Local groups visit D.C. to discuss racial equality

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In late April, the 17-hour bus ride started the journey for a group of 20 representing southern Minnesota and western Wisconsin. With a few goals in mind once they arrived, they knew three days would not be enough time. But their message is important.

With a new administration, the concern of President Donald Trump's rhetoric and what may come of it these next four years has added stress to the Hispanic community.

Hispanic Outreach, a nonprofit organization in Red Wing, and Centro Campesino, a social services organization in Owatonna, Minn., sent people to the nation's capital to speak with representatives and discuss current issues that have put them on edge.

Representing Red Wing were Lucy Richardson, executive director of Hispanic Outreach, and students and community members, Pablo Reyes, Maria Nevarez, Diana Machado, Lupita Rodriguez and Aidaly Flores.

While the trip proved to be a challenge, the youngest member of the group, 9-year-old Brandon Leuva with Centro Campesino would take the microphone on the bus to provide motivational speeches to the group.

"You guys, don't give up. It's not easy, but don't give up," Leuva said.

His reason for tagging along with his mom was his concern that one day he may come home from school and she won't be there; he fears she might be deported.

Illegal vs. undocumented

One of the two main talking points was removing the term illegal from immigrant legislation and instead using undocumented immigrant, noting that the term illegal is dehumanizing.

Second on the agenda was advocating support for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA.

"Our name hasn't been spoken for well," said Machado, a senior at Red Wing. "Government uses this kind of language (illegal immigrant) and we want it eliminated. We want someone to speak out for us."

Under President Barack Obama's administration, they noted that they felt like their struggles were taken seriously. Now, it feels like progress has come to a halt.

"With Obama, it was a lot different. Because of this election people have a different view of us, maybe even a worse view," Machado said. "(Trump) has a big influence on people. Everything he says is always on the media. It's hard."

During four meetings, the group split into small teams to meet Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota, Rep. Keith Ellison from Minnesota's 5th Congressional District and Rep. Ron Kind for Wisconsin's 3rd District.

"Basically every single visit, it was the same message: we wanted to learn what they know, what they have heard about immigration," Richardson said.

Some meetings were rushed and some went off topic, the group said. A few members mentioned how frustrating it was to feel like their voices were not heard.

During the meeting with Ellison, Rodriguez noticed that after he took a photo and tweeted it with the group. It felt almost like an "easy way out," she said.

Conversations shifted to education and the difference between growth and proficiency. DACA recipients in the group emphasized the importance of the program. Flores, who has been a citizen for almost 19 years, said without being a recipient, she would not have the opportunities she has today.

"I'd probably be working at a factory or some fast-food restaurant," she said. "I wouldn't be studying accounting right now and graduating in the future."

On June 15, 2012, the Department of Homeland Security announced that certain people who came to the United States as children and meet several guidelines may request consideration of deferred action for a period of two years, subject to renewal. They are also eligible for work authorization.

The Trump administration could end DACA without congressional approval, according to the National Immigration Law Center. The program provides undocumented immigrants with protection from deportation as well as a work permit. Some meetings even highlighted why the group came there in the first place. While visiting the Martin Luther King Jr. monument with Kind's assistant, the group was approached by kids saying, "'Goodbye, go back to Mexico,'" Rodriguez said. "He (the assistant) said he couldn't excuse the behavior of these kids, but that we had to combat racism."

Students from Red Wing also mentioned how evident racism has become in their everyday life. They hope that continuing to discuss these issues will make people think deeper about where the problems lie.

"I've heard stuff like, in my econ class, we're talking about Syria and if we should help them or not. A kid was saying, 'No we shouldn't, it's their problem,'" said Pablo Reyes, a junior in Red Wing. "The teacher asked them, 'Since they're unlucky enough to be born there and you were lucky enough to be born here, that makes it a big difference?' The kid was fine with that, not knowing their life at all."

Many students think it's a big joke, Machado added. She said whenever going out, she feels judged. She blames the president.

"He's seeding a lot of hate, it's not OK to hate another culture just because he's saying that."

What's next?

Marking this down as the second trip to D.C., Richardson hopes that the two groups can continue to do things like this in the future and ultimately get people involved in politics to have their voice heard.

"Any of us have the ability to actually influence a really powerful thing that we believe in," Rodriguez said.

Richardson noted how proud she is to have such a strong group of students, adults and young leaders representing Hispanic concerns. And now, she said, she has helpers.

"It's something different when you get to meet the people that represent you," Rodriguez said. "At the end of the day, they're representing what you want."

Overall, students used the trip to make their message heard.

"We're here and we're a very giving community," Machado said. "If people help us in letting us get to know each other ... they really haven't gotten to know us (and) it won't happen until they give us a chance."

Hispanic Outreach is working toward providing more education with presentations, meetings and plans to do the trip again next year. Richardson mentioned how Hispanic Outreach has been working to empower youth with a new mission statement, "From city hall to the White House, building Hispanic youth civic education, engagement and leadership in Goodhue County."

For those interested in donating or getting involved with Hispanic Outreach, visit www.hispanicoutreach.org or call 651-301-2184.