Legacy Interview – Juanita Valdez-Cox Part 3

Date of Interview: September 20, 2017
Interviewed By: Chuy Ramriez
Posted: May 17, 2021

Juanita:  And we also have three people right now who are going to be fully accredited, which means they can even take our cases to court, to immigration court. We do a lot of income taxes (for the LUPE membership). This year we brought in a little over two million for people that pay their taxes; que hacen sus income taxes with us. There’s experts in that area, too. Only two what they call accredited…somebody who can fight your case with Internal Revenue. There’s only two enrolled, uno en Brownsville and then here in San Juan. And so, we’ve been able to fight cases for people that have gotten back some good money. So, we have income tax and immigration mainly.

Chuy:  So, your client base, from what you’re describing, Juanita, is people who gain power by being members of this union. It’s very difficult on their own to fend for themselves, right?

Juanita:  And we also have three people right now who are going to be fully accredited, which means they can even take our cases to court, to immigration court. We do a lot of income taxes. This year we brought in a little over two million for people that pay their taxes; que hacen sus income taxes with us. There’s experts in that area, too. Only two what they call accredited…somebody who can fight your case with Internal Revenue. There’s only two enrolled, uno en Brownsville and then here in San Juan. And so, we’ve been able to fight cases for people that have gotten back some good money. So, we have income tax and immigration mainly.

Chuy:  So, your client base, from what you’re describing, Juanita, is people who gain power by being members of this union. It’s very difficult on their own to fend for themselves, right?

Juanita:  Well, what we do is meet the needs of the membership base. The membership base says, “These are some of the issues.”  We find the programs that deal with those issues.  But what we do, we demand not only their money, their $40, but their participation. We have very firm core values.

Chuy:  All right.

Juanita:  One is self-help. So, anybody who comes in has to be willing to do for themselves in some way. Nada va a ser gratis because we can’t.

Chuy:  You’re not a social program to give stuff away. You are there for self-help, motivating people.

Juanita:  Si Ud. esta listo para hacer un cambio en su vida, nosotros estamos listos para ayudarle a desarollarlo. Ud. decide cuando Ud. este listo.

Chuy:  So that is one principle.

Juanita:  The second one is respect. Respect for every human being. That cost us seventy-five thousand this last year because the Catholic Church gave us money. They used to give us money for about six years. Nos daban mucho dinero. It cost us. I did not know they were that conservative. We’ve been getting money from CCHD desde que estaba la Sister Carol, hace años. But, we do immigration cases for whomever, right? So, vienen los gay couples, dos hombres o dos mujeres. At first, we found it medio raro because some of us are older and more old-fashioned.

Chuy:  Oh, sure.

Juanita:  Ahorita, temenos puro Millennials, so they’re okay with that stuff. Pero el Supreme Court pasó el Equal Rights Marriage. Entonces nosotros hicimos varios gay couples, but we focused on one, arreglarle sus documentos.

Chuy:  When you say “hicimos”, you mean you provided immigration services to a gay couple in violation of the Church funding rule?

Juanita:  Of the CCHD funding.

Chuy:  What is CCHD?

Juanita:  Catholic Campaign for Human Development.

Chuy:  Oh, my.

Juanita:  Entonces ellos…Every year we try to say our ten most memorable moments and we put it on all of our media. And we put that and we put their picture, los dos jovenes. We’re very proud of our work; que les dieron sus documentos.

Chuy:  Very innocently.

Juanita:  Pues, si La Supreme Court dice, and our core value is respect, no era dificil. So, me habló el Bishop y me habló la Sister Pimentel y venimos aquí a la oficina aquí en San Juan. Dijeron, “Aquí esta el cheque ya, Pero, you are going to have to take down all of that information because, dijo, “No es el Bishop ni somos nosotros. We like your work and we’ve been helping you for years and we want to continue to help you. Pero, the Board of Directors of CCHD in Washington, o no sé de donde son, no estan de acuerdo. Ellos ya nos dijeron que tienes que hacer esto.”  “Mire”, le dije, “Primeramente  voy a hablar con el Advisory Council que tengo de puros miembros activos y a ver que opinion me dan. Y luego…pero va estar bien dificil.

