To Raquel Sáenz, activism is more than just a passion project: It’s a way to honor her family and prevent the past from repeating itself.
When she was 5 years old, Sáenz said, her father and two older siblings were stopped for a traffic violation and deported to Mexico. Sáenz said she stayed in the United States with her mother and younger brother.
Now 32, Sáenz served as the master of ceremonies for a rally in Jamaica Plain on Sunday that protested against the separation of migrant families along the US-Mexico border.
About 150 demonstrators gathered at the former Blessed Sacrament Church building on Centre Street Sunday afternoon for the rally, which was organized by Cosecha Boston and the Dominican Development Center, which is headquartered in Jamaica Plain.
“We’re looking for recognition that this country needs this immigrant labor force, and in return, we’re looking to get permanent protection from deportation and the separation of families,” Carlos Gabriel, an organizer with Cosecha Boston, told a reporter during the rally. “We want to smash the narrative that family separation started now and just at the border. It’s been happening since the inception of this country including the indigenous folks here, the African folks here, Japanese internment camps.”
Demonstrators brought signs that declared “No human is illegal” and “Keep families together.” In between speakers, protesters sang along to songs like “This Little Light of Mine,” played by a mostly brass band from the Boston Area Brigade of Activist Musicians.
Jeniffer Ruiz, reigning Miss Massachusetts in the Galaxy Pageant organization, spoke about the responsibility of those with platforms to speak out and effect change. For Ruiz, ending family separation is also a personal cause. The 24-year-old said her brother-in-law is an undocumented immigrant, but married to her sister, who is a US citizen. Ruiz said her brother-in-law cannot leave the country to allow his family in Guatemala to see his 2-year-old baby.
“It’s frustrating and eye-opening,” Ruiz said in an interview following her speech. “A passport is something I take for granted. A 2-year-old should be allowed to see their whole family. . . . My brother-in-law is not a criminal and he shouldn’t be treated like one.”
Speaking to a reporter, Sáenz said her parents taught her to stand up for those hurt by unjust immigration policies.
“When my father was deported, he would still tell me the stories about Latin America, the revolutionaries and the need to fight back against the people who are violating your rights,” Sáenz said. “[My mother] was very involved in the community . . . that involvement inspired me to really learn about the history of these events and take action.”
US Representative Michael Capuano, who flew back from the US-Mexico border Saturday night, was also in attendance.
“[These rallies] are absolutely essential,” said Capuano. “I hope events like this are going on around the country,” he said.
Organizers also said they hoped the protest made clear that the issue of family separation affects minority communities all over the country.
“There needs to be a lot more unity in our community,” Sáenz said. “That’s one of the things I’m trying to work towards.”Marek Mazurek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org