Last Updated: 19 October 2010
'Go back to Mexico,' Tea Party members tell border congressmen
By Steve Taylor
EDINBURG, Oct. 19 - There were gasps in the audience as U.S. Rep. Rubén Hinojosa told educators Monday how he and U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes had been told to “go back to Mexico” by a group of Tea Party supporters.
Hinojosa said the incident happened in the Sam Rayburn U.S. House building in Washington, D.C. The two border congressmen were racing for a vote on the House floor. It was the day the House voted on the major health and higher education legislation and there was a big Tea Party rally outside the Capitol in opposition to the bill.
“They first asked Silvestre Reyes, ‘Are you a Congressman?’ ‘Yes, I’m from Texas,’ he answered. ‘Are you both congressmen?’ ‘Yes, I am a congressman too,’ I replied. ‘Why don’t you go back to Mexico?’” Hinojosa told educators during a question and answer session at an event at the University of Texas-Pan American.
The gasps in the audience when Hinojosa recalled the incident were clearly audible. Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, said he and Reyes, D-El Paso, had been confronted by five Tea Party supporters. “There were five men, all White,” Hinojosa said.
Hinojosa had just finished making the case for UTPA to go after federal funds for a program to encourage more Hispanic students to obtain Master’s Degrees. He said he had secured $25 million for such programs in a recent piece of legislation.
Hinojosa said he recalled the incident with the Tea Party supporters to explain how different things are in the rest of America; that while it might seem obvious that a border congressman would fight to get more funds for Hispanic-serving higher education institutions like UTPA, it was quite tough to get some members of Congress from other parts of the country to support such legislation.
“I am telling you, things are not anywhere near the mindset you think they are in Congress,” Hinojosa said. “Some of them want to kill the Department of Education. You think they would be sensitive to our needs? Absolutely not.”
As well as doing away with the Department of Education, Hinojosa said some Republican members of Congress want to stop any provisions that allow for laws and rules to be printed in Spanish.
“They want to undo our legislation. They debate on the floor; that this America, English is the official language, so let them (Hispanics) learn how to speak English if they want to live in the United States. Those are common words up there,” Hinojosa said.
The discussion on how racially polarized America is came about when a member of the audience asked what happened to the DREAM Act, which would provide a pathway to citizenship for immigrant students who do well in school and college. Hinojosa explained that the DREAM Act was added to a bill in the Senate that would have provided more funding for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Senate Republicans killed the amendment, Hinojosa said.
“In the Senate, the Republicans are known for voting “no” on everything. If it makes the President look good, vote no. That is their message,” Hinojosa said.
The congressman encouraged the educators in the audience to contact U.S. Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, and John Cornyn, R-Texas, and ask them why they voted against the DREAM Act. “Find out why. Ask them,” Hinojosa said.
Hinojosa chairs the House Subcommittee on Higher Education. He was at UTPA for a Watch Party that went on for much of the day at the Student Union that allowed students to learn more about the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.
Hinojosa was introduced at the luncheon by Dr. John Edwards, vice president for enrollment and student services at UTPA. Dr. Maggie Hinojosa, associate vice president and dean of admissions also spoke. She said federal investment in UTPA’s programs “is an investment in America’s future.”
Asked about the “Go back to Mexico” incident later, Hinojosa told the Guardian: “It was an insult. It shows the extra challenges those of us who want change, who want to improve the quality of life for women and minorities, have.”
Hinojosa encouraged reporters in South Texas to take a look at the ethnic make-up of the Democrats and the Republicans in Congress. “Take a look at how many women members are on the other side of the aisle. There are far fewer Republican women in Congress than there are Democratic women. Take a look at how many blacks the Republicans have in the House. Zero. Take a look at how many Mexican-Americans the Republicans have in the House. Zero,” he said.
The Guardian asked Maria Flores, who works for UTPA’s Gear Up program, what she thought of the “Go back to Mexico” remark.
“It is very hurtful. It is hurtful when someone who has done so much for minorities gets told that by people who are not well informed. But Congressman Hinojosa does not only work for Hispanics. He is helping all minorities,” Flores said.
Asked what she thought of Hinojosa’s remarks about UTPA educators and students getting more involved in the political process, by asking, for example, why Senators Hutchison and Cornyn voted against the DREAM Act, Flores said: “We need to get more informed so that we know what we are fighting for. It is only when you get out of the Valley you see how things have not really changed that much. We need to get informed, watch the national news and see what is going on outside of our own community.”