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Angel Lopez remembers the day his life changed.
It was December 12, 2006 — the feast day of The Virgin of Guadalupe — a Catholic celebration and national holiday in Mexico, where millions come to pay homage to an image of Mary in the Basilica of Guadalupe.
“It was just like any other day,” Angel says. “Growing up Catholic, I knew what we were going to do at the end of the day: Go home from school and get ready for church.”
At the time, Angel was in the fifth grade at an elementary school in Logan, Utah, which he considers his hometown.
“Before school got out that day, my teacher pulled me and a handful of other Hispanic students that were within the class and said something along the lines of, ‘Hey, if you get home and your parents aren’t there or they don’t show up when they’re supposed to, just come back to the school, we’ll be here,’” Angel recalled.
He thought it was weird at the time, but, nonetheless, since they lived a couple of blocks away, he and his younger sister walked home.
“I just remember the phone ringing off the hook,” he said. “I was just like, ‘Oh, OK, now I’m really worried.’”
It was his mom calling, instructing her children to pack their bags and that she would be dropping them off at their aunt’s house. Lopez said his mother sounded frantic and worried. Later, at his aunt’s house, the adults would talk among themselves.
“Being a kid, you’ll start catching and hearing stuff, and it’s just like you don’t really know what’s going on and how to take it in,” Angel said.
Later on, Angel and his sister would find out that their father had been deported, on the largest single-day immigration enforcement action in United States history — in what later became known as the 2006 Swift Raids.
According to the Center for Immigration Studies, an estimated 1,300 employees from six meat processing plants owned by Swift & Co, in six states — Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Texas, Colorado and Utah — were deported.
The Salt Lake Tribune reported then that 145 people — later tallied at 158 — were arrested in the Utah raid, at the Swift plant in Hyrum. Further reporting documented the deportations split families, and left a rippling effect on families for years after.
It wasn’t until recently that Angel was able to build a timeline of those events, nearly two decades after they happened. After all, Angel and others like him in his community, were just kids.
That’s partially what inspired the podcast Angel and his wife, Shelby, are creating — “Solo Éramos Niños”, which translates to “We Were Just Kids.” Shelby, also from Logan, is working on her master’s degree in social work.
Angel said the idea for the podcast started from a conversation he had with a friend from Logan, who was visiting the Lopezes in Atlanta, where they live now. His friend asked a seemingly simple question: Do you remember the raid?
“When we were sitting there talking, I almost felt like I wanted to cry,” Angel said. “I was just like, ‘Oh my gosh, like, I’ve never talked about this with anybody, in this much detail.’”
Overhearing that conversation, Shelby said that without diagnosing them, she could sense their trauma.
Around this time, Shelby said, she was supposed to have a final project in one of her classes. “I didn’t really want to do a case study, so I sat down with my professor, and was like, ‘Here’s this story I’m thinking of turning it into a podcast,” she said.
So far, the Lopezes have recorded six episodes for the first season — in which they get into why the meatpacking plants were targeted, and the lasting fallout from the raids, particularly at the Hyrum plant.
In the second episode, “The Valley,” Shelby states that seven of the 15 largest employers in Cache Valley are factory and implant jobs, including the Swift plant.
She goes on to make the point that many of the employees that fill those jobs are from the Latine community. (Today, according to U.S. Census data, Hyrum has a 15% Latino/Hispanic population.)
A study released three years after the raid found that, in the aftermath, employees had better pay and benefits — and in 2020, Pew Research Center data showed that three-quarters of Americans said immigrants fill jobs citizens don’t want.
Angel and Shelby also spoke about the last episode on KRCL’s RadioActive. Working on the podcast, for Shelby, has been an honor, particularly with people who shared their stories.
“They trusted us with [their stories],” she said, “Now, we make sure that this is told in a way that is transparent and comprehensive, and does it the type of respect and justice [it deserves].”
Angel said working on the podcast has helped him “tremendously,” because it’s allowed him to process and come to terms with what happened to him at such a young age. He said he agrees with his wife, about the power of hearing and sharing other people’s experiences, though he admits he was surprised they opened up.
“There’s that pervasive fear within the immigrant community, and even [the] first-generation community, to even speak up about these experiences,” he said. Growing up, nobody ever spoke about immigration status, like it was a sort of taboo, Angel said.
In being able to help others tell their stories, he said, it’s helped him heal in a way, too. He recalled feeling angry at the different ways immigrants have been treated in the past few years. Now, Angel said, he feels like he has a voice to express and examine that anger, and to empower others to do the same.
The long-term vision for the podcast, he said, is to “amplify and breathe life into stories of people and communities that would otherwise be silenced by that fear.” The Lopezes have plans to create a companion website to inform listeners how they can get involved, and to offer mental health resources in a multilingual format.
They have two bonus episodes in the works, too.
“One is focused on best practices for social workers and in working with Latine people, immigrants and first-generation people, and [one] focused on the realities of immigration detention in the United States,” Shelby said.
The Stewart Detention Center is near them in Atlanta, and they want to focus on an informational approach to how these places are set up and how they get tied up with the rural communities near them. They also have an idea of recording a wider, historical understanding of why immigration is the way it is today.
The ultimate message Angel Lopez said he hopes people will take away from the podcast is simple:
“These are human beings, your neighbors, people within your community. They went through a lot. The damage that was done 17 years ago is still felt today,” he said. “Here’s ways that you can get involved and can stop this from happening again.”