Posts Tagged ‘Pharr’

Plainview Migrant Fest

June 16, 2009

In a little Minnesota town of 3,000, more than 100 people gathered on a Friday evening for Migrant Fest.  Hosted by the Incarnation Church, this local festival in Plainview has been running for several years now to welcome the migrant farmworkers back to their summer home.  They come to work for Lakeside Foods, by far the largest employer in this small rural hamlet in southeastern Minnesota.

I had the privilege to man an information booth for legal services, speaking with immigrant families about everything from employment and immigration to domestic violence and housing questions.  Being a legal assistant, I couldn’t give them legal advice, but I was able to chat it up in Spanish, set appointments, and hand out alertas which provided them with more information.  Although it was difficult to keep los ninos from taking all my candy and “colors” (the border word for crayons), it was great to speak with families who had traveled all the way from Mission, Pharr, and Brownsville just this week.

The Plainview Migrant Fest boasted numerous other immigrant agencies.  Some were Migrant Health Services, AAA (Aging), Mayo Clinic Diversity Research Unit, Olmsted County Medical Center, San Joachim Church, MET, Tri-Valley Action Council, and Three Rivers Community Action Center. I learned right alongside the immigrant families, as I hadn’t known about many of these organizations previously.  I look forward to working with them to help aid and protect these migrant farmworkers in their vulnerable position as transient denizens of Minnesota.

While we were disseminating information to the migrant families, Latino reggaeton and rancheros were playing in the background, courtesy of DJ Armando.  It was refreshing to hear the children laughing and running around with musical chairs and sack races.  I even got the chance to run in the sack race, though I lost to Christina Gonzalez, the representative from Mayo Clinic Diversity Research Unit, a program designed to increase minority participation in research so as to increase the data’s accuracy.

At this festival, I learned that many of these families are in a bad way this summer.  A nearby meat processing plant in Chatfield burned down on April 17 (NPR.org), and many of those workers came to Plainview looking for work while the plant rebuilds.  As a result, the migrant farmworkers’ awaited jobs have dwindled, and several of the families don’t have the money to return to Texas, even if there was the promise of work there.  This year particularly, farmworkers are going to struggle to find work for a living wage.

Leaving Plainview with the taste of a taco still in my mouth and Latino pop songs ringing in my ears, the Lakeside Foods plant stands just a hundred yards from the road, a beacon which has drawn whole families more than 1000 miles north for a four-month stint.  Though it doesn’t look like much, some of these families’ savings from their work this summer will have to last them until the next.

Hurricane Ike

September 10, 2008

For some, supporting the construction of a 700-mile border wall on our nation’s southern border is simply a solid political move to show that one is “hard on immigration issues;”  Obama, McCain, & Clinton all supported the Secure Fence Act of 2006 because it represented comprehensive immigration reform to the publich.  Sadly, true comprehensive immigration reform such as Obama’s Dream Act or McCain’s S. 2611 bill named “Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006” were ignored at the time and have been all but forgotten in the Presidential debate of late.

For others the wall means a radical change in life.  For some, it means their ancestral homes will be lost.  For others, it means their downtown will be gutted by an unsightly, environmentally destructive barrier.  For others, it means that some of our nation’s most endangered and rare species will no longer have a home.  Others will lose access to the few wildlife refuges and parkland that they currently have along the Rio Grande corridor.  Still others look at an 18-foot high barrier lacking sufficient environmental impact studies and see a natural disaster waiting to happen.

As Hurricane Ike takes aim at the Rio Grande Valley, my prayers are with the good people of South Texas.  I pray that the hurricane will spare the lives and livelihoods of my good friends in Brownsville and Donna, Mission and Pharr, McAllen and Rio Grande City, Harlingen and Port Isabel, Weslaco and Alamo.  I also pray that our entire nation would look at this area long enough to see the people on both sides of the river who will live in fear every year they lack levees but get walls.

For up-to-date information on the hurricane’s progress and trajectory, please visit: http://www.badchili.blogspot.com/ http://current.pic.tv/2008/09/10/hurricane-ike-paints-bullseye-on-texas/ , or the Brownsville Herald website at: http://www.brownsvilleherald.com/

No Border Wall Walk- Day 5 or The Day of Pilgrimage

March 12, 2008

Marching with College Students

    The beginning of today’s march was a pilgrimage. It was a pilgrimage from the beautiful river to the hot pavement of industrial parks south of McAllen, a pilgrimage through the small land-grant town of Granjeno past welcoming gas stations, a journey from our lowest numbers to our biggest turnout for the walk thus far. The journey was shortened as we learned the stories of this Valley, the stories of La Lomita, Granjeno, McAllen, Mission, Las Milpas, and Pharr, as well as the stories stories of each other and those to whom we wave our tired hands. As Geoffrey Chaucer wrote in Canterbury Tales,

                    You each, to shorten the long journey,

Shall tell two tales en route to Canterbury,
And, coming homeward, another two,
Stories of things that happened long ago.
Whoever best acquits himself, and tells
The most amusing and instructive tale,
Shall have a dinner, paid by us all,
Here in this roof, and under this roof-tree,
When we come back again from Canterbury. (“General Prologue)

Today was our shortest day of walking so far, coming in at only 12 or so miles. We took it slow, though, especially as we gave and received hope in the tiny town of Granjeno. Families like the Rendons were extremely welcoming, and they were wholly supportive of our efforts against the wall. They have boldly decided to stand up to the federal government by refusing to sign government survey waivers. Many of them are involved in the class-action federal lawsuit being launched Peter Schey, and many of them are vowing civil disobedience if bulldozers come to their front yards. Each of us on this walk will stand beside them in solidarity.

