By Sifa Kasongo
On Wednesday, Nov. 28, students and faculty from the University of Massachusetts Amherst joined the International Socialist Organization (ISO) at 6:30 p.m. in the Campus Center to hear a firsthand account of the struggles of the migrant caravan and how people can show solidarity and support.
The firsthand account came from Fermin Valle, a queer South American activist, an ISO member and a doctoral student in higher education at UMass.
Valle discussed his experience traveling down to Mexico City, where he met some of the migrants, asylum seekers and people who are a part of the caravan.
According to the New York Times, the migrant caravan was formed in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, with fewer than 200 people; but as people got word of what was happening, “the mobilization quickly grew”. The migrants are leaving their countries in search of better wages and a better future for their families.
The migrants, who mostly come from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, are travelling thousands of miles through South America and arriving at the US-Mexico border, planning to either stay in Mexico or cross the border. According to BBC News, they are staying in temporary shelters in Tijuana and Mexicali.
“I didn’t fully know what I was getting myself into, but I knew that I had to go and figure out what’s going on,” Valle remembered saying to his brother before heading down to Mexico City with him.
When Valle arrived he saw around 1,000 people, most of whom were from El Salvador, taking refuge in a church. While he was down there, he soon noticed the press leaving, but he stayed behind to talk to the migrants in order to understand their situation and be able to share their stories. Through these conversations, that was how he met Daniela*.
Daniela is a mother of four, with a daughter who got accepted into a university in El Salvador. She had lost her job due to the Central American Free Trade Agreement, a free trade agreement signed by the U.S., Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Daniela left her country and joined the caravan in hopes of crossing the border and finding a better-paying job to pay for the costs of university for her daughter.
Valle wanted to talk to more of the migrants and hear their stories, so he organized a discussion where over 30 people showed up. Xenophobia was the topic of discussion, which the migrants were aware has spread across the world.
Xenophobia is the fear or hatred of foreigners, people from different cultures, or strangers. It has not only created divisions between Mexicans and the world but also created divisions among the people who live in Mexico.
What some of the migrants didn’t know was that while xenophobia is prevalent, resistance exists. Valle shared with them about the time when millions of people gathered to protest against Trump’s inauguration and the ongoing rallies in support of the migrant caravan.
When they received this news, joy erupted and their morale improved. However, while broad supports of the migrants exists, Valle wanted the attendees to think about how we all can organize and have a bigger turnout in support for the caravan.
“There’s so much history in this caravan,” Valle said. “They want to know where in the U.S. we are going to organize the broadest support not only to resist Trump, resist white supremacy, but to meet them at the border.”
Valle asked the attendees to fight the xenophobia they hear about brown and black people here at UMass, in the U.S. and around the world.
He further said that in the U.S., people have a responsibility to identify with and “break with the chains of racism and white supremacy that pull us to align with the rich and powerful who are running this country.”
Moving forward, Valle wants us to figure out in classrooms how people are humanizing the struggles and lives of people who are looking for a better future to send money back to their families.
He says that a socialist solution is that there needs to be open borders and the government needs to “let them all in.”
“We already live in a world where borders are open to capitalists and so they should be open to the working class,” Valle said.
Below are some ways Valle says you can help show support for migrants in the caravan:
- Fight against xenophobia
- Build solidarity across the U.S. for the individuals and families in the caravan, because currently those migrants aren’t seeing that there is a lot of support.
- Put pressure on the government to provide migrants with fair hearings, safety, etc.
The International Socialist Organization meets every Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Campus Center in room 804-08.
*= ‘Daniela’ was a pseudonym used by Valle to preserve the anonymity of the migrant woman he spoke with.