Michelle Vallejo Exclusive: Meet the South Texas Community Organizer Running for Congress
By Kaitlyn Kennedy
Alton, Texas – Michelle Vallejo is running for Congress to ensure that South Texans can live with dignity and have equal opportunity. TAG24 NEWS spoke to Vallejo about his decision to enter the race and his progressive vision for his home district.
After the last round of redistricting, incumbent Representative from Texas’ 15th congressional district, Vicente Gonzalez, decided to run in neighboring District Texas-34.
This move created an opening for a progressive challenger to try his hand at the seat.
Enter Michelle Vallejo.
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The 30-year-old community organizer from Alton is running to represent the South Texas community she calls home.
One of the key moments that inspired her political journey came while she was studying political science and history at Columbia University and working with LatinoJustice. There she organized nationwide petitions against Arizona’s SB 1070, known as the Show Me Your Papers Act, which paved the way for law enforcement to require proof of immigration status when investigations into other alleged crimes.
Although shocking, the experience of racial profiling was familiar to him: “I had known it all my life because I lived south of the Border Patrol checkpoint. Passing by and getting pulled over and asking if you being an American citizen on American soil is common for me, although it was still a bit scary.”
“I realized that a lot of the issues that were discussed and decided at the national level were actually rooted here,” Vallejo told TAG24. “These were actually things that were happening directly to me, to my family, to us, and I could see how it affected how we perceived each other.”
“We find that people are ashamed to stay at home, to go through the education system here, to have found a job here, to have a family here and to choose to grow old here. A lot of people don’t have the choice because they are DACA recipients, or they cannot pass the checkpoint because they are being processed,” she continued.
“People are having this experience where it’s shameful in a way, and it affects us globally through our health, our education, our economy – it’s spreading everywhere.”
“The People’s Candidate”
Vallejo itself is brimming with passion and pride in its community.
After graduating from Columbia, she returned to her hometown to work with her father at the flea market, known locally as “La Pulga”, which her parents started when she was little.
For Vallejo, La Pulga has always been more than a market. It is the center of his community.
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“For me, I see the flea market as a small town,” she said.
She helped develop it further into a community center by partnering with La Unión del Pueblo Entero (LUPE) to facilitate outreach events. Vallejo also co-founded the annual women’s entrepreneurship conference Hustle + Socialize and a progressive leadership training organization called New Leaders Council – South Texas Frontera.
This strong community involvement is why she was nominated by LUPE Votes to represent her district in Congress.
Initially, she was hesitant to accept the nomination – until a conversation with her father changed her view. He said to her, “You must answer this call. It doesn’t happen all the time, and I think if the community has seen your work and knows you and trusts you, you have to trust you too.
“Then I realized that even I don’t see myself or other people in my community who I know do work like me as enough to be representatives of our community, that’s already the voter suppression in action.”
Step-by-step solutions for everyday problems
Establishing humane border and immigration policies is a key priority for Vallejo, whose parents both immigrated from Mexico as children.
When she was in high school, Vallejo began to notice that certain spaces she used to visit felt less safe and there was an increase in cartel activity. This was followed by a noticeable increase in Border Patrol presence in his community.
After returning from New York, he realized that the top-down response at the border was neither effective nor beneficial: “I really saw with my own eyes how much leaving this idea of problem solving for the border spreading had hurt my community. It really caused me – and, I could tell, other members of the community – to find other ways to solve this problem.”
Vallejo turned to organizations working to provide housing for migrant asylum seekers, create safe spaces for LGBTQ+ asylum seekers, and record the histories of separated families at the border. Through these experiences, she “could see that there’s a lot more opportunity when you approach this issue in a different way.”
In fact, she sees the border as “a hotbed for the fusion of solutions, of cultures, of experiences that might be the solutions we need.” For her, building walls and constantly monitoring citizens and non-citizens is “like taking a bat for a fly”.
In addition to immigration reform, Vallejo is also a supporter of minimum wage increases, affordable and accessible education, and Medicare for All, among other progressive policies.
The need for universal health care is personal to Vallejo: While studying in New York, her mother died after living with multiple sclerosis for 15 years.
Her South Texas community lacks the physical infrastructure to meet the health needs of its population, she said. Community members must regularly travel to Mexico for affordable care or organize fundraisers to cover the cost of medical care in the United States.
Changing narratives through personal relationships
With her positive outlook and community-minded approach, Vallejo is on a mission to change common perceptions about her South Texas home.
One of those stories is that people in the border regions are increasingly turning to the Republican Party.
Vallejo said his team reminds people that voters in the area don’t have any particular party loyalties.
Instead, they vote for people who actually talk to them.
“Unfortunately our former president was doing this. He was talking to people who felt they had never been spoken to,” she said.
But that fact is also an opportunity for her grassroots campaign: “That’s why I’m so excited to have chosen to do this because I know I’m a candidate who can connect with people, who is connected with people.”
“It’s my life – connecting with parts of our community that have been so largely ignored. It upsets me, and that’s why I’m doing it with even more ‘ganas’.”
Vallejo urged people across the country to look up to the Texas-15 race: “This district is one that some people want to consider a shoe on the Republican side, but they need to know – and they learn very quickly – that it there are challengers. There’s someone on the ground holding the line, and that’s me.”
The Texas primaries are scheduled for March 1, with a voter registration deadline of January 31.
Cover photo: Michelle Vallejo for Congress