We must have each other’s backs

Janet Murguia’s President’s Message: Delivered at the National Affiliate Luncheon at the 2019 UnidosUS Annual Conference

janet murguia national affiliate luncheon remarks 2019 | 2019 UnidosUS Annual Conference | UnidosUS President and CEO Janet Murguía delivers her President's Address on August 3 at the 2019 UnidosUS Annual Conference in San Diego, California.
UnidosUS President and CEO Janet Murguía delivers her President’s Address on August 3 at the 2019 UnidosUS Annual Conference in San Diego, California.

Before I begin my remarks, I am here with a heavy heart as we learned this morning of a tragic mass shooting in El Paso.

While we are still learning the details in this active shooter situation, I want us to keep the families affected and our Affiliates in this wonderful city, in our prayers today.


In these challenging times, it is wonderful to see, so many people so committed to the advancement of our community… the energy and commitment you bring  gives me much-needed hope and confidence in our future.

Together—Unidos—we have already made great strides and progress in helping Latinos reach their economic, social and political potential. And, we have much to be proud of, including our growing political power as a community.

And that is why the last two years under the Trump administration have been so frustrating to all of us in this room and across the country. Like most of you, there have been times in my life when someone told me to go back to where I came from. It’s an ugly, bigoted slur intended to intimidate us—to demean us into thinking we don’t belong here.  It insinuates that we are foreigners—even in our own country.

But for the President of the United States—to express such a sentiment is both stunning and a repulsive violation of our nation’s values. It reveals President Trump’s true nature. He sees our communities as “infestations,” as “dangerous and filthy places where no human being would want to live.”

The stereotypes and falsehoods he spreads relentlessly about Latinos, African-Americans, Muslims and immigrants from anywhere but Norway—paint a hateful portrait clearly designed to prevent the public from seeing us as human beings, let alone Americans.

This is not news to us. We know who he is. President Trump, you have been singing from the same bigoted, white nationalist songbook since Day One of your campaign.

Yo te conozco mosco.

Yes, we know he’s a liar and a racist. But, more than anything else, él es un gran sin verguenza.

But, I am equally appalled by the near absence of rebuke from the mainstream members of the Republican Party. Yes, we see you too. Defending racist behavior only encourages it.  And you have been defending it—and defending it—since that man took office.

And—oh, by the way—if you happen to be among those Latinos in the polls who don’t think what President Trump has said and done is racist, we see you too.

But more importantly, history is watching.  And it demands that we speak our truth

in this moment. We can’t let others define us, we have to define ourselves. And we certainly can’t leave it up to Donald Trump to define who is a racist and who is not.

President Trump has systematically undermined and disparaged our community at every turn. He has tried to limit our right to vote, restrict our access to housing and healthcare, tried to prevent us from being counted in the Census, and he has abdicated his responsibility to our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico.

We, as a community, cannot afford to look away. We can’t afford to look away while our government continues to separate families and put children in cages. We can’t look away while children are dying in detention and American children are being detained just because of the way they look. We can’t afford to look away from the six million American children who now live in constant fear that a parent will be taken from them.

We can’t afford to look away from a father and his daughter lying face down on the banks of the Rio Grande. No one should be allowed to look away because—in essence—this President is trying to erase us from American life.

The sad truth is that at this moment we cannot count on our own government to have our backs. Instead, it is being used as a weapon against us.

This is not the first time that we have found ourselves in this situation. For nearly a century, we were either neglected or harassed by our government, excluded from business and all but ignored by private philanthropy—yet, we found a way to persevere. We found a way to transform our communities. We found a way to take care of our own.

Back in the 1920’s, hundreds of Latino mutual aid societies—“mutualistas” —came together to provide our community with hospitals, pharmacies, access to insurance, loans and legal aid as well as just a safe place for people to gather.

You—the Affiliates in this room—are the mutualistas of today. And together in partnership with UnidosUS, we provide for our community in hundreds of different ways, whether it is in housing, healthcare, education, access to loans, access to technology or just aid to families in need.

We are there each and every day for our community. When the health of our families was imperiled by diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity, promotoras in this room stepped up to help counsel them on nutrition, diet and exercise. And they stepped in to sign up those who are eligible for the Affordable Care Act.

