By FRANCISCO E. JIMÉNEZ, A. COLLEEN DeGUZMAN, BERENICE GARCIA and MATT WILSON
Love him or hate him, a visit by the president is still a spectacle that’ll bring out a Rio Grande Valley crowd in the hundreds, even on a cold day in the middle of a pandemic amidst national political furor and civil unrest.
Fans and detractors took to the streets Tuesday, with supporters extolling his virtues in lively rallies and high-profile state Democrats, including Julian Castro, sweeping into town to criticize his presidency.
President Donald Trump touched down in Harlingen early Tuesday afternoon, flying to McAllen Miller International Airport before traveling to a section of the border wall near Pharr, where he spoke about the administration’s accomplishments and ongoing political turmoil.
Trump was greeted by hundreds of cheering fans as his motorcade sped out of the airport in McAllen, a throng that had gathered hours before to talk politics and chant and pray (even for the opposition) in anticipation of the president’s arrival.
One of them was Eddie Brooks, 45.
“F— Biden,” the flag Brooks was waving read. “And f— you for voting for him!”
A manufacturing worker from the Pharr, San Juan and Alamo area, Brooks attributes Trump with bringing economic success to his industry and the country as a whole.
“Trump has done a lot for us,” he said. “America first, man. Americans first, and I truly believe in that. Where are we? America. That’s the way it should be. Any other way, it’s not American.”
Although he says he supports a peaceful transition on the 20th, Brooks is anything but a Joe Biden fan.
The U.S. Capitol riot didn’t sway that opinion, nor did it shake his faith in Trump.
“Three hours, four hours, was it, of people taking selfies?” Brooks mused. “They call that an insurrection?”
The insignificance of the Capitol riot in comparison to rioting tied to the killing over George Floyd in the summer of 2020 was a sentiment echoed by other rally-goers. They also expressed support of Trump’s handling of the economy, the pandemic and border issues, along with a particular disdain for the media.
Raul Romero, a 61-year-old Mission resident and Trump supporter, was rallying in favor of the president in the same parking lot as Brooks.
Romero said he was upset to see police officers surveying the rally. He says he feels like the left and the media have painted him and his fellow Trump supporters as terrorists, something that upsets him greatly.
“We get ridiculed, we get laughed at, we get called names, but we’re supposed to — I don’t know, we can’t say a word. But them … they can say whatever the hell they want,” he said.
Romero said he’s not sure what he hopes to see happen on Inauguration Day. Ultimately though, he’s confident his side — what he sees as not only the right side politically but the righteous side morally — will win out.
“The other side is evil,” he told one police officer Tuesday.
Most of those Trump supporters migrated south, down 10th Street, to catch a glimpse of the president as he left the airport, many of them walking past the bougainvillea blooms of the McAllen Country Club to congregate in front of a gas station.
A cheer went up when the president pulled onto 10th.
Though not able to get the best view, Larry Gilliam, a Valley resident for a little under a year, said it was a moving experience.
“He’s probably the greatest president we have had in my lifetime,” the 68-year-old said. “And he has done a lot for the people, he has done a lot for the country, and it’s a shame that it ended the way it did.
“I’ll vote for him in 2024 if he decides to run.”
Not all of those gathered waiting for the president to drive by were fans of his.
In the sea of waving “Trump 2020” flags at South Mcallen on Tuesday morning was one yard sign that read “Biden Harris,” held by Marcia Martinez.
“I am here today to honor the police officer that was murdered at the Capitol, Officer (Brian) Sicknick — that was the passion that drove me here today,” said Martinez, a state delegate for President-elect Joe Biden. “Not the Trumpsters, because they lost their time and I could care less about what they say and yell. We won this election and that’s a fact.”
They did yell. They told her to go home and made fun of her eyelashes. At one point someone dragged a flag over her head, and the crowd chanted.
“We love Trump,” they said. “Four more years.”
Martinez hurled insults back.
“Why are there only three of you and like 3,000 Trump supporters,” a man asked her at one point.
”But we are three winners and then it’s 3,000 losers — boom,” she retorted, sticking her fist in the air.
Although certainly heated and passionate, no violence was reported at Tuesday’s rallies and protests.
A more organized protest of the president was held in San Juan at an event organized by La Union Del Pueblo Entero — LUPE.
Castro, the former secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, joined a protest in San Juan.
“Just last week, all of us watched on Jan. 6 as a mob of domestic terrorists stormed the United States capitol to try and stop the legitimate transfer of power from one government to the next,” Castro said. “This is what Donald Trump has wrought.”
Castro criticized Trump’s support of the border wall, along with the president’s often divisive term.
“What we’re here to say today is that we’ve had enough of that division and hate and bigotry,” Castro said. “We have had enough!”
Several dozen protesters gathered there holding signs, most of which were brought courtesy of the No Border Wall Laredo Coalition, that read “Not another foot,” “The Wall inspires racist violence,” and “Reunite families,” among many others.
One of the protesters in attendance was Gary Cooper of McAllen, who brought his own sign that read, “En el RGV, Decimos ¡NO! al Fascismo! The Rio Grande Valley says NO TO FASCISM!”
“I don’t think Trump should get to come here after he tries to overthrow the constitutional government and take power by a coup and not have any citizens who live here object to it,” Cooper said prior to the organized protest. “We are just here to say that we don’t want Trump coming here to make his racist points.”
Clad in yellow shirts and putting up homemade banners was a large contingency from the No Border Wall Laredo Coalition, the anti-border wall organization that was founded in February 2019 after Laredo was declared a national border emergency.
“We wanted to show our support for our Valley No Border Wall Coalition,” coalition President Melissa Cigarroa said. “We’re in this fight together. We believe ni un pie más, not another foot. And the way for Biden to fulfill his promise to border communities is to executive day number one — establish a moratorium on all construction on condemnation and stop all the contracts.”
Cigarroa said that she believes the reason for Trump’s visit to the Valley was to spread false narratives about border communities and create more division in the country.
“These false narratives about how we’re a danger zone — that is not our reality,” Cigarroa said. “The border is a beautiful, dynamic area. We’re one of the safest areas in the country. That’s supported by all the facts, the criminal data, the FBI data — we are safe communities. The only reason he’s doing this is to extend that racist ideology he has. That’s why he’s coming here. That’s what it represents. It’s a terrible message. I don’t expect anything better from him, but it’s so dangerous to our communities because of the violence that he’s already incited. We can expect more.”