Editor’s note: This is the second part of a two-part essay on a trip to Rio Grande Valley’s Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen, Texas. You can read the first part here.
It was at the bus station that I met The Angry Tias and Abuelas of the Rio Grande Valley. I had been corresponding with some of them, and they really are among the heroes at the border. They answer any and all questions as people wait for their buses. Each immigrant has an envelope. On the outside it says: “I do not speak English. Please help me.” Inside the envelope are their documents and tickets.
What tasks did I perform? Along with volunteers who came from all over the country, I spent hours in food preparation and serving. Meals were really good and usually involved chicken, hearty soups, tacos, rice, milk, bread, and fruit. I also worked the front desk handing out greatly appreciated and long overdue supplies. A major bonus of the trip was meeting the other volunteers, especially a “platoon of comedians” from New York City. A producer of the TV show “Full Frontal” came with a bunch of friends. There were many church groups, and also people like me who came alone.
I believe that the trauma experienced by everyone coming through will last for generations. However, it is amazing to witness what happens once the children can settle in. They are safe inside the building, and they are racing around, kicking soccer balls, jumping rope with their brand-new shoes and fun clothing. Volunteers and moms spent lots of time brushing shiny hair and putting in ribbons, bows, clips. Other volunteers do art projects with the children. Parents are able to take a breather.
I happened to be at the Respite Center when Nancy Pelosi and the contingent came to visit. I was serving soup at the time, and the next thing I knew I was being filmed and photographed with Nancy. One thing she said to the immigrants still resonates: “We believe in you. You are the future of America.” She commented about what they saw in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. “Never give up hope,” she said. I was very impressed, also, with Nydia Valasquez from Brooklyn/Queens, and state senator from Texas, Royce West.
Some memories keep flashing through my mind. I saw a little girl, maybe 3 years old, waltzing around with her stuffed animal. When she saw a younger girl who looked sad, she gifted her stuffed animal and moved on. I loved meeting Maria, Licardo, and their two children Fausto and Jhoel. Jhoel, age 5, has cerebral palsy, and his parents carried him the whole way. I was able to call some of my disability rights friends, and through an interpreter, provide phone numbers for resources concerning services for him. They will be living near New York City with Maria’s Aunt.
The Respite Center feels like a small safe city. There’s plenty of room for soccer players. And I loved seeing two girls, new friends maybe 11 years old, shiny hair, walking hand and hand, chattering away. A lovely family arrived from Honduras heading to Houston on their daughter’s seventh birthday. The little girl was so full of life. Children were skipping and running that kind of run where you kick up your heels to your rear end.
Unfortunately, the situation has turned dire. Almost no one is getting through to even the Detention Center. They are stalled in Mexico at border crossings where there is nowhere to sleep, very little food, and completely unsanitary circumstances. Groups of volunteers are crossing the bridge with as much food and supplies as they possibly can. The Angry Tias and Team Brownsville are making Herculean efforts. Volunteers that I know down at the border say that people are actually dying. What CAN we do? Appearing with this essay is a sidebar which I hope will provide my subjective answer to that question.
Pam Mendelsohn has been a Humboldt County resident for 47 years.
How to help
- Centro del Pueblo has a Facebook page which includes their events.
- Humboldt Refugee Support has a Facebook page. Their aim is to collaborate, share, and work toward supporting refugees around the globe.
- The Angry Tias and Abuelas of the Rio Grande Valley has a very active Facebook page. They provide emergency assistance such as food, water, clothing, toiletries, logistical support and cash funds when needed to those recently released from ICE custody at bus depots or shelters in Brownsville and McAllen, Texas. They inform asylum seekers of their rights as they await entry across international bridges and give direct financial support to refugee shelters in the RGV and select immigrant shelters in Matamoros and Reynosa.
- Team Brownsville has a Facebook page plus website: www.teambrownsville.org. They provide humanitarian assistance for asylum seekers in Brownsville, Texas and at the Brownsville/Matamoros international bridges.
- HIAS has a website: www.hias.org. Their resettlement work is both national and global. They provide much-needed legal assistance along with a lot of other services.
- Immigrant Families Together is https://immigrantfamiliestogether.com. Their attorneys provide pro bono or low cost representation, funds for bonds, and ongoing support after release. They are committed to a rapid response for unification of separated families.
- The Humanitarian Respite Center, Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley. The website is https://www.catholiccharitiesrgv.org. Click on donations. There is a list of things they need the most. Brand new clothing and shoes are encouraged plus toys, activity books, stickers, construction paper. You can also contribute financially.
- Borderangels.org. This group does desert drops of water, border rescue stations, and day laborer outreach. Their Emigrante Migrante distributes critical supplies to desperate migrants in Tijuana.
- The Humanitarian Respite Center of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley. Write to: email@example.com
- Team Brownsville, see above. Volunteers are doing the critical work of getting supplies to the people stranded in Mexico. Please visit their website and consider helping them.
- Border Angels. See above. Another wonderful hands-on experience, and not as far from home as southern Texas.