'We Have Blood On Our Hands, Too': Locals Respond To Border Crisis

Jul 19, 2019

Community members are reacting to the current conditions at migrant detention centers at the Southern border. KUNR’s Stephanie Serrano spoke with some locals who say the time to take a stand is now.

Daysi Rodriguez is outreach coordinator for Tu Casa Latina, a Reno nonprofit which helps immigrant community members who are victims of crime, domestic violence and trafficking. She says she’s seen an increase in locals who are outraged about conditions at the border and are eager to get out and do something.

“I think a lot of communities of color and people of color have really come forward these last couple of weeks,” Rodriguez said. “We've had a lot of people calling our agency saying, ‘I want to volunteer. I don't care how; I don't care if you have me shredding paper,;I just want to know that I am doing something for my community.’ ”

It's been over a year since reports flooded the internet about children being separated from their families at the border, a process that is still being maintained. A federal report published in May showed many migrant children in poor conditions held for more than 72 hours. That's longer than federal law allows.

“I put myself in their shoes and I think how torturous that you have to be separated from your child, give them up to strangers and enter into a country knowing the situation and still be willing to do that for the well-being of your child,” Rodriguez said. “So, when I think about when people say, ‘Well, if they know what's going to happen, why do they still come here?’ Well, maybe it's that bad. Maybe it's just that horrendous that they are willing to take that risk because being back home or staying in the state that they're in isn't feasible and is not an option.”

Having worked with traumatized people for Tu Casa Latina, Rodriguez says these children will suffer psychological impacts for the rest of their lives due to being separated from their parents. Leon Malmed is a South Lake Tahoe resident and child Holocaust survivor who says the separation of families happening now feels all too familiar.

“It is inhumane to separate children,” Malmed said. “I know what it does to people, to children, when you are separated from your parents, and you are never the same. I only remember one thing about my parents: that I was hanging onto my mother’s skirt and my mother was pushed away from me by the French police. And all your life, you ask yourself the question, ‘What did I do wrong? What did they do wrong? Why?’ You never heal.”

Leon Malmed says living a life with trauma can be hard. He says his advice to anyone who feels like giving up is remembering that the sky is always blue, even above the gray clouds.
Credit Stephanie Serrano / KUNR Public Radio

Soon after French police detained Malmed’s parents, they were sent in a cattle car to Auschwitz. Drawing comparisons between today’s humanitarian crisis at the border and the Holocaust has led to heated debate, but the message Malmed wants to get across is not waiting to address injustice.

It took 60 years for him to share his experience due to emotional distress. He’s 82 now and says he doesn’t want others to wait decades to speak up.

And locals are starting to speak up. About 100 people showed up to a recent vigil on Virginia Street, only a few steps away from the Reno Arch. A national organization, Lights for Liberty, had organized two vigils in Las Vegas, but none in Reno until Lydia Huerta took on the responsibility. Huerta is an assistant professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, teaching courses on gender, race and identity.

She was moved by a picture of a father and daughter, Óscar and Valeria Martínez, that circled the internet. The photo shows them face-down, submerged near the shore of the Rio Grande, her little body pressed against her father's and protectively wrapped inside his shirt. They both drowned attempting to arrive at the Southern border. When Huerta saw the photo, she said 'enough was enough.'

“I thought, even if it's a small crowd, the people who are supposed to be there will be there and we can start creating visibility and resistance in Reno. There's a huge Latino community in Reno and nobody talks about them,” Huerta said.

One attendee was Tania Leal, a Latina mother raising biracial children in a bicultural home, who says she broke down when organizers played a lawyer's recording of migrant children crying at the border.

“Well, the little girl in the tape was speaking in Spanish, and she kept saying she wanted her father to pick her up,” Leal said. “I have a 15-month-old at home and was thinking when...after I had the baby I heard that there were some [mothers] that were separating while they were breastfeeding, and I was breastfeeding myself, and I was thinking, 'If somebody would take this baby that I am holding right now, I think I would die.' I don't know how they can do it.”

Along with playing the recording of the children, there was also a live performance by a local visual artist named Ruby Barrientos during the vigil, which showed a white man dressed in a suit handcuffing Barrientos, wrapping a metal chain around her neck, and locking her in a cage the size of a dog kennel. The man then covers her with two gallons of imitation blood.

Barrientos says she feels like she's in a bubble in Reno and wants to use her art to display the harsh realities some are facing at our nation's border.

Ruby Barrientos was born and raised in Reno, Nevada. She dedicates her art to her father who passed when she was 10. She says now she understands how courageous he was migrating his family to the United States from El Salvador before she was born.
Credit Stephanie Serrano / KUNR Public Radio