One of the biggest stories of 2018 was the family separation crisis at the border. But some may not have heard about the Angry Tías and Abuelas of the Rio Grande Valley – 11 women who sprung into action over the course of several weeks in the summer.
The women dispensed donated supplies and money to women and children on both sides of the border. Out of their own pockets and at the expense of their personal safety, they visited the border bridges after dark, gathering information for migrants and launching a movement that continues today.
Elisa Filippone is one of the Tías, and is based in Brownsville. Her organization started with four women on June 3, 2018. That day, they all went to the McAllen–Hidalgo–Reynosa International Bridge, and 10 days later, the group had grown to seven.
“This is when the name came about,” Filippone says. “Everybody was asking, ‘Who are we? Because we’re going to have to start raising funds,’ and Jennifer [a founding member] said, ‘We’re just a bunch of angry tías.’”
Filippone says they started the group because they were angry about the family separations. She joined after the founders called for a protest in front of the federal courthouse in Brownsville where the trials of dozens of immigrant families were taking place.
“I got an email and I showed up,” Filippone says. “There was only 15 of us, and on that day, I was invited to go out to the bridges because I lived near them. I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll do that.’”
When she went to the border bridges, she says she saw men, women and children, some with visas and passports on one side and others without documentation on the other.
Filippone says her group finds out what people waiting at the bridges need, and then brings them those necessary items – basic things like food and water. And the group stays around to help even after media attention at the border dwindles.
“We keep working, and the things we do have remained the same,” Filippone says. “We provide money to feed breakfast and to feed dinner, but we also give transportation from the detention center to shelters here, in many cases to reunify mothers and children. That is out of our own pockets.”
Filippone says a lot of generosity is necessary to continue doing this work. The organization relies on donations, and she also bottles her own tap water to bring to people waiting on the bridges.
“I gave away my mittens yesterday on the bridges,” Filippone says. “Because I can get another pair.”
Written by Brooke Sjoberg.