Photos by I.M. Kero, who also contributed to this report.
June 12th, 2016 marked a tragic day in American history, as the country mourned its most fatal mass shooting to date. Forty-nine individuals lost their lives in a massacre at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. The perpetrator, Omar Mateen, later died in a standoff with police. Forty more victims were hospitalized, many of them in critical condition.
In wake of this tragedy, the victims, their families, and the LGBTQ+ community have received an outpouring of support from across the globe. There was no shortage of support from students and faculty at Texas A&M International University. A vigil was held on the evening of June 16th in the Student Center courtyard to honor the victims and serve as a symbol of allyship. Students and faculty were vocal in their sadness as well as their support in this time of mourning.
Continue reading “TAMIU Vigil For Those Lost In Orlando”→
Rebekah Rodriguez and I.M. Kero also contributed to this report.
Spring 2016 was a promising semester for Texas A&M International University as graduates came rolling out in significant numbers. In the weeks following graduation, new graduates have continued to share their stories through social media. Every story is unique, and four recent graduates shared theirs with The Bridge News.
Continue reading “Spring 2016 Grads Share Their Stories”→
With SGA elections come and gone, it is now a good time to reflect on the presidency of Joshua Llamas. Llamas did not seek re-election this year, and will be succeeded by Jesus Padilla. The SGA did reduce in size heavily this semester allow for some easy wins for the elected leaders. However, Llamas did stay resilient against some difficult odds. Strangely, for his presidency, Llamas was the SGA.
Llamas was elected president in the spring of 2015 succeeding Jackie Briseño. One of the few political science majors in the SGA, Llamas did put in some political intrigue into his presidency. His time in office may not have been very colorful or lavish, but it was definitely something smarter and more professional.
As the chief political correspondent, I did pay attention to the smaller details behind Llamas’ efforts. I noticed less and less people be a part of the SGA. I’ve seen conflicting views ending some students’ time there, and beginning new ones. That old era is ending with Llamas’ exit. Even though he is shutting the door on the SGA, he most definitely put in every dime he had while in it. When reporting, I would notice Llamas at almost every event. The ones I really paid attention to were the civil events the SGA would help sponsor. Llamas helped coordinate debate forums and town hall meetings with candidates in Laredo politics. He also coordinated the recent student forum. Students were given a moment to openly speak to the Deans on campus with their personal concerns. Most exceptional was his efforts in registering TAMIU students to vote and keeping them inform on civil affairs and the presidential election. History has already recorded Llamas as the SGA president that helped welcome former President Bill Clinton to our campus.
Even though Llamas has coordinated these efforts and produced these events, what were the actual value of it? Truth is, there wasn’t much after the fact. Not a lot of people attended these events. Aside from Bill Clinton’s visits, the amount of students that attended the debate forums and even the student forum could be counted with one’s fingers. Though still an achievement nonetheless, only about sixty students were registered to vote when that service was held. However, it was not the SGA that performed this feat, but outside support from people like Robert Tellez and the Webb County Democrats.
Here, on campus, Llamas spends a lot of his own time in engaging with different personnel in TAMIU. He attends the Executive Council meetings on behalf of the SGA. During those times, he cooperates with Dr. Keck, all the administrators, and some department heads. He also works as a diplomat to create new partnerships with other departments. It is difficult to see these things in action from time to time, but they do happen, and Llamas is the one doing them. This SGA president was a busy man.
It’s very adamant that when I say Llamas did these things because that is the total perception. Though other SGA members were present, it was really him running the show, and that’s not a bad thing. Llamas really wanted students to be a part of the political process. That is something that the SGA should promote as some of it highest priorities. It is difficult enough to mobilize voters in the City of Laredo. Mobilizing university students should relatively simple, yet it is not. However, having a political science major as a class president was beneficial to this task, but he is still only one man. The dwindling membership of the SGA this semester must have affected the outcome of many of these events. It is tragic to know that a campus sponsored student government could only reach some seven hundred students when creating a presidential poll, that students who are elected to represent the student body resign like it’s a fast-food job, and voter turnout in their election is far from magnificent. But above all, these are issues the SGA has as a whole, and perhaps the newly elected leaders will find new solutions to fix them.
