Nereyda Calero is a dreamer and a Missoula mom who has lived in the United States for 20 of her 28 years but faces the very real prospect of deportation to her native Mexico.
Still, she was shocked Thursday when she read the words of President Donald Trump, who wondered aloud in a meeting of lawmakers in the Oval Office why the U.S. was “having all these people from shithole countries come here” and why it still admits immigrants from Haiti.
“He’s gaining more enemies every day,” Calero said Friday, and not just those like her who were minors when they entered the country illegally but were allowed to remain under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program.
“We will all be affected,” she said. “He does not connect his tongue with his brain. He keeps on insulting and targeting people for their skin color, their culture or the place they’re from."
Rebecca Weston of Missoula Rises said Trump's "statements are both appalling and a reflection of a racist and the white supremacist politics of a president.”
His words “speak to the contradictions in our country’s history, and not to its stated aspirations to be a multiracial, culturally diverse society that embraces people from all over the world and in that way helps draw out the best of what our society has to offer,” said Weston, community conversations coordinator for the human rights advocacy group.
Trump on Friday offered a partial denial in public for the comments, but according to the Associated Press he defended them privately. Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Illinois, was among those from both parties at the meeting and insisted again that Trump “said these hate-filled things and he said them repeatedly.”
The furor was stirred up in the midst of the Rocky Mountain Ballet Theatre’s five-day Ballet Beyond Borders, which has attracted competitors and performers from six continents to the University of Montana campus.
Members of the international jury issued a statement on Friday in response to Trump’s comments:
“As we welcome artists from around the globe to build bridges and increase cultural understanding, our entire international jury was shocked and saddened by the President’s disrespectful statement. On one hand, those comments do not deserve a response, but on the other hand we feel it’s important to stand strong against racism in every form regardless of where it comes from.”
The Ballet’s gala finale is set for 6 p.m. Saturday in the Dennison Theatre. The 16 jurors from Australia, Brazil, China, Cuba, Korea, Romania, South Africa and the United States said it would be unfortunate if Trump’s statement “took away from the incredible cultural exchange happening here in Missoula.”
“The arts thrive on diversity. Through diversity, we excel even further and we do not want the President’s comment to take away from this event.”
Calero said Trump’s words are “totally racist.”
“He’s categorizing people and saying who’s better and who’s not,” she said.
She’s one of eight “dreamers” in Missoula and 100 who are in Montana due to DACA. Calero said she’s comfortable speaking on their behalf and will be doing it publicly Sunday at St. Anthony Catholic Church and Monday evening at a rally at Caras Park in celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
“Some of my friends and family say since you could be losing status, aren’t you afraid of speaking out?” Calero said. “I’m more afraid of not speaking and not going out there and not letting people know the situation.”
State Sen. Dick Barrett, D-Missoula, took to Facebook to denounce Trump’s stance. Barrett, a retired UM economics professor, recounted his experiences as a former Peace Corp volunteer who taught in universities in Mexico and Uruguay and has traveled throughout Central and South America and the Caribbean.
He wrote that he’s climbed to the tops of 5,000-meter peaks with Mexican friends, and has been “invited to eat in palatial homes in Sao Paulo and one-room mud shacks near Cartagena.”
“My daughter was born in Mexico City and welcomed to the world by lifelong friends Lichi, Jorge, Fer, Cati, Jaime and many more,” Barrett said.
Those experiences and others “have shaped and enriched my life and have left me with an overwhelming sense of respect and gratitude for the places I’ve been, the cultures I have enjoyed and above all for the people who have befriended me,” he said. “Living in Missoula, Montana, I have had to deal with the frustration of rarely being able to reciprocate that friendship.
“And so when I hear the president of the United States denigrate other peoples and cultures and nations, I am ashamed and saddened for my country. How can we expect to be treated with respect and friendship, how can other Americans hope to enjoy (the) richness and variety and beauty of the world when our president slams (the) door on it?”