SA Artists Join to Aid South Texas' Refugees » CO LAB Magazine

After nearly 500 women and children were released without notice from Dilley and Karnes detention centers at the beginning of this month, a call to action raced across San Antonio’s digital landscape: our city had a full-blown refugee crisis on its hands. It did not fall on deaf ears. The people of San Antonio came together to provide immediate relief to their displaced neighbors with food, warm clothing, shelter, and services. Now local artists, musicians, and community businesses have organized an effort to bolster support for the hundreds of refugees whose future is still fraught with uncertainty.

The Bilo Effect will host art and music showcase benefiting these families with the help of Bottom Bracket Bicycle Shop, Downtowners, and restaurant Fresca, starting 5 p.m. this Saturday, December 17, at Fresca, 1035 S Presa. The benefit will feature food, drink, and live music by The Foreign Arm, Saturn Skies, Arma Musical, and more. In addition, a raffle auction will feature items donated by several prominent local artists and businesses, including Robert Tatum, Albert Gonzalez, and Bottom Bracket. All proceeds will directly fund the care and support of the families through the San Antonio Mennonite Church and RAICES.

A full list of set times, vendors, and contributors will be posted at the end of this article and updated as necessary.

” … the stories and things I witnessed those people going through has given me more than a reason to help every time I can. They are my Brothers and Sisters. Human displacement has to stop.”

Garcia is known for bringing the visual component of performances citywide as The Bilo Effect.
Bilo Garcia is known for bringing the visual component of performances citywide as The Bilo Effect.

The fundraiser is the initiative of Bilo Garcia, who himself is from Puerto Rico and feels a connection to the Karnes and Dilley families.

“I came to the United States in 1980,” he told me when I asked what (besides the obvious reasons) pushed him to orchestrate this production.  “Two months before, the port of Mariel, Cuba was opened by the Castro regime, and 300,000 political refugees were sent to Miami.”

Garcia is referring to the “Mariel Boatlift,” a mass exodus that erupted when Fidel Castro, amid a period of ameliorating relations with the US, gave dissenters carte blanche to leave the country if they didn’t like it, and close to 125,000 Cuban people took him up on the offer. The ensuing chaos reversed any and all progress the two countries had made towards open cooperation.

“One year later, 80,000. Haitians were sent to Miami for economic reasons. I lived, went to school, and worked with many of them, and the stories and things I witnessed those people going through has given me more than a reason to help every time I can. They are my brothers and sisters. Human displacement has to stop. It is one of the most difficult things a person has to deal with. Especially for children.”

Makeshift beds vie for real estate in the San Antonio Mennonite Church's fellowship hall on the morning of December 4, 2016. (Photo courtesy S.A. Mennonite Church)
Makeshift beds vie for real estate in the San Antonio Mennonite Church’s fellowship hall on the morning of December 4, 2016. (Photo courtesy SAMC)

Throughout the night of Sunday, December 4, a revolving convoy of ICE buses unloaded hundreds of refugees into downtown San Antonio. The majority of these women and children were fleeing gang and drug-trafficking violence and seeking asylum. Instead, they were imprisoned in for-profit ‘residential centers.’ Conditions at the Karnes and Dilley centers, respectively owned and operated by GEO and CCA, have been widely reported as less than humane. The two companies’ bid to have these prisons licensed as child-care centers was blocked by a court ruling shortly before the mass release.

Recently-released asylum seekers fill the pews of the worship center. (Photo courtesy SAMC)
Recently-released asylum seekers fill the pews of the worship center. (Photo courtesy SAMC)

Though ICE asserts the release was scheduled and not in response to the ruling, the numbers that ICE dumped unannounced onto the doorstep of RAICES, a non-profit that provides services to refugees and immigrants, nearly tripled the previous single-day record. The 27 bed shelter maintained by RAICES was immediately overwhelmed. The Interfaith Welcoming Committee and San Antonio Mennonite Church stepped in, the latter opening its doors to over 250 displaced women and children who slept on inflatable mattresses in Sunday-schoolrooms and spilled onto pews in the worship center.

All families had been moved to more permanent shelters in town as of December 7.

 

Almost every facet of Saturday’s fundraiser comes by way of volunteers, including the performances. Even more impressive than their willingness to give of themselves is the speed and scale with which the many participants responded in the paltry space of three days. And it mirrors the initial outpouring seen that first week from the public and ecclesiastic bodies, suggesting a common inheritance that predisposes the San Antonio soul to rush to the aid of a class of people upon whom many others have already turned their backs.

One recurring chord discernible in each message of those involved with helping these families: sincere empathy.

“The type of violence and danger that comprised their daily reality is abhorrent, and any reasonable person would want to protect their families from that,”  says Nick Blevins, a vocalist and guitarist with The Foreign Arm. “These are individuals who want to live their lives free from the looming threat of harm like you or I would, and I know I’d appreciate a stranger in a different country making art to highlight injustices perpetrated against me and mine.”

According to RAICES, detention center releases are still continuing, and more might be required of our empathy in the coming weeks.

Donations of money, toiletries, warm clothes, blankets, diapers, and inexpensive toys may be taken to Fresca on Friday during normal business hours or Saturday at the time of the event. Donations of food are in oversupply and will no longer be accepted. City leaders are also hosting temporary collection sites for donations at the following addresses:

Diego Bernal: 126 W Rector
Shirley Gonzalez: 200 N Park
Ron Nirenberg: 9830 Colonnade Blvd, Suite 165

Additionally, SA electronic music collective Sub.Culture will be SCToyDriveconducting a toy drive of their own for children affected by the releases on Saturday, complete with live music as well. Their collection will be hosted at Pan Dulce Gallery, 1005 N New Braunfels. Doors open at 7 p.m., and admission is an unwrapped toy or children’s book (make sure it is Spanish-language or at least bilingual). DJ sets will include X!, Ooh Yeah, Ernest Gonzalez, and other staples of the collective.

RAICES is also accepting monetary donations online here, where you can also sponsor a family.

Set Times – Saturday, December 17 @ Fresca

  • El Robertito Mas……………. 6:00 – 6:15 p.m.
  • Arma Musical………………… 6:15 – 6:30 p.m.
  • Saturn Skies………………….. 6:45 – 7:30 p.m.
  • Pastor John Garland………..7:30 – 7:40 p.m.
  • Extent Music…………………. 7:40 – 8:30 p.m.
  • Raffle #1……………………….. 8:30 – 8:45 p.m.
  • The Foreign Arm……………. 8:45 – 9:45 p.m.
  • Final Raffle……………………. 9:45 – 10:00 p.m.
  • DJ Mess………………………… Closing Act

 With Raffle Prizes From

  • Bottom Bracket Bicycle Shop
  • Robert Tatum
  • FLETCH
  • Juan Gomez
  • Caroline Adams
  • Albert Gonzalez Art
  • Ryan Foerster
  • Joey’s at Blue Star
  • Karolina’s Antiques
  • Black Moon Gallery
  • Brick at Blue Star
  • Burnt Ends BBQ

 

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