LAREDO, Texas (Border Report) — Members of several Native American tribes were among hundreds of people who protested the building of a border wall on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the historic downtown section of Laredo, Texas.
The protesters, estimated by police to number 300, carried signs and banners and walked 10 blocks from St. Peter’s Plaza near City Hall to St. Augustine’s Plaza, which is believed to be one of the oldest buildings in the city. Demonstrators then held a rally and heard from several speakers, including Native Americans and several youths who were off school for the holiday.
“This is a peaceful march and protest by our community in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his fight for civil rights in our country, his fight for equality and justice and freedom for anybody — regardless of your skin color or where you came from. And his words 50 years later they ring so loud and clear for us. And so we are here to raise our voices in opposition to the border wall,” march organizer Tricia Cortez, executive director of the Rio Grande International Studies Center, told Border Report.
Cortez said protesters came from throughout the state on Monday, including Austin, Houston and the Rio Grande Valley.
Several indigenous tribes, including the Lakota, Cheyenne, Apache, Carrizo/Comecrudo Tribe of South Texas, the Sylix Nation from an area near the Canadian border, and two members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe of South Dakota — which led a national protest against the construction of an oil pipeline there — also came to show leaders in Washington, D.C., that they were “uniting together to fight the border wall,” they told the crowd.
“We’re here to amplify each others’ voices. We’re saying — we indigenous people of this land — we’re going to stand united together to fight this,” said Waniya Locke, of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.
Locke said her tribe recognized the support from so many people who, starting in 2016, braved high snow and freezing temperatures in the Dakotas to hold a sit-in for several months against the Dakota Access Pipeline from running through their lands and threatening their water supply.
“So we came down here to stand here in solidarity, opposing the wall, opposing Trump. Because the first heinous act that Trump did within 24 hours of him being in office was to pass Dakota Access Pipeline,” Locke said. “We know what it means to be an indigenous brown community that is having heinous acts done by the Trump administration forced upon us.”
“We must protect Mother Earth,” Montgomery Brown, 28, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux told the crowd assembled at St. Augustine’s Plaza after the 20-minute walk through the streets of Laredo.
Brown was part of a team of runners from his tribe who ran from North Dakota to Washington, D.C., to protest the oil pipeline. He sang in his native tongue a song that he said the runners sang every morning before they set out on what became a three-week journey.
Juan Mancia, who leads the Carrizo/Comecrudo Nation of South Texas, traveled three hours from the Rio Grande Valley to show his support because he said the taking of any land is unjust. His tribe is involved in lawsuits against the federal government, which plans to build a border wall on a levee adjacent to a cemetery where many of his tribe are buried.
“We start talking about indigenous land and how we’re being attacked by the waiving of 28 laws against our religious freedom and graves and repatriation act, so it’s important that everyone knows that,” Mancia said.
Mancia’s tribe has for over a year held its own sit-in against the border wall and they have had supporters come from throughout the country and other tribes, he said.
“We stand for the water, for the people, we march for our brothers,” Brown led the crowd chanting.
He said that “some of the lessons we learned from Standing Rock is that we need our youth to become more involved.”
The crowd on Monday did have several high school and college students, as well as some elementary school students whose parents brought them with their scooters and skateboards to be a part of the march.
This included high school students Cristina Arce, Bella Martinez, and Nora Infantes.
Infantes, 17, explained why the trio spent their day off school at the march: “It’s a great opportunity to make us aware of everything that’s happening in our community that will directly affect us since we live so close to the border. When they’re thinking of building this wall it’s not just to keep people out or in, it will deprive us of natural resources, like water,” she said.
Arce, 17, who is from the town of El Cenizo, said she and her friends like to water sport on the Rio Grande, but once the wall is built she says they won’t be able to.
“If you build a wall that’s going to deprive us,” Arce said. “People just don’t understand.”
High school students also carried a giant banner that read: ‘I HAVE A DREAM’ MLK DAY #NO BORDER WALL!
As they meandered through the narrow streets, the banner, carried by six students, was so big they had to partially collapse it. Shopkeepers and diners in a local restaurant came out to witness the march and took photos.
The sounds of chanting against Trump and a border wall and the dangers to the Rio Grande — this city’s only water supply — echoed through the streets of this city, which is older than the United States.
Laredo was founded in 1755, “265 years ago and the river means everything to us and so when you’re talking about erecting a steel structure without our say,” Cortez said. “We can’t have people who are not from here, who are from Washington, D.C., making these type of drastic decisions about us without us.”
U.S. Customs and Border Protection has announced plans to build 124 miles of border wall around Laredo and in Zapata and Webb Counties.
Cortez said the estimated cost of the border wall in this area is $24.5 million per mile, or $3 billion total, which “taxpayers should be outraged over the spending of taxpayer dollars on a wall that won’t solve our problems.”
“We need to build bridges, not walls,” said Aldolfo Gonzalez, 70, of Laredo, a retired U.S. Army serviceman who served 39 years, and is part of the Cesar Chavez organization.
“Both of my parents were born in Mexico, I was born in the United States. Instead of trying to mend our fences, we try to separate and divide them more. It doesn’t make any sense,” Gonzalez said.
Arturo Santos grew up as a migrant farmer in Wisconsin and Minnesota and said he marched in rallies led by Cesar Chavez. On Monday he waved a red sign and chanted, “Sí se puede!”
“It spits in the face of our neighbor and it slaps our faces,” Laredo Councilman Mercurio Martinez III told the crowd, as a heckler yelled at him that he wants Trump to build the wall.”
As speakers addressed the crowd in the plaza a blue car kept circling playing loudly a song to try to distract the crowd.
This was the second border wall protest held and organized in Laredo by Cortez’ group in the past month. And she told Border Report that they had plenty more events planned.
“We’re going to keep at this. We realize this is a marathon not a sprint,” Cortez said. “Unfortunately, we’re thrust into this thing that we didn’t ask to be a part of.”
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at SSanchez@BorderReport.com.