EDINBURG, Texas - A U.S. congressman told a group of students here that tea party protesters in Washington, D.C., had urged he and a colleague to "go back to Mexico."
Rep. Ruben Hinojosa gave a talk at the University of Texas-Pan American on October 18, when he brought the story to light. A reporter from the Rio Grande Guardian picked up the story. The Texas AFL-CIO sent it out to all the state's union activists.
Hinojosa said, as he and Rep. Silvestre Reyes made their way to the House of Representatives, there was a tea party rally against major health and higher education legislation. Five tea party members stopped them and asked if they were congressmen. When they replied "yes" and that they were from Texas, the five white men shouted, "Why don't you go back to Mexico?"
The Rio Grande Guardian reporter wrote, "The audience gasped!" after hearing the story.
It was widely reported in March that tea party protesters accosted congressmen with racist and anti-gay epithets as the House convened to vote on the health care and education reform legislation.
House Majority Whip James Clyburn of South Carolina told the Huffington Post that the tea party abuse "was absolutely shocking to me."
"I heard people saying things that I have not heard since March 15, 1960 when I was marching to try and get off the back of the bus."
The anti-Latino, anti-immigrant harassment came at the same time.
Hinojosa told the story to explain the challenges confronting Latino, Black and women elected officials to get Republicans to support legislation that addresses needs for these constituents.
Hinojosa and Reyes represent the Rio Grande Valley, which has a high unemployment and poverty rate. The congressmen have been fighting to increase higher education funding in Hispanic-serving institutions like UT-Pan American. They recently secured $25 million for programs that would encourage Hispanic students to obtain masters degrees.
Hinojosa said it's obvious to residents of the border-area there is a need for the funding. But, he explained, it's not so obvious in Congress or other parts of the United States. It was tough to get support.
"I am telling you, things are not anywhere near the mindset you think they are in Congress," Hinojosa said. "Some of them want to kill the Department of Education. You think they would be sensitive to our needs? Absolutely not."
As well as doing away with the Department of Education, Hinojosa said some Republican members of Congress want to stop any provisions that allow for laws and rules to be printed in Spanish.
When people in the audience asked about the Dream Act, Hinojosa encouraged them to ask Senators Cornyn and Hutchison since it was they who voted against it.
Photo: Rep. Hinojosa, center, stands with students from University of Texas-Pan American. (Rep. Hinojosa website)