Chuy:  So they come to you with check in hand. You can have the check if you remove…What did they want you to remove…what?

Juanita:  The article that we had placed on all of our social media.

Chuy:  All the publicity about providing services to a gay couple?

Juanita:  All the publicity about the two young men who got their immigration papers because of the help they got from LUPE. So. it was that. I talked to the Advisory Board and I talked to the staff. Of course, the staff was, “We can’t do that.” Estan jovenes. I talked to the Bishop and to Sister Pimentel and I said, “Que lastima. We need the money. We’re growing really fast. But, you know what? César once said when we were working in the fields of California when I was organizing alla, y dice, “You know the philosophy of non-violence. Everybody takes it so lightlly, “Okay, we believe it.”  But until it’s challenged, that’s when the real test comes in.” And I remembered that and I said, “Our core value is being challenged and if we say we live by those core values, whether I’m here or whoever takes over, those core values will always be part of this organization. “So, your response should be quite easy,” I was telling myself. It wasn’t easy but I said, “Pues, take the money.”                                                                      2

Chuy:  It was a pretty expensive decision, though.

Juanita:  Yeah, it was. But I think that’s what he (Cesar Chavez) meant when he said, “Until they’re being challenged, that’s when you know whether you have to live by them or not.”

Chuy:  That’s absolutely true. So, you’re painting a picture of an organization that is self- managed, is not required to put up with any governmental funding which would totally control what you do. You are also willing to say to the Church, “We have a disagreement on principle so even though your money is very good for us…

Juanita:  Very important.

Chuy:  …we’re going to forgo that. They were not willing to compromise.

Juanita:  No.

Chuy:  But yet they wanted you to fully compromise.

Juanita:  Right.

Chuy:  So, all of these members that you have, I take it that it’s families, complete families, right?

Juanita:  A third of our members are U.S. citizens, a third are undocumented and a third are legal permanent residents, LPR’s. That’s what makes up the eight thousand plus that we have at LUPE. We have a membership base and that’s where we keep all of this information.

Chuy:  So the needs of that membership are enormous.

Juanita:  They are enormous and that’s why it falls on them too. If you need us, then you have to support us. And apparently, we all need each other. Ni modo. You can’t give the forty (dollars) now, you can give five or ten. But, you’re going to give that.

Chuy:  You know what’s interesting to me. In this book we also have an interview with Mario Compean out of San Antonio.

Juanita:  Oh, I’ve heard of him.

Chuy:  Yes. Mario is doing a lot of immigration work, a lot of what you’re doing. But you are describing a model.

Juanita:  It is. It’s a community union model.

Chuy:    Yeah. A true union of self-help.

Juanita:  And what is real interesting on self-help is that there are a lot of non-profits in the Valley community that you would think would support that. I’ve had struggles with people saying, “How can you charge the poorest of the poor?” For example, Projecto Azteca. We started Projecto Azteca in 1989, but they’re federally funded. They are on ten acres but they are separate because they have to be. But they don’t understand.  Por ejemplo, Texas Civil Rights Project also gets state and federal funds. So, it’s real difficult for them to understand. They think that it’s not fair. They are very bleeding-heart Liberals que les dicíamos antes, thinking that, “How can you charge people who don’t have any money?” And it’s hard, it’s really difficult.

Chuy:  But, that is their sacrifice. But that is the sacrifice that they are sharing to be part of a union.

Juanita:  How else do we value our work? Do we not value our work and all our training and everything we’ve done to get to the point of offering the best service and then we give it to you? That would not be respectful for us, for our work.

Chuy:  I didn’t even realize that you were charging those kinds of fees.

