Where, in the world, is McAllen, Texas? Why, right here. Center of the World, Centro del Mundo.
At least it seemed so today. Right by the border with Mexico. Right where spotlights of the media shone brightly, the last day of June, 2018. The “world was watching,” as the posters proclaimed, as a spirited band (approximately 300) met to say “America Needs Immigrants,” and “We Welcome Refugees.”
They met on ironically named, historic “Military Highway,” facing the U.S. Border Patrol station, which had parked its trucks so no one could enter (and so they couldn’t hear the songs and chants, I suspect). The company–Logicorp–across the street, would not allow those opposed to Trump’s policy of separating families on its grass, nor to park in its ample driveway. Police showed up much later; participants were ordered to move and park along that busy street.
The protesters (“protest” from Latin, protestari, to announce ones position) bunched up on the public sidewalk, American flags, colorful, creative signs in hand. They were civil, peaceful, but determined and forceful in their position opposing, as they saw it, the un-American maltreatment of refugees and asylum-seekers, especially the health and safety of babies and young children. Their posters additionally criticized related issues: “No Border Wall,” of course, joined the litany.
Sponsors were millennials, young people, often in their first protest, ready with cold water and a (mas o menos) adequate sound system. Most understood Trump supporters who routinely say “if you don’t want separation of your family, don’t come.” Yet, they also understand why so many brave the dangers to flee cartels in their home countries. They suspect a U.S. hand in buying the drugs that fuel that violence and in exporting the weapons that further its damage (and in usurping attempts at democratic government in Central America, allowing authoritarian governments to prevail). They empathize with those threatened, believing they would dare to make the same long trip in the same circumstances.
It was not the largest gathering in the nation, protesting President Trump’s policies (umbrella is moveon.org; organized under “FamiliesBelongTogether”). But it was intense, heartfelt and it happened here, at the border with Mexico. Many protesters know the valuable contributions of documented and undocumented workers to the economy of the south Texas Valley. They see the value of the enormous trade that passes through local bridges and regret the disruption of trade and good relations with Mexico, that harm both sides. All that could not be expressed at the same time, so the focus was emotional and human, not economic: “save the families.”
Speakers detailed deplorable conditions. The New York Times joined the Rio Grande Guardian media in chronicling the spirit of the crowd and the stories of individual men and women of all ages, who testified. Their coverage is a small, but important part of the saga unfolding; it highlights perhaps the central story of the moment, helping to unmask and challenge poorly thought-out, pernicious policy from Washington, affecting negatively a major region of a major state of the United States. To the brave protesters: Viva you Americans from Texas who stand for American values! Viva the Rio Grande Valley! Viva McAllen!