Llamas, under his own humility, may feel responsible for these results, but by no means is he at fault. I, myself, could say that I am proud of the presidency of Joshua Llamas, but I cannot say such of the SGA entirely. I am disappointed that he did not seek re-election because students should be represented by a sharp and political educated individual.
At the end of the day, we do run into at recurring issue when our idealist hopes are withered away by cynical realism. This is a strange that happens even in US politics. It is best exemplified in the current US presidential election. Voters believe that somehow the next US president is going to strong-arm the entire government to get their policies through. That is just never going happen as long as this democracy still stands.
Llamas’ presidency exemplified this. It echoes what we see, today, with Barack Obama. Like him, Llamas was always the smartest person in the room. He knew what to get done, and how to do it, but TAMIU didn’t elect some Machiavellian Prince. It elected a government. Just how many Americans express frustration with the government entirely, TAMIU students could feel the same with student government, but there is a new government now, and we should hope for the best. Above all, like the classes we attend, there are lessons to be learned.
The New and Outgoing Presidents
Newly elected Student Body President Jesus Padilla and outgoing president Joshua Llamas came to The Bridge News to share their thoughts. The two were asked diverse questions corresponding with their new positions. Padilla was asked about his plans and concerns for his new presidency and newly-formed government. Llamas spoke about his time as president.
Coming in at the relatively young age of 18, Padilla aims to mark his presidency by continuing on the incomplete efforts of Llamas. At the same time, he is strategizing how he can work to resolve student issues. Food and nutrition for TAMIU students and advancing the campus’ internet capabilities are among these issues.
Concerning food, Padilla explained an ongoing effort to create a student food pantry. The service is designed to feed students who do not always have the resources to pay at the eateries on campus. Padilla recognized that the Dusty Diner provides these services, but at a decently tough cost, especially for daily customers. On top of that, campus residents pay for a hefty meal-plan
without many other options to satisfy their nutritional needs. The food pantry would be a system where students could apply and receive some non-perishable food allocations without having to pay daily. Alongside that, there were plans that Padilla considered pursuing, such as bringing the old Dusty Express over to the residential areas for students to shop.
Understanding the concerns of residential students, Padilla also wants to continue the efforts for a shuttle bus. This was something Llamas was not able to complete, but is still determined to do so as a concerned student. The shuttle bus was to be something of a duty driver that would provide residential students transportation to local areas of need, like H-E-B or Wal-Mart. Both of these stores can be easily accessed from the university. This comes very beneficial to students who do not have their own transportation.
Even though he could not complete everything as planned, Llamas understood that these efforts take large amounts of time that go beyond the regular semester and school year. However, he is proud of his time in the Student Government Association (SGA) spending three years total, with one year as president.
After the recent elections, there is virtually a new government in the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. Padilla feels optimistic that the new government is comprised of motivated and spirited individuals who wish to better the needs of TAMIU students. Motivation among SGA members alongside work ethic was a problem that Llamas had to deal with. Several members began resigning or made choices leading to their impeachments. Llamas and Padilla strongly agreed that SGA is a very demanding organization and requires strong determination from very motivated students.
Padilla plans to begin his presidency by tackling some issues introduced late in Llamas presidency. Some of these include reforming the judicial branch, and possibly creating some new senate seats to represent different and exclusive students.
Though eager for retirement, Llamas does have some plans for remaining time in TAMIU. Now a senior set to graduate in December, Llamas still plans to be active in different school organizations. He wants to stay involved, but just not at the caliber of the presidency. When President Bill Clinton spoke on campus, many opportunities opened up for him in different fields, particularly in education. Llamas is a political science major, but he does not have much intention to get into government. He plans to pursue a career in education.
