas, it was our land. People asked if we could use the various U.S.-Mexico treaties to defend ourselves.”
LUPE’s membership is made up of individuals in different residential status situations. About a third are U.S. citizens, about a third are legal residents, and about a third are undocumented. However, Valdez-Cox said, members are united in support of the immigrant community.
“When they come to visit, members ask, how can we protect ourselves, we need information, what are the laws, what do I say if I get caught. I think the membership is fighting back. They are saying, you may want to pass laws that will hurt us, that will discriminate against us but we have power in numbers. We are not going to give in or silently stand by and let them do what they want to immigrants and low-income communities. We are ready to fight back and through our actions show we have power.”
Hence the march on Jan. 14.
One of LUPE’s most popular classes is the one that teaches members how to become a U.S. citizen. As the 2016 presidential election campaign wore on, Valdez-Cox said, the classes took on added significance. “We saw a difference in our citizenship classes. More older people attended, saying, we need to become citizens in order to vote. After election, as the anti-immigrant rhetoric increased, and a certain person was elected president, it became, what can we do. They were saying, we need to be able to listen to the attorneys. How can we educate ourselves? People are trying to figure out how to participate, how to act. Some feel we need to be out on the streets, that we are not going to go down without a fight.”
Valdez-Cox said she was reassured by the amount of support there is in the Valley for the immigrant and low-income community She said collectively, the numerous non-profit community groups and immigration attorneys are providing a tremendous service.
The 85th Legislature starts next Tuesday, Jan. 10. Asked about LUPE’s legislative agenda, Valdez-Cox said much of the group’s focus would be playing defense against anti-immigrant legislation. Realizing there is strength in numbers, she said LUPE, would be working alongside groups such as the Border Network for Human Rights in El Paso, Reform Immigration for Texas Alliance (RITA) in Austin, and the RGV Equal Voice Network in the Valley.
“There will be a few positive bills we will get behind, such as state Rep. Roberto Alonzo’s driver’s license bill. But there is a much larger number of bills that are negative. The Border Network has identified a long list of bills targeting immigrants. We know we will be on the defensive.”
Editor’s Note: Videojournalist Apolonio Sandoval, Jr., contributed to this story from San Juan, Texas.