The U.S. government isn't new when it comes to tearing families apart. Our criminal justice system, police brutality, drone strikes, child protective programs, and the dark times of slavery are some of the tools that have been used to separate families. Similar to how African-Americans were sold down the river to slave owners, brown folk are being sold down El Rio Grande to private prisons. Our institutions I have confided in ruling against unconstitutional acts have legitimized this tear-families-apart policy via the Muslim ban. Even the highest courts have seen dark days in the Dred Scott, Korematsu, and North Carolina v. Mann, a state supreme court decision ruling that slaves were absolute property and that they “render[ed] the submission of the slave perfect.”
Over one-hundred fifty years later, and, yet, after the countless civil rights victories, we have hateful policies continuing attacks on our community. This time around the ‘zero tolerance’ policy is at bat against our community.
Our team met several times in anticipation of the demonstration. Initially, a small group of leaders were to tour three shelters children were being held in, but were denied last minute. Several ideas, concerns, and strategies were discussed meticulously.
I never imagined I'd be in an office with civil rights figures planning out a protest. Then again, I never imagined our government committing despicable acts as this one. Hector Flores, a past National LULAC President and Conciliation Specialist in the Department of Justice investigating police brutality; Domingo Garcia, a prominent civil rights attorney and previous elected official; and Reverend Peter Johnson, Dean of Civil Rights activism in Dallas and confidant to MLK Jr., were among the core of the planning. Each bringing together their years of experience to the table. They've taken on tough fights throughout the years, having earned their spot in the upper echelons of the civil rights era.
We flew out to McAllen a day before to scope out the area and to buy supplies for the protesters. The Valley was recently hit by flooding rains, the humid heat was nearly unbearable, but nothing was going to stop our efforts. Before calling it a night, we all met to cross all the t’s and dot every i’s.
The buses from Dallas and San Antonio arrived to the Austin delegation's chants. People arrived with banners, scripture, U.S. flags, and ganas. The crowd was as diverse as their reasons for being there. Black, brown, white, Muslim, Christian, and several other non-Latino protestors fought the searing heat. We all gathered around the megaphone to hear from Domingo, Imam Suleiman, Reverend Johnson, and other local leaders. The crowd was attentive, clinging from word to word. Imam Suleiman pacified the agitated protesters through his serene voice. He spoke about the protests at the airports during the Muslim ban, the government’s role in tearing families apart vis-à-vis the Muslim ban, drone strikes, and the refugee crisis.
While all this was going on, I was on the phone directing people to parking lots, handing out waters to parched protestors, and handing out sunscreen.
Then…out came the bus.
No one expected a bus containing children to pass us by during our action. I didn't know what to expect. I've attended my share of rallies, vigils, and protests, but nothing has moved me as much as that moment. I saw children’s silhouettes through the barred tinted glass and the crowd gravitated towards them. As the bus approached, I heard Hector tell Domingo to "keep the people off the street." Without a single moment of hesitation, I hear Rev. Johnson say, "I'm gonna lay down in front of the bus."
There was so much movement happening. The crowd began chanting words of love in Spanish. I felt the frustration and anger through Domingo's, a father of two, cracking voice on the megaphone. "Los vemos, los queremos", Spanish for "we see you, we love you." Domingo put his hand up ordering the bus to stop, then sat on the blistering hot asphalt as he asked the crowd to do the same “peacefully.”
At the top of our lungs we demanded the children be freed. Those that were not sitting, surrounded the bus and some placed their hands up against the windows. Imam Suleiman placed his hand against the hot window, the only one tall enough to reach, and said a prayer as he battled tears.
A handful waved at the children while others sobbed. I belong to the latter group. I'm not a father, but I'm an uncle to fourteen nieces and nephews; I couldn't help but see their faces inside the bus. Their reactions were a mixture of confusion and curiosity, but mostly smiles and reciprocating waves.
McAllen police arrived to aid the growing number of CBP agents to deescalate the situation. They formed a human chain, keeping us off, as the bus reversed and drove away. We regrouped in the parking spot where we initially gathered to closing remarks. We were beaten by the heat and emotion filled, spur of the moment, efforts. We ended the day at that point. Tears, sweat, and anguish covering our faces.
As I type this, I hear my 4-year old niece playing pretend games with my mother, while the children we saw on the bus, and thousands like them, along with their parents, are dying this exact same moment to be reunited.
I keep hearing this isn't a partisan issue, but we all know which party is orchestrating this monstrosity. This doesn't equate to supporting all Democrats by default. We need our Party's electeds, and those remaining Republicans with a heart, to stand up and do everything in their power to halt these un-American doings.
Lastly, I’d like to applaud all the non-Latino organizations involved. We come from different backgrounds, cultures, and religions but are all facing the same divisive regime. We are obligated to add to the victories those before us have won. Sadly, voting isn’t enough.
We shall overcome…someday.
- Juan Olivo