As we reflect on the old government which has now ended with Llamas’ presidency, TAMIU students should most definitely embrace the new government. Both of them stated the same phrase, “anyone in TAMIU could make a difference.” That is very much true, and the core values set from these student leaders on pure motivation and raw commitment are things that all TAMIU student should consider embracing.
Representatives of the New Government
Aside from the new president, there were plenty of brand new senators and senators-at-large who were elected into office for the Student Government Association. The Bridge News had the pleasure in being able to sit down and hear from one of each. The two wished to express themselves as students, and they voiced some of their hopes for TAMIU as SGA officers.
Oliver Vera is a sophomore who has been elected as one of seven senators of the College of Arts & Sciences (COAS). He is a double major is political science and criminal justice. Vera is a US Army veteran who served a tour in Afghanistan before coming to college. The 24 year old student began attending TAMIU in the fall of 2015.
Vera noticed quickly that there was some issues with representation among COAS students. He took this in much consideration when he decided to run for office. During this time, many members of the SGA were beginning to resign from their positions for different reasons. Vera sought to seize this opportunity. He ran for office in April where he was successful.
Vera’s first and main priority is the students of the COAS. Being the largest school on campus, he knows there is a lot of concerns, from different voices, that he must represent. A conservative by trade, Vera would not want to support or sponsor programs that would increase costs for TAMIU students. However, he does understand necessities do exist. With that, he is supportive of the shuttle bus and food pantry programs that were proposed during Joshua Llamas’ presidency.
On a lighter note, Vera does want to find cost efficient ways to bring entertainment to TAMIU students. He understands that the university, like its hometown, can get a little boring from time to time. He wants to help create healthy activities that promote campus entertainment and community values.
Of the four senator-at-large seats, three of them have been filled by new members. One of those, is Ricardo Cagigal. Cagigal is a twenty-two year old biology major aiming to graduate in spring 2017, as well as the reigning Mr. TAMIU, and now he is a new elected senator-at-large. As a senator-at-large, Cagigal does represent the all students. He is not subjugated to one college.
Like Vera, Cagigal has had reservations about the student body being underrepresented. Being in TAMIU since his freshman year, he felt like much of time in the university was building up to this position. He understood that many of past SGA member were honorable students, but he also notices that some took the position for granted, and utilized it only as a résumé builder. Taking this to heart, Cagigal took the opportunity to be a major representative of the student body.
Before being elected, Cagigal stated that be helped established the new charging stations seen on campus. He plans to expand on that program by developing more around common areas. He hopes to have one in every building. Also, he wants to upgrade them as well. He pictured a model similar to the charging stations seen in airports.
Concerning issues with cohesion and discipline within the SGA, Cagigal was very concerned about keeping his fellow members motivated during their times in office. He does not want to see many of them drop from the SGA or find themselves impeached in the future. Cagigal said that the SGA comprised of motivated members who do their best for the students of TAMIU. He is feels comfortable in believing that the members of the new government are people of such character.
Both Vera and Cagigal were individuals who endorsed open door policies. They want to hear from the students. Both of them were in concurrency for finding ways to help represent some exclusive groups on campus. Some ideas pooled were to create committees or possibly a permanent senate seats for campus residents and student veterans. As officers, they were willing to consider these options for legislation.
These were two of the new officers that now sit as SGA officers. There are other that were elected with similar concerns as these two gentlemen. Also, there are plenty of vacant judicial appointments that have be made. Overall, there is a clean slate for progress in the SGA.
Many students on campus may not realize that their classmates are DREAMERS. No, I do not mean day dreamers, I mean DACA Dreamers. DACA stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals created in 2012, and it has become the safety net for many Dreamers that were brought to this country as children by their parents.
Through DACA, these students are then able to attend college, gain employment, and are eligible for deferred action. According to the USISC website, “Deferred action is a use of prosecutorial discretion to defer removal action against an individual for a certain period of time.” DACA lasts 2-3 years, and is renewable.
