Brownsville women put sewing skills to use for border humanitarian response

Maria Elena Salazar (left) and Mebla Salazar-Lucio prepare pillows at Salazar's kitchen table Jan. 11. The mother-daughter duo has made about 2,000 pillows as part of humanitarian aid provided by Brownsville volunteers to migrants seeking asylum in the United States. (Nadia Tamez-Robledo | The Brownsville Herald)

With a sewing machine, some fabric and cotton stuffing, a Brownsville mother-daughter duo has set out to be part of the humanitarian response for migrants on the border.

Melba Salazar-Lucio, 61, a Texas Southmost College English professor, and her mother Maria Elena Salazar have made and donated around 2,000 pillows to groups that aid asylum-seekers. The pillows are given to immigrants dropped off at the Brownsville bus station, living on international bridges or staying at the McAllen respite center.

“We call them ‘pillows of love.’ Our pillows are all over the United States and on the bridges as well,” Salazar-Lucio said, “for people waiting their turn for permission to seek asylum.”

In her mother’s home recently, Salazar-Lucio flipped through a plastic sleeve filled with letters and donations from around the country she keeps alongside receipts documenting how the funds are spent. She read off the return addresses: New York, California, Dallas, Austin.

“Last week we got a box of fabric from Missouri,” Salazar-Lucio said. “It’s people we know or people who know them – or Facebook.”

She said they began making the pillows in June after connecting with the grassroots immigrant aid group Angry Tias & Abuelas.

Their work also gave Salazar, a former Garden Park Elementary teacher, a chance to put her creativity to work. The pillows for children have patterns with characters like Wonder Woman and Thomas the Tank Engine, but she recently spent her own money to buy some soft ornate fabric depicting roosting chickens for the adults.

“I was thinking of how I could help,” Salazar, 82, said from a chair in her living room, where some of her sewing projects were displayed on dress forms or hung on the wall. “I’m almost blind and, being a retired teacher … I learned to do things with nothing.”

Local volunteers have come together under the name “Team Brownsville,” Salazar-Lucio said. They make care packages for migrants released from detention and take meals to those who await on international bridges in Matamoros for their chance to apply for asylum. She recalled that some living on the B&M International Bridge slept on the ground.

“I felt for the children, and somebody has to do it. How can I help? What can we accomplish with nothing?” Salazar said. “I thought, ‘We can make small pillows so adults and children can lay their head.’”

They won’t be running out of thread any time soon thanks to donations from supporters. Family members have even opened the front door in the morning to find someone has left a box of materials, Salazar-Lucio said. They are in need of cotton and flannel but are happy to take donations of any kind for people who may be getting rid of excess sewing material, she added.

“Just when we are getting low (on supplies), we get a check for $20,” she said.

People who wish to get involved can contact Salazar-Lucio at (956) 434-9296 or send donations to 124 Sunshine Road, Brownsville, TX, 78521. Monetary donations can be made by check to Dr. Melba Salazar-Lucio.