Juanita:  Oh, yeah.

Chuy:  But to me, that is at least one way of assuring that they are making an investment.

Juanita:  Exactly.

Chuy:  They’re making an investment in themselves and then they can demand certain things and participate.

Juanita:  It is an investment. And what we do, we put a lot of value on their membership. So with the $40 they get a $4000 dollar accidental life insurance for free from American Life, a very progressive insurance con Bernie Rapaport out of Austin. Ya murió. All of the classes, ESL, Citizenship, GED. All of that is free with their membership. Their consultas  are free with the membership. We always have to put value on the card. If we don’t put value on the card, because you always want to know, “What’s in it for me?” So, we always look for ways. We talk to the judges and we talk to the police and we say, “Mira, si un indocumentado doesn’t have any documents but he can show you this card and it has his picture and it has his address, his height, his weight, color of eyes y todo…

Chuy:  This is on his membership card? So, it serves as identification.

Juanita:  It’s not a state…

Chuy:  No, no but still it is an identification card.

Juanita:  And the police were arresting them because they had no kind of ID, si eran indocumentados. So, we met with the sheriff and then we met with every single  police chief chief desde La Joya hasta Brownsville and we said, “We have this card, and we said, “We have this card. What do you think? Todos la aceptaron. Then it started going down and the members started talking to each other, “Fijate, no tengo licencia de manejar ni tengo identificacion, pero yo le presente esta y con esta nomas me dieron el ticket.”— for whatever they did wrong. So, there is value.

Chuy:  That’s interesting.  So, to the limited extent that you can, you are acculturating folks to this system, slowly, but you’re doing it.

Juanita:  Slowly. Hijo de la fregada.

Chuy:  Slowly. But who else is doing that?

Juanita:  It takes time. But the other department that we have that is the one that people see is the organizing department.

Chuy:  Um-hmm. That’s what we see in the press.

Juanita:  In each precinct we have an organizer. All very well educated. They are out there, tambien DACA people working with the community.

Chuy:  I have a picture. I’m going to let you go. But I have a picture that I want to show you, if I can find it.

Juanita:  You collect, tambien?

Chuy:  No, actually, Juan Maldonado is a collector.

Juanita:  Ah, ¿si?

Chuy:  He has an amazing archive.

Juanita:  I do too. A ver cuando lo visito.

Chuy:  But I have a picture here I want to show you. (Shuffling papers)

Juanita:  Esos greñudos. Cuando había pelo. (Laughter)

Chuy:  Oh, yeah. Can you imagine that?

Juanita:  Oh, my goodness!  Este es Tony Gómez. El fué abogado ahí, at UFW, not LUPE.

Chuy:  I know. Tony Gómez, Saldaña…

Juanita:  ¿Pepe?

Chuy:  Yeah. Leo Montalvo, Juan Maldonado.

Juanita:  Who’s that?

Chuy:  Richard Perez.

Juanita:  Richard Perez, ¿el de Legal Aid?

Chuy:  Yeah.

Juanita:  Oh! Todos eran rebeldes. Rebeldes.

Chuy:  Todos eramos. Todos eramos. But it was a different world back then.

Juanita:  Wow, how great.

Chuy:  It’s a different world.

Juanita:  We’re still working at it.

Chuy:  Era otro mundo.

Juanita:  Ha cambiado mucho.

Chuy:  Pero te quiero enseñar esta foto.

Juanita:  Mira, esa es de la union de nosotros en la convención. This is a march we had after a convention. Aquí en esta estuvo César. Mira, Nelly Meza! She lives in Weslaco. 212 Palma in Weslaco. Juan Maldonado! Richard Flores!

Chuy:  Yeah. And this is Edgar Ruiz (former Hidalgo County Judge) in the early ‘70’s.

Juanita:  That’s Edgar? Este señor tambien lo conozco.

Chuy:  Lalo Arcaute, mayor de San Juan.