But how do these students get DACA? Where do they go? There are many organizations public and private which offer immigration services including DACA. These include lawyers, non-profits, and individuals that are accredited to file for others. It may be difficult for those in need to decide where to go, and how to choose, especially with such a sensitive topic, and that is why I chose Centro Aztlan.
Centro Aztlan, also known as Asociación Pro Servicios Sociales Inc., is a safe haven for the marginalized population in Laredo. The undocumented, the elderly, migrant workers, all make their way to 406 Scott Street to find help. The organization provides low cost immigration services, along with many other services that we might take for granted such as filling out forms, translation. They even help with job applications.
Centro Aztlan was founded in 1973, and its purpose was to “Operate exclusively for charitable and educational purposes, including but not limited to improvement of the condition of the poor, the underprivileged, and the victims of discrimination and alienation;” and they continue to do so today. Their clients range from young children applying for DACA, to the elderly who need help with their Social Security forms. What is unique about this organization is the welcoming atmosphere that they provide.
The staff is small, with only 3 employees, consisting of Dora Negrete the administrative assistant, Rosa Morales the bookkeeper, and Angelica Lopez who works on the immigration cases. Lopez is an Accredited Representative who is certified by the Board of Immigration Appeals to work on immigration applications.
I was able to use the services myself after my husband and I got married. We had known about the organization through family and friends, and decided it would be the best place to go for applying to get my husband’s resident card. We were given an appointment where we met Mrs. Lopez, and she explained all the requirements, what we needed to provide, and went over the fees versus the cost of services. The application process for us went smoothly, over the course of less than 6 months we had already gotten a positive result.
Each case is different, and Lopez has had her share of difficult cases as well. She has worked with a blind couple where one partner passed away during the process, another where a client who was a resident left the U.S. to live in Mexico who had difficulty later on applying for his citizenship when he moved back. These cases and others are just a few of the success stories that the Centro has added to its long list of satisfied clients.
Jose De Jesus Alvarado, a student of TAMIU, and writer for The Bridge, happens to be a Dreamer that took advantage of the immigration services provided by Centro Aztlan. Jose was brought to the U.S. when he was younger than 5 years old. His journey has been a typical one, with school always being a priority. Jose sought DACA as a means to continue his education at the university level. He is currently a senior studying Communication, which he might not have been able to do without the DACA mandate. He also took advantage of the services offered by the Centro, and was able to register for TAMIU right after graduating high school.
The Centro Aztlan and Mrs. Lopez submitted the application on his behalf, and he is now not only attending TAMIU, but working two jobs as well. He is currently working for Aramark on campus, at the student favorite, Chick-Fil-A, as well as working part time at Pizza Hut.
Unfortunately, the organization has recently been limited due to low funding. The primary source of income for the Centro comes from Gambit Bingo. The Bingo sponsors different non-profit organizations, and the Centro receives a share of the proceeds on certain days of the week. Additionally, the fees for client services also contribute to the funding. Another portion of funds comes from the PALE program, which is a program developed by the Mexican Consulate, which offers $10,000 annually specifically for DACA and VAWA cases.
The staff has limited its hours of operation, from 8 A.M. to 5 P.M., to now 8 A.M. to 2pm. The ladies that are dedicated to their work stated “Even if we are only able to open for one hour, we will be here, helping people.” It is the organizations purpose and mission that seem to keep the doors from closing, as both the clients and employees feel committed to their efforts.
The Centro Aztlan is currently accepting donations, and is seeking support from the community to spread the word about what they do. Donations over $100 will receive an autographed poster print of Laredo born artist, Amado Peña’s work.
Centro Aztlan gains its clients mostly by word of mouth, but they hope to change that in order to increase their client base and help even more people that may be disadvantaged in our community. It is important to be aware that not all students enter into TAMIU with ease, and that there are still many families in our city that are living in the shadows. Centro Aztlan is one of the organizations that is giving them a voice.
For more information on donating or volunteering, please contact the office at (956) 724-6244.