Localizing National Politics

The interesting (to say the least) election season has been over for some time now as President Donald Trump will make it to his 100th day in office on April 29. 

As he approaches this checkpoint, numerous polls show his approval rating and accomplishments in his first few months. The orders and policies implemented under the administration have impacted many, creating frenzies from each side of the aisle.

Denton alone has seen several protests, town hall meetings, and support groups formed to discuss Trump’s impact on locals.

“Obviously we’ve been paying close attention to the executive orders and changes in immigration policy because it has a strong impact on our student population,” said Vice Provost of International Affairs Amy Shenberger.

Combining the University of North Texas’s Denton and Dallas campuses yields a total of 3,191 international students from 119 countries, according to the 2016 International Student and Scholar Services Statistics Summary on UNT’s International web page. Due to the recent executive orders, rhetoric on topics of immigration, and the “travel ban,” Shenberger said they have taken notice of the apprehension.

“We are working to deal with our students in an increasingly anxious environment,” Shenberger said.

University relations, communications, and marketing news manager Margarita Venegas, who works with matters with the Dream Act, said no law enforcement has come to the UNT campus for unannounced visits.

“Rather than speculate on what actions could be taken by immigration or other authorities in the future, our focus is on providing all UNT students a quality education in a safe and secure environment,” Venegas said in an email. “The university understands that some members of our community have expressed concerns about immigration issues and we will continue to do what we can to address those concerns.”

In response to the recent executive order “Buy American, Hire American,” Shenberger said they have been paying close attention, unsure how it will impact UNT as a campus. She said the campus relies heavily on international faculty coming on H-1B visas and they are integral to the university’s fabric.

Some of the groups associated with the recent protests include Sanctuary UNT and Sanctuary Texas Women’s University, Mueve at UNT, and other groups that promote inclusivity in Denton. The Multicultural Center at UNT has also been a part of organizing events and groups to facilitate conversations about how national politics will impact them and what they can do.

Student services coordinator of the Multicultural Center Lauren Whiteman, who specifically works with men of color groups, said that they have participated in town halls and are always trying to create programs that encourage these conversations and how to deal with them even if they don’t impact them directly.

Flyer from the UNT Multicultural Center

“These conversations are very important to have regardless of if you are or know someone who is undocumented because It affects all of us,” Whiteman said. “Even if it’s just to say, ‘I’m not so hateful to turn a blind eye and close my heart to the needs and well-being of someone else.’”

When it comes to having these conversations, Whiteman said emotions tend to run high and it is necessary to leave space for facts, so there is a healthy balance between the two that is received by others.

“Anger is a righteous response to things,” Whiteman said. “We must give cold facts that also tell stories.”

Political activity is usually highest during the presidential election season. The Latino Democrats of Denton County have made it their mission to encourage political involvement year-round.

The group formed in August 2016 after the Texas Democratic Convention in San Antonio. The group then formed, according to President Jesse Jimenez, a voice that counteracted the rhetoric from Trump’s campaign. He also said that the change comes from being involved from bottom to top, which is why the group pushes to register Latino voters and has created organizations that try to get more Latinos and Democrats in public office for better representation.

“Whenever I join a board, it’s all old, white guys,” Jimenez said. “It’s never Latinos, Latinas and it’s not African-Americans…”

Because of Trump, Jimenez said he saw a surge in involvement from the Latino community — specifically, right after Trump’s campaign announcement — and it hasn’t died down.

“I had a lot of Latinos coming out of the woodwork to volunteer because they felt insulted just by the first speech he gave,” Jimenez said, in reference to Trump’s statements on Mexicans being rapists and bringing drugs and crime.

“That’s painting a race with a broad paint brush and you can’t do that,” Jimenez said. “My father fought in Vietnam, my grandfather fought in Korea and suddenly I’m not good enough?”

Jimenez said many people in the Latino community, immigrant or not, have expressed fear of what the administration could do.

The Latino Democrats of Denton County (LDDC) have also been involved in local protests and events to raise awareness. Jimenez said other marginalized groups have worked closely with them to combat the rhetoric. He said the Muslim community is one of HDDC’s best contacts, attending many events in solidarity.

The impact of the administration trickles down even in Denton, making people feel it is necessary to be more involved. Jimenez said he sees this as many of his friends have started striving for public office, despite the effort it may take.

Shenberger thinks that with two universities that are very diverse, Denton is in a unique position in Texas to be a welcoming environment.

“We can always do more,” Shenberger said.

Photos courtesy of the Latino Democrats of Denton County and UNT Multicultural Center Facebook pages

Header Image Design by Christopher Rodgers