As Central Americans – mostly from Honduras – tried to make their way to the United States in a caravan in the last week or so, they fled gang violence, poverty, and corrupt governments. When Donald Trump learned of their efforts, he expressed no empathy. Instead, he accused them of coming into the country so they could apply for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (a program they didn’t qualify for) and berated Mexico for not doing enough – never acknowledging that the Latin America country deports more Central Americans than even the United States. His comments are exemplary of who Trump is at his core: a xenophobe who intends to make the US increasingly unwelcoming for certain groups. As voices rise to criticize Trump, Rep. John Lewis states that Martin Luther King Jr. would be fighting for the immigrant community if he were alive today.
In an interview with MSNBC on the 50th anniversary of MLK’s last speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop”, Lewis discussed why the Civil Rights Movement leader would stand with immigrants. “Martin Luther King Jr. would be speaking up,” he said. “He would say that America is not right and that we need to do the right thing to look out for all of the people in our country. And he would say that we are one people; we are one family. We all live in the same house – not just [the] American house, but the world house… On one occasion, Dr. King said, ‘We must learn to live together as brothers and sisters if not we’ll perish as fools.’”
If you are aware of King’s work, however, Lewis’ words are not surprising. Though he mostly advocated for African-Americans, MLK also supported other marginalized groups. Out of the 200,000 to 300,000 people who attended the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, thousands were Latinos – many of them Puerto Ricans from NYC. This is largely because MLK asked Gilberto Gerena Valentín, the then president of the Puerto Rican Day Parade, to get the Latino population to turn out. “Martin Luther King Jr. invited me to Atlanta, Georgia to discuss the march that was being organized, and I went there with a strong team,” Gerena told El Diario NY. “He personally invited me to organize the Latinos in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, and so I did.”
For King, having a Latino presence was necessary. And the organizers gave Gerena 15 minutes to address the crowd. “He asked me to speak in Spanish,” he said “I said that there was discrimination not only against blacks, but also against Puerto Ricans and Hispanics.”
Before his death, MLK organized the Poor People’s Campaign. According to NPR, he hoped to unite low-income people from the United States to fight for anti-poverty legislation. They fought for jobs, health care, and housing. He contacted Bert Corona, Corky Gonzalez, and Reies Tijerina to get Latinos involved in the movement, LA Progressive reports.