Solidario: A Highlight on Tony Caraballo
Solidario: A Highlight on Tony Caraballo
A familiar face to BIIN and a distinct voice to locals. Almost every Saturday between the hours of 2 p.m – 4 p.m. A man with the name tag that reads Tony sits patiently adorned with a welcoming smile and warm words, waiting to help anyone who walks into the doors of Brazos Interfaith Immigration Network. But Tony is more than just a longtime volunteer with a familiar face to BIIN. He is one of the 8 founding members of Brazos Interfaith Immigration Network, and one of the two who have stayed volunteering with BIIN since it was first founded in 2012. Originally born in Puerto Rico and later came to A&M in 1979 to complete his Masters. Tony, or more formally known as Jose Caraballo- Rivera, is a dedicated teacher of 43 years and a familiar voice to radio listeners for 33 years. He was hired as a DJ in the 90s to Bryan’s first Spanish radio station; radio Alegría (1240 am & 100.1 fm). Beginning the story of what we now know as BIIN. Through the radio, Tony would often express his thoughts and opinions on workers’ rights and immigration.
“People started coming to the radio station and would wait till the end of my shift so they could tell me their problems,” Tony describes “It was like a domino effect. People in the community realized that this man is representing us.”
The experience of being on the radio and hearing the stories of abuses from the undocumented population left an unsettling feeling within him. Affected by the distressing stories, Tony would then tell his colleague at A&M of all the mistreatments that were happening. Tony describes how being part of the radio station allowed him to learn about the stories of the community.
“Because I have been on the radio for 35 years, I can tell you every story about abuses of immigrants, people exploiting them in jobs, and housing. And because of the radio I have learned a lot about immigration, domestic violence, and divorce.”
After hearing the disturbing stories of individuals in the immigrant community. Tony and his colleagues at A&M understood that there was a problem within the Bryan community.
“A lot of people from A&M were aware of the abuses of the undocumented population. So, a group of 8 professors decided we needed an organization to defend the dignity of the undocumented population- immigrants. And one church in College Station was what initiated this gathering of professionals. I was one of the ones, invited by Angelita Garcia Alonso; a longtime activist for immigrants’ rights.”
Tony describes how he and his colleagues recognized the need for an organization like BIIN but were initially very worried. About how an organization geared towards assisting and serving immigrants would be received by the community.
“We knew there was a need for a nonprofit organization to help immigrants and we decided we are going to be it. We chose the name, and we made a constitution. But it was very frightening at first because we didn’t know how the community was going to react. Especially with choosing the name immigration to be in the title.”
Although Tony is proud of his Puerto Rican heritage and home, Brazos Interfaith Immigration Network has become one of his main life purposes.
“Bryan is now my home, I have lived here longer than anywhere else, I still say I am a Puerto Rican, but my home is Bryan,” expressing that, “What keeps me in Bryan- College Station is BIIN.”
Tony has not just had a profound effect on the community of Bryan but on the volunteers of BIIN as well. One long-time volunteer with BIIN sharing,
“On my first day as coordinator, Tony was one of the first people that welcomed me. Immediately, I knew I was in good hands. He made sure to make me feel like I was part of the team and like I could count on him. He’s been a great mentor/supervisor to me while at BIIN. Without him, it would’ve been hard to adjust to my role. He goes out of his way to help others!”
Another Volunteer recounting,
“Very recently a Honduran family arrived that had suffered greatly during their travels north. He gave them his clothes, took them to BISD to register kids, and found them a place to stay. He’s such an integral part of our community at BCS and BIIN. He’s a real advocate and activist for the immigrants here.”
When describing the connection between the community and himself Tony replied with one word.
Being vulnerable, and open about his upbringing has allowed Tony to connect and become a representative of the community. Expressing how he often feels like the individuals he helps are family members. Further describing how he receives calls at all hours of the day when he is at home about a myriad of circumstances. Explaining how it feels as if he is talking to a relative on the phone.
“What I do, I do because of passion because it is inherent to who I am.” Stating, “Working with immigrants is my number one passion, there is nothing more important in my life than helping. It is my vocation to teach. And helping the immigrant community is now inherent in my identity.”
Tony has been very humble and consistently shies away from any recognition of his work and advocacy stating that.
“When people reward me or recognize me for the work I do I feel that it is not correct. What I do I do out of passion. I am a teacher by vocation. I love teaching. So, recognizing me for teaching doesn’t make sense because it is my passion.” Further explaining, “What I do out of passion seems contradictory to reward. If I didn’t like doing it but was very effective, then recognition for my work would make sense.”
However, despite his humility, his kindness has not gone unnoticed. He was awarded the KBTX, Daniel Stark Law Firm Award for “Being Remarkable”. He won 500 dollars and immediately donated it back to Brazos Interfaith Immigration Network. Tony believes that God calls on him to serve the undocumented local community.
“Serving is my church and that is how I testify about my faith” Describing how his testimony is his “daily conduct.”
It would be too easy to describe the selflessness, passion, and dedication of Jose Caraballo- Rivera or Tony’s characters as having a big heart or going the extra mile for others. He is truly a role model for BIIN and the community in which he serves. The testimonies from himself, the volunteers which he works alongside, and the community he serves; do more than define his compassion. Tony’s unrelenting commitment to helping others is truly the embodiment of Brazos Interfaith Immigration Network. Unjudging, kind, helpful, selfless, determined, and above all else a passionate advocate.
Thank you, Tony- Jose Caraballo- Rivera, for your selfless service to the community and BIIN!
Thank you to Avery Rodriguez for writing this profile!