When homes were in danger of being foreclosed, our home ownership counselors stepped in to refinance loans and saved our families from economic ruin. When the government failed us in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, affiliates in this room rose to the occasion to offer aid and resettlement.

When people in our community could not gain access to capital, we created the Raza Development Fund—the nation’s largest Latino community loan fund—and leveraged over $2.5 billion in capital for investment in education, child care and housing back into our communities.

And when mothers and fathers began being ripped away from their families, Affiliates in this room rose to the occasion. Two years ago, UnidosUS Affiliates, Academia Avance in Los Angeles and KIPP School in Houston, joined UnidosUS in Washington to protest the deportation of two fathers, Rómulo Avelica and José Escobar, who were needlessly and cruelly taken from their families.

Rómulo’s daughter Fátima—as distressed as she was—courageously caught the arrest on her phone and posted it online. It went viral.

With the help of Senators Schumer, Menendez and Harris, we told their truths on Capitol Hill to illustrate the cruel threat this Administration poses to our families. With the help of our Affiliates and our allies in Congress, last March, we welcomed home Rómulo Avelica at our Capitol Awards dinner. I’m delighted that Rómulo and his family are also here with us today. Please give the Avelicas a welcoming round of applause.

I’d also like to share a little bit about the Escobars. A young American woman named Rose met and married a young man named José, who came to this country with his mother from El Salvador when he was 15 years old. Rose and José were soon blessed with a baby boy and, a few years later, a baby girl.

They were very happy and although on occasion they struggled, they called themselves “Team Escobar” and they believed they could overcome any obstacle put in their way.  Unfortunately, more than a decade ago, Jose’s mother had mistakenly filed a residency renewal paper and José lost his official documentation. He appealed the decision, received a temporary reprieve and was told to report to immigration authorities once every year.

At the beginning of this administration, when José dutifully reported to immigration,

he was abruptly detained and deported to El Salvador—a country he had not seen since he was 15 years old. He had no criminal record and left behind his wife, a seven-year-old son and a two-year old daughter. José was not just deported; he was banned from entering the United States for 10 years.

Rose never gave up on getting him back. What was left of Team Escobar came to Washington to join us in protesting his deportation and she spent the next two years advocating for his release and enlisting additional support from our Affiliate KIPP in Houston, from Immigrant Families and Students in the Struggle, and from the tireless champion, Congressman Al Green.

And today, I’m very pleased to announce that after two long years, Team Escobar has finally been reunited. Please welcome José Escobar, who is here with his wife Rose, their son Walter and their daughter Carmen.

Even if we have to save one family at a time, we must rise to the challenge. We must have each other’s backs. And we must never give up.

Our values of faith, family, and hard work, have helped us survive throughout our history—and our unity will see us into a better future.

There are 59 million of us. Eighty percent of us are United States citizens. Under the age of 18, that number jumps to 93 percent. One out of every four American children is Hispanic.

Whether President Trump likes it or not, we are the future of this country. Whether President Trump likes it or not, diversity has always been our nation’s super power.

We have always been part of America and we will not be erased. Our voices will be heard and our votes will be counted.

I’m proud of the work we have done to awaken a strong spirit in our community and the country to capture that voice and more importantly… that vote. We came together  to elect the most diverse Congress in the history of the United States.

Finally—a great number of people elected to serve our country—actually look like the people of our country. Our strength is our diversity and our unity. We have shown that we can transform our communities, now we have an opportunity to transform our country.

We must reject fear, and division and hate. We don’t have to settle for this. Remember that 25 years ago this year, the Latino community here in California suffered a devastating blow when the anti-immigrant Proposition 187 passed. But our community fought back—they organized and they voted—and forever changed the political landscape of this state.

And, I see great hope today in our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico who are standing up to corruption, rejecting sexism, homophobia, and dishonesty and insisting on a better future for each other.

This is the time for our humanity to shine. This is the time to join with others who share our common values. If we stand up for each other—if we have each other’s back—we can build the America we want to see, a future our children deserve, and where everyone has the opportunity to achieve their American Dream.

¡Muchísimas gracias!

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