    Leaving the shade and encouraging multilingual words of encouragement from grandmas and children, dogs and roosters, cats and swaying trees, the sun could have discouraged our positivity. Instead, it gave us some much-needed time to reflect and connect with each other. Walking down a lonely road with like-minded people, one is drawn to Proverbs 27:17, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Walking with these worthy women and men, I have been consistently challenged by their calls to the higher plane of nonviolence and encouraged on this March Against the Wall. Men and women such as the steadfast Jay Johnson-Castro, the tranquilly wise Nat Stone, the perceptive Elizabeth Stephens, the questioning Cole Farnum, the united smiles of the Johnson famiily, the motherly care of Beth Golini, the passionate dancing of Matt Smith, the quiet strength of Crystal Canales, the extremely personal encouragement and candor of Kiel Harell, the dependable leadership of John Moore. These people have challenged and will continue to make the entire nation listen to our moral indignation at this issue.

    At our usual 2:00 lunch stop at a Valero gas station, we were once more showered with blessings. News crews found us, and so did workers from the G & G Auto Wrecking Company, who graciously donated a case of Coke and a box of waters. This support from la gente, the everyday men and women of this Valley who would be most profoundly impacted by a wall between their families and heritage and culture and land, is really what empowers us day after day. We left with renewed vigor.

    The most powerful moment of the day came as students from the Palestine Solidarity Committee expressed their solidarity with our efforts and joined us for the hottest part of our march. Their showered and beautiful faces marched alongside our trail-weary souls, and we were all enriched and comforted that this is an issue which all people of faith, from all over, can rally behind with confidence. We sang “Father Abraham” and “And the Walls came Tumblin’ Down.” http://link.brightcove.com/services/link/bcpid1287042959/bclid1287021539/bctid1453536169

    And just as they left and we were resigned to walking the final 2 miles with our 15 through-walkers, a group of 50 spring-break students from Miami, Texas State, St. Mary’s, and many other universities, joined us after a long day volunteering at Cesar Chavez’s LUPE organization. Their energy was all we needed to bring it in to the Las Milpas rally with style. We blocked off a whole lane of traffic, and our sheer positivity even won over a police officer who looked as if he were about to write us a citation. He asked for all my information, but when I told him a resounding thanks for all the police officers’ support along our walk so far, he smiled and told me to call him for tomorrow’s march to Progreso.

No Border Wall Walk- Day 5 College Alternative Spring Breakers

    One of the most amazing things about walking with these idealistic college students is the misinformation that is currently circulating our good country. If we truly believe that all people are inherently good, then we must also believe that the conscience of this nation has been miseducated about this issue. Well-intentioned college students who were devoting their whole spring break to help out the Valley’s people, thought that people on la frontera were united in support of the wall. How they couldn’t be more wrong! It was encouraging to see each honk of a car horn and each index finger pointing to the air educate them more and more that no one in the wall’s proposed trajectory wants this symbol of disgrace and division. The border wall would not go through barren wasteland but through backyards, not desert but downtowns.

    The Las Milpas rally was amazing. We had the pleasure to witness 4 members of the ARISE student ballet folklorico, and their dancing feet made our spirits light; my soul was dancing with them, even if the only part of my body I could mobilize were my clapping hands. It was encouraging to see schoolbuses and kids playing on the playground, seeing that Pancho Villa is not our hero, but Cesar Chavez. Joe Krause did an amazing job organizing this community event, even getting the 36h District Representative. Our meeting broke with chants and excitement. We are together, we are solidly united.

    And so ends this 5th day, a March day of pilgrimage that called out the entire community to join its voice with ours. In his “Letter from Cesar Chavez to Friends,” Chicano activist and social organizer Cesar Chavez wrote,

But throughout the Spanish-speaking world there is another tradition that touches the present march, that of the Lenten penitential processions, where the penitantes would march through the streets, often in sack cloth and ashes, some even carrying crosses, as a sign of penance for their sins, and as a plan for the mercy of God. The penitential procession is also in the blood of the Mexican-American, and the Delano march will therefore be one of penance—public penance for the sins of the strikers, their own personal sins as well as their yielding perhaps to feelings of hatred and revenge in the strike itself. They hope by the march to set themselves at peace with the Lord, so that the justice of their cause will be purified of all lesser motivation.

As we approach Semana Santa, the Holy Week, we are most assuredly marching for many reasons. We walk for penance that we did not speak out sooner when walls were being built in California and Arizona, we walk to rid ourselves of that self-defeating bitterness and hate which piles up if direct action is not taken, we walk on a pilgrimage to encourage the people of this Valley and renew our call to campaign for justice for both the immigrant and the border region.