The Organizers in the RGV

Words by Melissa Cortes Santiago

A map of the Rio Grande Valley that features different scenes. People are collaborating throughout the different scenes on the map.
Illustration by Ruby Delgado.

“¿Quién es Tu Gente?” is an article series highlighting people and organizations creating safe and inclusive spaces in the RGV. This series hopes to combat the all too common idea of “no ay nada aqui en el Valle” and encourage our readers to go out and find their gente. 

Every other day, there seems to be a new and incredibly pressing issue that demands our attention, whether here at home or abroad. For many in our community, these issues are too important to look away from, and the stakes are too high to ignore. But even for those anxious to join a movement or lend a helping hand, there may be questions about who exactly you should turn to. 

 

There are many grassroots organizations here in the RGV that advocate for a variety of social issues. Deciding where to put your time and effort depends on what issues are most important to you. It’s important to note that in a bicultural and mixed-status community like the RGV, grassroots organizations are usually intersectional. They focus on a variety of issues because our communities are all affected, whether that be by immigration policies, climate change, reproductive healthcare bans, or anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation. 

 

One of those organizations is Border Workers United (BWU), a nonprofit based in Brownsville that operates across the RGV and in El Paso. Since its establishment in 2017, BWU has advocated for worker’s rights, encouraged civic engagement in our communities, and protested against some of the most prominent environmental issues in the RGV. 

Several people marching in the street holding a banner and several white signs. The people are wearing blue shirts and holding blue flags that display their organization’s logo.
Members of BWU protesting against SB4, an anti-immigration legislative bill. Photo courtesy of Border Workers United Facebook page.

They host informational workshops to educate workers and the community on employee rights. This includes understanding our federal right to a minimum wage and what steps to take when we experience wage theft or unfair treatment in the workplace. 

 

Sabemos que un un empleado empoderado, va a ser muy difícil que sea abusado,” [We know that an empowered employee will not be taken advantage of ] said Lupita Sanchez, executive director of BWU.

 

One of the leading issues that the organization has to deal with is helping workers navigate wage theft complaints, said Sanchez. They’ve dealt with many cases of employers not paying their workers the agreed compensation. This often happens with self-employed people such as domestic workers or construction workers. BWU partners with the Texas Civil Rights Project to help workers take legal action if needed. 

 

Wage theft is a widespread issue, especially in Texas. According to a report by the School of Management and Labor Relations at Rutgers, over 3 million workers in Texas suffered minimum wage violations between 2009 and 2022. These violations have cost workers over $12 billion in losses in those 14 years. Unfortunately, due to fear of retaliation from their employers, many workers don’t speak out, a reality that BWU understands and tries to combat. 

 

“Sabemos que es muy difícil que que la gente quiera tomar un paso adelante, pero es muy importante porque sino ese patrón seguirá abusando de ti y de los que vengan después asi que lguien tiene que tomar liderazgo,” [We understand that it’s difficult for people to take that step forward but it’s important because if they don’t, that employer will continue to take advantage of you and those that come after] said Sanchez

BWU focuses its informational workshops on educating the community about climate change and how corporations like SpaceX and Texas LNG are causing irreversible damage to our ecosystems. They also inform the community and protest against harmful immigration narratives and legislation such as SB4. Sanchez said the various issues they focused on are interconnected and deeply affect the people they aim to serve.

 

“Nuestra misión es empoderar a a la gente para que la gente busque su propia resilencia porque cada uno de nosotros tenemos el poder,” [Our mission is to empower people so that they can find resilience, because each one of us had power] she said.  

 

BWU is one of many organizations in the RGV that aims to empower our communities. To learn more about their work or to join their movement, visit their Facebook page

People protesting for a cause. A person in an orange shirt holding a bullhorn and three people in the background standing in solidarity holding a poster.
Illustration by Ruby Delgado.

Check out more grassroots organizations in the RGV!

Casa Orgullo: Facebook | Instagram  

Established by the Valley Aids Council (VAC), Casa Orgullo is a youth resource center for the LGBTQIA+ community. They provide mental health and well-being services, HIV testing, legal services and tutors for college preparedness. They aim to empower LGBTQIA+ youth and provide them with a safe space to express themselves. 

La Union del Pueblo Entero (LUPE): Facebook | Instagram 

LUPE is one of the leading grassroots organizations in the RGV. They have organized migrant and farm workers to demand fair working conditions and wages. Now, they organize members throughout the RGV to respond to the needs of the community. 

Red Star Texas: Instagram

A mutual aid and harm reduction organization that operates throughout the RGV and San Antonio. They distribute harm-reduction kits that include emergency contraceptives, condoms, Narcan and test strips. They have been one of the leading activists in the RGV protesting and organizing against the war in Gaza.

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