By FRANCISCO E. JIMÉNEZ, ALEJANDRA YANEZ and XAVIER ALVAREZ
Dozens of chairs sat unoccupied under a large tent outside La Unión del Pueblo Entero’s San Juan offices Wednesday.
Early morning torrential rainfall appeared to have stymied plans for a town hall and protest in response to Gov. Greg Abbott and former President Donald Trump’s visit to the Rio Grande Valley — Trump’s third visit to the region and first since Jan. 12 of this year, when he toured the border.
Instead, a crowd of over 100 people gathered inside LUPE’s offices to listen to speakers including Texas Democratic Party Chair and former Cameron County Judge Gilberto Hinojosa, state Rep. Armando “Mando” Martinez, D-Weslaco, community activist and former U.S. Rep. candidate Jessica Cisneros, as well as numerous community organizers.
In between chants of “Sí, se puede,” and “Abbott! Escucha! Estamos en la lucha!” speakers addressed the standing-room-only crowd from a stage in front of a banner that read, “You’re both fired!”
“We believe that South Texas does deserve more,” Cisneros said following the town hall. “We aren’t here just for a prop, or just for photo ops. We are here. We are a community that has needs that our government needs to address, but unfortunately right now they’re being sacrificed for just a political game.”
Rogelio Ramirez, a fellow from the Laredo Immigrant Alliance, shared a story with the crowd about his father, a legal resident of 28 years who was deported in 2018. Ramirez said his father’s story is what led him to become involved in immigration rights and ultimately led him to the Valley on Wednesday.
“There’s a very obvious attack on the immigrant community — an obvious attack that’s showing up in different forms,” Ramirez said. “We’ve seen the criminalization, the demonization of entire communities that have been here. … I think right now what we’re seeing is not necessarily a last-ditch effort, but I definitely think it’s a boosted effort to try and stay relevant for former President Trump.”
Hinojosa said the Valley needed to send a “loud and clear” message to Abbott, and LUPE’s town hall exceeded his expectations.
“Instead of spending taxpayer’s (money) and putting an effort into a wall that legally he cannot build under any analysis that anybody will give,” Hinojosa said. “It is a function solely of the federal government. Also, he can’t get the money, he can’t condemn any of that property legally, and finally, he’s not going to be able to get any of the permits. He’s doing this little publicity stunt for the purposes of helping out his political campaign.”
Clarissa Riojas of McAllen held a sign that read, “Stop militarizing our home,” on one side, and “Texas deserves better than Greg Abbott,” on the other. She was at the town hall with the American Federation of Teachers, of which she is vice-president of the McAllen chapter. She described LUPE’s town hall as a powerful show of unity against Abbott and Trump’s visit.
“It’s beautiful to see so many of our community members come together to take a stand against Greg Abbott and Donald Trump visiting the border,” Riojas said. “I really wish that they would stop politicizing our region.”
Simultaneously occurring in Edinburg, over 50 vehicles parked along and under a Highway 281 overpass early Wednesday morning, gathering in support of Trump despite copious amounts of rain threatening to end the rally before it could even begin. Still, a few flew their Trump flags proudly without any sort of shelter to shield them.
Trump supporters gathered from various parts of the country to rally in honor of the former president; none of whom wore masks.
Ronald Solomon, a 62-year-old Las Vegas resident who was selling MAGA merchandise, said he supports Abbott’s border plan, elements of which parallel Trump’s policies.
Solomon also borrowed from Trump’s controversial rhetoric about migrants.
“We have an immigration system that lets in anywhere from a half-a-million to three-quarters-of-a-million people a year. … What Biden’s doing is flooding our country with anywhere from 2 to 3 million illegal aliens, many of whom have diseases and are criminals, and that also takes away from our Border Patrol who work very hard,” Solomon said.
A few blocks south of the rally’s location was a small group of anti-Trump protestors flying their flags in the rain as well. They were later dispersed by police, so they decided to protest near the Trump supporters.
Troopers with the Texas Department of Public Safety blocked the eastern road heading toward the South Texas International Airport in Edinburg, where many of the gatherers believed Trump’s plane would be landing.
Many erupted in cheers whenever a plane or helicopter flew over the gathering spot, believing Trump was finally arriving despite him being in Weslaco with Gov. Abbott and other officials at the time.
One man wearing a Trump mask asked around whether the former president had already driven past the rally.
Children carried small American flags, while others held pro-Trump posters and walked along the closed off streets.
A family of six from Amarillo sporting raincoats and camo were the only few holding QAnon posters among the crowds.
Rocky Garcia, a 42-year-old San Antonio resident, drove a decorated hummer blasting pro-Trump music, leading a Trump train of over 15 vehicles from the Alamo City.
Parked next to him under the expressway was a hearse with an open casket which read, “When I die please don’t let me vote democrat.”
Garcia said the reason for his visit was to let people know that conservatives are part of the silent majority and that Trump’s chances for reelection are not over yet.
Loren Haskins, a 27-year-old McAllen resident who was protesting the rally, said, “They were giving this false sense of a silent majority when in fact they were the vocal minority, just extremely vocal. So the problem is there’s a lot of people these days that still don’t know a lot about politics.”
Along with Haskins was Zak Borja, a 22-year-old from Edinburg, who said, “We’re essentially here today to make a statement and that statement is that the rhetoric, the actions and the policies enacted by Greg Abbott and Donald Trump when he was president have caused irreversible damage to not only society here in the Valley, but to tens of thousands of undocumented people down here — LatinX people, who have faced all types of micro-aggressions all because of this hateful culture that both Abbott and Trump have harbored.”