After the inauguration of the new president, and with clear signs in my opinion that he intends to bully immigrants, the children of immigrants woke up afraid. One mother, here in South Texas, told me that her son came home after school, weeping, claiming that he didn’t want to go to Mexico.
His mother, holding him in her arms, told him: “We are not going to be deported. We are United States citizens. You were born here.”
“But mom,” he insisted, “The president is going to deport all Mexicans. I am a Mexican.”
Another woman, an undocumented mother of U.S. citizen children, said that her children refused to go to school: “We are afraid that you won’t be here when we come home.”
It is with this taste of ashes in our collective mouths that the residents of the Rio Grande Valley prepare for Lent.
But, before Lent, there is Mardi Gras. Tuesday is Mardi Gras, a day in which millions of people across the world will dress in costume, join parades, dance and simply enjoy being alive.
Alongside a Border
Michael Seifert is a longtime resident of the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. The region is part of the U.S.-Mexico border. In this personal essay, he writes about what happens when Texas families feel targeted and attacked. A version also appears in his blog, “Views from Alongside a Border.”
On this same Tuesday, though, here in the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas, 150 hardy souls, members of the Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network, will board buses at 2 a.m.
They are members of grassroots organizations, including ARISE, LUPE, Proyecto Azteca, Proyecto Juan Diego, FUERZA del Valle and the ACLU of Texas. They have found that democracy works better when networks of people and organizations come together to make progress.
They, too, will be preparing for a parade. But this one will be quite different from those occurring in New Orleans, or Mobile or Rio de Janeiro.
These good citizens will be headed to Austin, the state capital, a six- to seven-hour trip on the bus.
This is a hard trip for working people – the 2 a.m. departure means little, if any sleep. Taking a day off from work is a tough thing to manage for the many who are hourly wage workers. Finding someone else to do all the things that are necessary to keep a family on even keel is yet another ball to juggle in the complicated life that marks the poor person’s lot.
But this is a community of believers. They are people who share the conviction that all of us are called to live as fully human, truly alive beings who reflect the divine. Most of these 150 travelers believe all people carry within them this spark of God.
These good people share the conviction that many of the proposals that Texas state legislators are considering regarding immigrants are laws that, if enacted, would demean, dehumanize and terrorize many Texas communities and residents.
An insult, in other words, to God.
The bills target, specifically, immigrant communities. They are in places like the towns and cities of the Rio Grande Valley. Senate Bill 4, for instance, would force towns and counties to lend their police to the federal government’s effort to enforce immigration laws.
SB 4, wrong in so many ways in my opinion, would fracture the necessary trust between a peace officer and the community he or she serves. The smaller towns in our region, for instance, will find it hard to weather the denial of state grants and the fines that will be levied should the police refuse to become immigration agents.
SB 4 places the people responsible for protecting and defending the community – the police – in a tough spot. If the Sheriff takes federal dollars, people with families of mixed-immigration status will be reluctant to cooperate with deputies.
If the Sheriff refuses this new job description, he or she stands to lose a bundle of money. Not that this is an impossible decision to make – Harris County’s Sheriff opted to build bridges and not walls when he decided that his department would not cooperate in immigration enforcement.
But “being tough on immigrants” is presently a sweet tune for many Texas elected officials. Whether the bill ultimately helps or hurts the well-being of the community seems to be beside the point for those legislators who wrote it, who support its passage and who obstinately ignore the harm these bills bring to Texans.
The 150 pilgrims from the Rio Grande Valley, and the hundreds of others making their way to the state Capitol, are part of a collaborative effort called Texas Together. Coming from all corners of the state, they will form a chorus of voices insisting upon the rejection of the irresponsible voices of those who mess with Texas’ values of neighborliness, hospitality and optimism.
This year’s Mardi Gras parade, marching through Austin, will not feature floats or costumes. It will, instead, feature people who carry in their hearts a deep sense of rabia and coraje – rage and guts – and the power of a people whose children will suffer the most when their families and communities are attacked.
Beware the power of those whose children have been threatened.
Michael Seifert is a community activist in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. Photos courtesy of Michael Seifert.