Juanita:  Ahora lo tengo a él y Edgar, a todos  ahí  en la wall, but they’re older, much, much older. Awesome.

Chuy:  What we’re trying to show is, and a book is a way of legitimizing it. Right? Todo lo que miras ahorita aquí en el Valle, yo tengo muchos amigos y a veces me da lastima. Son Republicanos. Son Republicanos y digo, “Son los que se han beneficiado mas del Movimiento y creen que “they pulled themselves up by their bootstraps.”

Juanita:  Ah, muy famosos para eso, the bootstraps.

Chuy:  Yeah, the bootstrap theory. Pero muchos jovenes, los hijos de nosotros tambien, sí se les olvida eso.

Juanita:  Well, what we do is meet the needs of the membership base. The membership base says, “These are some of the issues.”  We find the programs that deal with those issues.  But what we do, we demand not only their money, their $40, but their participation. We have very firm core values.

Chuy:  All right.

Juanita:  One is self-help. So, anybody who comes in has to be willing to do for themselves in some way. Nada va a ser gratis because we can’t.

Chuy:  You’re not a social program to give stuff away. You are there for self-help, motivating people.

Juanita:  Si Ud. esta listo para hacer un cambio en su vida, nosotros estamos listos para ayudarle a desarollarlo. Ud. decide cuando Ud. este listo.

Chuy:  So that is one.

Juanita:  The second one is respect. Respect for every human being. That cost us seventy-five thousand this last year because the Catholic Church gave us money. They used to give us money for about six years. Nos daban mucho dinero. It cost us. I did not know they were that conservative. We’ve been getting money from CCHD desde que estaba la Sister Carol, hace años. But, we do immigration cases for whomever, right? So, vienen los gay couples, dos hombres o dos mujeres. At first, we found it medio raro because some of us are older and more old-fashioned.

Chuy:  Oh, sure.

Juanita:  Ahorita, temenos puro Millennials, so they’re okay with that stuff. Pero el Supreme Court pasó el Equal Rights Marriage. Entonces nosotros hicimos varios gay couples but we focused on one, arreglarle sus documentos.

Chuy:  When you say “hicimos”, you mean you provided immigration services to a gay couple in violation of the Church funding rule?

Juanita:  Of the CCHD funding.

Chuy:  What is CCHD?

Juanita:  Catholic Campaign for Human Development.

Chuy:  Oh, my gracious.

Juanita:  Entonces ellos…Every year we try to say our ten most memorable moments and we put it on all of our media. And we put that and we put their picture, los dos jovenes. We’re very proud of our work; que les dieron sus documentos.

Chuy:  Very innocently.

Juanita:  Pues, si La Supreme Court dice, and our core value is respect, no era dificil. So, me habló el Bishop y me habló la Sister Pimentel y venimos aquí a la oficina aquí en San Juan. Dijeron, “Aquí esta el cheque ya, Pero, you are going to have to take down all of that information because, dijo, “No es el Bishop ni somos nosotros. We like your work and we’ve been helping you for years and we want to continue to help you. Pero, the Board of Directors of CCHD in Washington, o no sé de donde son, no estan de acuerdo. Ellos ya nos dijeron que tienes que hacer esto.”  “Mire”, le dije, “Primeramente  voy a hablar con el Advisory Council que tengo de puros miembros activos y a ver que opinion me dan. Y luego…pero va estar bien dificil.

Chuy:  So they come to you with check in hand. You can have the check if you remove…What did they want you to remove…what?

Juanita:  The article that we had placed on all of our social media.

Chuy:  All the publicity about providing services to a gay couple?

