Originally Published in the Los Angeles Times
Fidel Martinez - January 14, 2021
In last week’s edition of the newsletter, I mentioned that we’d be focusing on the future and what that might look like for Latinxs. Unfortunately, in light of last Wednesday’s insurrection by Trump supporters trying to prevent the certification of Joe Biden’s electoral victory, the future will have to wait.
As Congress impeached the president for the second time and Republicans distanced themselves from him, President Trump came out of hiding and headed to Alamo, Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley, on Tuesday to tout what he considers a great accomplishment: the construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
It was an odd place to visit. For locals, the predominantly Mexican American town of roughly 20,000 people is synonymous with the Mercadome Flea Market and Alamo Dance Hall, the largest swap meet in the Rio Grande Valley and a popular music venue. For outsiders, it’s known — if at all — for its birds, both literally and figuratively. The Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, whose 2,088 acres sit in the city’s southernmost region along the Rio Grande, is a haven for migratory birds. Likewise, Alamo is a popular destination for “snowbirds,” predominantly white retirees from colder climates looking for an affordable place to wait out the winter months.
Ostensibly, Trump picked Alamo because that’s where the 450th mile of barrier built under his administration is located — though it’s worth noting that the vast majority of that mileage comes from repairs or replacement of previously existing wall, according to a recent report by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
For some historians, however, that Trump should head to a border town named after the mission located more than 230 miles away made famous by Texas’ independence felt intentional. Texas, after all, is the only state in the Union to have fought in a war in defense of slavery twice.
The Alamo has become “in some ways a sort of symbol of Anglo-Saxon preeminence,” Walter L. Buenger, Texas State Historical Assn. chair, told USA Today. “The Alamo became this symbol of what it meant to be white.”
As Trump’s trip loomed closer, so did the specter of possible political violence. Local organizers worried that organizing a protest near where Trump was supposed to speak would result in bloodshed — not an unfounded fear given that five people died in last week’s siege of the Capitol and that several prominent lawmakers, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have since said they feared for their lives during it.
“At this point in time, we cannot in good conscience encourage community members to approach violent white supremacists who have no sense of what is right, what is moral, or what is the right side of history,” La Union del Pueblo Entero (LUPE), a pro-immigrant grassroots group, said of its decision to hold a rally, where former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro spoke at its headquarters, about 8 miles from the stage set up for Trump.
“Anytime he’s been in political hot water,” Castro said of Trump, “he’s gone back to the red meat of immigration policy and stirring up hate.
“And that’s what he’s done this time, just a few days after the entire world saw him incite an insurrection to make him the most shameful, the most ignominious president in the country’s history. He goes right back to scapegoating and demonizing and otherizing those brown people.”
In the end, however, Trump’s visit to the Rio Grande Valley came and went with very little fanfare. Though hundreds of his supporters gathered outside the Valley International Airport in Harlingen, Texas, to greet him, and dozens more in McAllen, Texas, nothing really happened.
The pro-Trump crowd wasn’t even the largest gathering in the Rio Grande Valley this week. That honor goes to the thousands of people who headed to the Bert Ogden Arena in nearby Edinburg, Texas, in hopes of getting the COVID-19 vaccine.