Alicia Ramone, mother of the 12-year-old girl who recorded a viral video of students chanting “build the wall” at Royal Oak Middle School last week, called for unity and civility at a Detroit gathering of community organizers Monday.
“We can change this if we stand united and work with the people around us,” she told the gathering of about 70 at Central United Methodist Church in Downtown Detroit.
Ramone said her daughter began recording the incident after seeing her friend in tears as students at her lunch table stood up, banged their fists against a table and chanted.
The chant gradually grew larger and louder, she said.
“I don’t believe this incident speaks for the community at large, but last week during lunch, my daughter witnessed something that I never thought my daughter would see,” said Ramone, whose Hispanic family has lived in Royal Oak since 1994.
“It’s an injustice that I dedicated a big part of my life to try to make it a better place and here, 47 years later, she’s encountering the same.”
The chant was in reference to President-elect Donald Trump’s pledge to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico. And it came as reports of racist, anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim incidents spiked around the country in the days following Trump’s election.
Trump, in a “60 Minutes” interview that aired Sunday, told supporters who have engaged in acts of hate to “stop it.”
“I am so saddened to hear that,” he said. “And I say, ‘Stop it.’ If it– if it helps. I will say this, and I will say right to the cameras: Stop it.
Michigan United, an immigrant-rights group that has long criticized and demonstrated against immigration policies and deportations under President Barack Obama’s administration, gathered several community organizations for the Monday press conference in Detroit to stand against the recent spike in incidents of intimidation targeting minorities.
“I think it’s extremely important to not show fear, to not act like the last 15 years of work we’ve done for this movement, that we acknowledge it’s not going anywhere,” said Sergio Martinez, an activist who identified himself as a gay, undocumented immigrant.
“Those wins are still wins for our community and we need to protect that. How, is we meet with our officials and everybody we’ve met with for this movement and reach out to Republicans to who don’t necessarily agree with Trump’s rhetoric and proposals for immigration.”
Ramone said her daughter sent her the video with crying emoticons and the message: “I’m scared.”
She said her daughter was bombarded with criticism and accused of dividing people with the footage she recorded, but that she also was praised for showcasing what minorities often endure.
“This wasn’t about immigration or a platform or a policy, but this was about racism,” Ramone said. “Our kids deserve to be safe and we as parents owe it to them to make sure we work with the schools, because we’re all together in this and we make that difference.”
Rather than gathering only adults to draft solutions for the future of the community,
Ramone said her daughter’s school has been gathering feedback from both adults and students on solutions to the tensions exposed by the lunchroom chant.
Martinez said he plans to continue to help immigrants obtain valid identification to work and travel without concerns of deportation, and to register Hispanic U.S. citizens to vote.
“To think overnight that this president can really undo everything or try to work hard to undue everything we worked hard to accomplish,” Martinez said. “My main focus is to refresh those relationships with everyone we’ve met in the past five years and make sure that we stay as a welcoming city that isn’t going to stand up for this.”