Juanita:  All the publicity about the two young men who got their immigration papers because of the help they got from LUPE. So. it was that. I talked to the Advisory Board and I talked to the staff. Of course, the staff was, “We can’t do that.” Estan jovenes. I talked to the Bishop and to Sister Pimentel and I said, “Que lastima. We need the money. We’re growing really fast. But, you know what? César once said when we were working in the fields of California when I was organizing alla, y dice, “You know the philosophy of non-violence. Everybody takes it so lightlly, “Okay, we believe it.”  But until it’s challenged, that’s when the real test comes in.” And I remembered that and I said, “Our core value is being challenged and if we say we live by those core values, whether I’m here or whoever takes over, those core values will always be part of this organization. “So, your response should be quite easy,” I was telling myself. It wasn’t easy but I said, “Pues, take the money.”                                                                      2

Chuy:  It was a pretty expensive decision, though.

Juanita:  Yeah, it was. But I think that’s what he meant when he said, “Until they’re being challenged, that’s when you know whether you have to live by them or not.”

Chuy:  That’s absolutely true. So, you’re painting a picture of an organization that is self- managed, is not required to put up with any governmental funding which would totally control what you do. You are also willing to say to the Church, “We have a disagreement on principle so even though your money is very good for us…

Juanita:  Very important.

Chuy:  …we’re going to forgo that. They were not willing to compromise.

Juanita:  No.

Chuy:  But yet they wanted you to fully compromise.

Juanita:  Right.

Chuy:  So, all of these members that you have, I take it that it’s families, complete families, right?

Juanita:  A third of our members are U.S. citizens, a third are undocumented and a third are legal permanent residents, LPR’s. That’s what makes up the eight thousand plus that we have at LUPE. We have a membership base and that’s where we keep all of this information.

Chuy:  So the needs of that membership are enormous.

Juanita:  They are enormous and that’s why it falls on them too. If you need us, then you have to support us. And apparently, we all need each other. Ni modo. You can’t give the forty now, you can give five or ten. But, you’re going to give that.

Chuy:  You know what’s interesting to me. In this book we also have an interview with Mario Compean out of San Antonio.

Juanita:  Oh, I’ve heard of him.

Chuy:  Yes. Mario is doing a lot of immigration work, a lot of what you’re doing. But your describing a model.

Juanita:  It is. It’s a community union model.

Chuy:    Yeah. A true union of self-help.

Juanita:  And what is real interesting on self-help is that there are a lot of non-profits in the Valley community that you would think would support that. I’ve had struggles with people saying, “How can you charge the poorest of the poor?” For example, Projecto Azteca. We started Projecto Azteca in 1989, but they’re federally funded. They are on ten acres but they are separate because they have to be. But they don’t understand.  Por ejemplo, Texas Civil Rights Project also gets state and federal funds. So, it’s real difficult for them to understand. They think that it’s not fair. They are very bleeding-heart Liberals que les dicíamos antes, thinking that, “How can you charge people who don’t have any money?” And it’s hard, it’s really difficult.

Chuy:  But, that is their sacrifice. But that is the sacrifice that they are sharing to be part of a union.

Juanita:  How else do we value our work? Do we not value our work and all our training and everything we’ve done to get to the point of offering the best service and then we give it to you? That would not be respectful for us, for our work.

Chuy:  I didn’t even realize that you were charging those kinds of fees.

Juanita:  Oh, yeah.

Chuy:  But to me, that is at least one way of assuring that they are making an investment.

Juanita:  Exactly.

Chuy:  They’re making an investment in themselves and then they can demand certain things and participate.

Juanita:  It is an investment. And what we do, we put a lot of value on their membership. So with the $40 they get a $4000 dollar accidental life insurance for free from American Life, a very progressive insurance con Barney Rapaport out of Austin. Ya murió. All of the classes, ESL, Citizenship, GED. All of that is free with their membership. Their consultas  are free with the membership. We always have to put value on the card. If we don’t put value on the card, because you always want to know, “What’s in it for me?” So, we always look for ways. We talk to the judges and we talk to the police and we say, “Mira, si un indocumentado doesn’t have any documents but he can show you this card and it has his picture and it has his address, his height, his weight, color of eyes y todo…

Chuy:  This is on his membership card? So, it serves as identification card.

