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Locals, visitors gather for family reunification

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Posted: Thursday, June 28, 2018 10:40 pm

Isis Avalos is proud of her hometown.

While the Brownsville native has lived in Los Angeles for six years, she returned Thursday as a speaker at the Families Belong Together Rally at the Border sponsored by a coalition of organizations including the American Civil Liberties Union. About 1,500 gathered at Linear Park for the demonstration.

Avalos, 32, is a dancer with the Contra-Tiempo Urban Latin Dance Theater and combines art with social justice activism. She returned to share her experience growing up on the border.

“I’m so proud that Brownsville has opened the doors to create a space for this to happen,” she said. “Oftentimes you feel apart from the U.S., but to know this is at the forefront (of family separations), it’s been difficult to witness.”

Avalos said she was 7 years old when her family crossed the Rio Grande from Matamoros, and she grew up undocumented in Texas. In 2013, she said she became the first U.S. resident to travel and dance throughout Latin America with a State Department cultural program — though she was almost precluded because of her Mexican passport.

Her travels taught her “how unique it is to be from the border and this life at the intersection,” Avalos said. “We welcome migrants every day, and we must continue to keep welcoming migrants. It’s the fabric of who we are in Brownsville.”

LOCAL RESPONSE

Christina Houle is a representative of the Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network, which co-sponsored the rally, and lives in Brownsville. She noted that a U.S. district judge Tuesday in San Diego ordered that separated families must be reunited within 30 days and that children younger than 5 must be reunited with their parents within 14 days.

Houle said demonstrators were gathered to say the Trump administration needs to comply with the ruling.

“There are over 2,000 children who have not been reunited with their families, and we don’t have a clear process to get them back together. “We’re here to say that’s urgent, and we have people from all over the state to reflect how this is an issue that is really integral to our values as a country.”

Houle said people entering country need to have the legal opportunity to seek asylum and not be treated as criminals.

“This is a … moral crisis that has been created by the administration and can be undone by the administration,” she said.

A Brownsville resident named Jay, 33, who declined to give his last name, decided to attend to rally because the city has been dismissed in the past “for not voting, for not caring.”

“Being a native, it’s very sad that we always make the national news for all these negative reasons,” he said.

He wore a jacket emblazoned on the back with the words, “Si … we care,” an overt reference to the jacket First Lady Melania Trump wore when boarding a plane to McAllen that said, “I don’t really care. Do U?”

Jay responded to a question about the meaning behind his jacket much like the first lady’s spokesperson responded to inquiries about Trump’s fashion choice.

“I just threw it on,” he said. “The message doesn’t mean anything. It’s just fashion.”

KEEPING THE FAITH

Jarell Wilson, a community engagement specialist from Servant Church United Methodist in Austin, hopes their support will reach the ears of children in detention centers.

“We saw injustice being committed, and we took vows to oppose it,” he said. “I think it’s worth the journey so the children in those centers know we … want them to be treated with dignity and respect.”

Barry Massey, a member of the church, noted the yellow amphitheater wall in the park and the federal courthouse on the other side, across Harrison Street.

“We have children, we have grandchildren, and we would not want it to happen to them,” he said. “There’s something about looking at that courthouse hunkered down across the wall and the government and what it is doing.”

Rev. Abigail Parker Herrera said the aim of their presence was to bring attention and understanding to the issue of family separations.

“Not being able to grab your aunty or mom or abuela for comfort — I need this to stop,” she said. “Any of the current fixes are not good either. Keeping families in prison together for an extreme amount of time is not good either.”

MAKING THE DRIVE

Pam and Terry Kosobud of Austin didn’t attend the rally as part of a group. The septuagenarians, both retired, hopped in their car Thursday morning to make it Linear Park for the demonstration.

“We want to register our protest for the treatment the children and families are getting when they come to the U.S.,” Pam Kosobud said. “Our country is a country with a history of open arms to people, and this just makes us really sad.”

Terry Kosobud said they only got politically active last year, also when they moved from Chicago to Texas, and have attended other demonstrations and plan to be at the Austin Families Belong Together rally Saturday.

“We felt it was so outrageous,” he said of family separations before giving his take on President Donald Trump. “This craziness that goes on when he tweets out an order, in my opinion, is totally unacceptable.”

Irma Mireles Berry attended the rally with the Cesar Chavez Memorial Alliance of Laredo. She said she has been politically active since the 1970s.

“We were marching for our right to vote and for immigration,” Mireles Berry said. “We’re still here, and this time I think it’s worse. We have to get out and vote. That’s the only way our voices will be heard.”

Edith Blanco made the trip to Brownsville from San Antonio with the Southwest Workers Union. With her 2-year-old daughter, Maya, on her hip, Blanco said the issue hits close to home. She crossed the Rio Grande into the United States with her mother at age 4.

“I can’t imagine I could go even 24 hours without her,” Blanco said of her daughter, pausing as she got emotional. “If this had been going on 20 years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to be without my mom either.”

nadia@brownsvilleherald.com

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