© 2023 Texas Public Radio
Real. Reliable. Texas Public Radio.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

With A Day Of The Dead Altar, Laredo Activists Remember Those Hurt By Trump’s Border Policies

Laredo activists against President Donald Trump’s border wall created a Day of the Dead altar to highlight those hurt by his border and immigration policies.

“That’s the pan de muertos, sugar skulls and all kinds of goodies that we want our ancestors to enjoy,” said Mary Sue Galindo, a member of the No Border Wall Coalition in Laredo. “And Juan over there is burning some copal incense to bless our altar and make it a little sacred space.”

Alongside the typical items of the Mexican tradition used to remember and celebrate those who have died, Galindo and others put up pictures of the Rio Grande and items symbolizing the wildlife and human lives connected to it.

“This is a picture of the river by my house and a poem that I wrote probably a year and a half ago. It was shortly after the president declared his fake national emergency,” said Elsa Hull, who lives by the river near San Ygnacio where Trump has been pushing for a border wall. “And then I made a canoe because that’s one of my favorite things to do is paddle down the river and of course the wall will cut us off from that.”

In 2019, Trump declared a national emergency to fund more wall projects along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Hull and other activists have been fighting against Trump’s wall projects in court, and she’s hopeful the election this week will prevent a border wall in the Laredo area. But she also wanted to remember the communities that have already faced construction.

“And then this is a little rock that we painted with the saguaro to represent the devastation that is going on in Arizona, specifically with the Tohono Oʼodham tribe and their native lands being torn up and blown up,” she said.

Galindo, whose Mexican family has been in Texas for many generations, brought pictures of 7-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin and 8-year-old Felipe Gomez Alonzo. Both died of infections while in custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection in 2019 and 2018, respectively.

“We have here represented the children who are immigrants who died in U.S. custody and these are just two of those innocent,” she said. “We remember these young souls, these little angels.”

She said she also wanted to remember migrant children separated from their parents under Trump’s immigration policies. Melissa Cigarroa, a riverfront landowner who has been fighting to keep border wall construction off her land, echoed that sentiment.

“And hope that we can affect a change, so that no other children have to go through what they went through or what those poor children that have been orphaned have gone through,” she said.

Across from the photos of the children, she placed photos of her grandmothers who crossed the Rio Grande from Mexico in the early 1900s to escape war and poverty.

She became emotional explaining how they too once crossed illegally but were eventually able to become citizens and raise their families in Laredo.

“It’s all a piece,” she said. “It’s the destruction of our river and an attack on our culture and identity, but also the danger to people who are just trying to find a better way of life and to celebrate their families. That is what our community is made of. We are the best representatives of what the American Dream is.”

The altar also featured pictures of the birds like the Kingfisher, whose habitat is on the riverbanks, and signs of laws like the Clean Water Act, which the Trump administration waived to expedite border wall construction.

The Saturday event came within a day of Trump’s proclamation of a “National Day of Remembrance for Americans Killed by Illegal Aliens” during weekend Day of the Dead celebrations.

TPR was founded by and is supported by our community. If you value our commitment to the highest standards of responsible journalism and are able to do so, please consider making your gift of support today.

María Méndez can be reached at maría@tpr.org or on Twitter at @anxious_maria