Juanita:  It’s not a state…

Chuy:  No, no but still it is an identification card.

Juanita:  And the police were arresting them because they had no kind of ID, si eran indocumentados. So, we met with the sheriff and then we met with every single  police chief chief desde La Joya hasta Brownsville and we said, “We have this card, and we said, “We have this card. What do you think? Todos la aceptaron. Then it started going down and the members started talking to each other, “Fijate, no tengo licencia de manejar ni tengo identificacion, pero yo le presente esta y con esta nomas me dieron el ticket.”— for whatever they did wrong. So, there is value.

Chuy:  That’s interesting.  So, to the limited extent that you can, you are acculturating folks to this system, slowly, but you’re doing it.

Juanita:  Slowly. Hijo de la fregada.

Chuy:  Slowly. But who else is doing that?

Juanita:  It takes time. But the other department that we have that is the one that people see is the organizing department.

Chuy:  Um-hmm. That’s what we see in the press.

Juanita:  In each precinct we have an organizer. All very well educated. They are out there, tambien DACA people working with the community.

Chuy:  I have a picture. I’m going to let you go. But I have a picture that I want to show you, if I can find it.

Juanita:  You collect, tambien?

Chuy:  No, actually, Juan Maldonado is a collector.

Juanita:  Ah, ¿si?

Chuy:  He has an amazing archive.

Juanita:  I do too. A ver cuando lo visito.

Chuy:  But I have a picture here I want to show you. (Shuffling papers)

Juanita:  Esos greñudos. Cuando había pelo. (Laughter)

Chuy:  Oh, yeah. Can you imagine that?

Juanita:  Oh, my goodness!  Este es Tony Gómez. El fué abogado ahí, at UFW, not LUPE.

Chuy:  I know. Tony Gómez, Saldaña…

Juanita:  ¿Pepe?

Chuy:  Yeah. Leo Montalvo, Juan Maldonado.

Juanita:  Who’s that?

Chuy:  Richard Perez.

Juanita:  Richard Perez, ¿el de Legal Aid?

Chuy:  Yeah.

Juanita:  Oh! Todos eran rebeldes. Rebeldes.

Chuy:  Todos eramos. Todos eramos. But it was a different world back then.

Juanita:  Wow, how great.

Chuy:  It’s a different world.

Juanita:  We’re still working at it.

Chuy:  Era otro mundo.

Juanita:  Ha cambiado mucho.

Chuy:  Pero te quiero enseñar esta foto.

Juanita:  Mira, esa es de la union de nosotros en la convención. This is a march we had after a convention. Aquí en esta estuvo César. Mira, Nelly Meza! She lives in Weslaco. 212 Palma in Weslaco. Juan Maldonado! Richard Flores!

Chuy:  Yeah. And this is Edgar Ruiz (former Hidalgo County Judge) in the early ‘70’s.

Juanita:  That’s Edgar? Este señor tambien lo conozco.

Chuy:  Lalo Arcaute, mayor de San Juan.

Juanita:  Ahora lo tengo a él y Edgar, a todos  ahí  en la wall, but they’re older, much, much older. Awesome.

Chuy:  What we’re trying to show is, and a book is a way of legitimizing it. Right? Todo lo que miras ahorita aquí en el Valle, yo tengo muchos amigos y a veces me da lastima. Son Republicanos. Son Republicanos y digo, “Son los que se han beneficiado mas del Movimiento y creen que “they pulled themselves up by their bootstraps.”

Juanita:  Ah, muy famosos para eso, the bootstraps.

Chuy:  Yeah, the bootstrap theory. Pero muchos jovenes, los hijos de nosotros tambien, sí se les olvida eso.

Juanita:  Really? It’s really bad now, huh?

Juanita Valdez-Cox

To Learn More About Juanita Valdez-Cox

Juanita Valdez-Cox Interview

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