GARY, Ind. (CNS) — If the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. were asked today to comment on the U.S. immigration issue, what would he say about “those people?”

According to J. Guadalupe Valtierra, King would not close this country’s borders, nor would he only welcome the better educated, professional immigrants. Valtierra said Rev. King would welcome those “who want a better life,” which was the case for his own parents.

Speaking at the Gary Diocese’s seventh annual tribute to Rev. King held recently at Holy Angels Cathedral, Valtierra, chancellor emeritus of Ivy Tech Community College, said the slain civil rights leader would welcome those “steeped in faith” who enter this country “with compassion, commitment and the will to succeed.”

Rev. King, Valtierra said, believed that change comes through continuous struggle while challenging Americans to “be strong in our resolve … to be connected.”

The son of Mexican immigrants who wanted something better for their family, Valtierra said America should not be seen as a melting pot, but more like a salad, casserole or gumbo.

A graduate of Gary’s Emerson High School, the former educator likened this country of immigrants to the concert choir from the Wirt-Emerson Visual and Performing Arts High Ability Academy singing at the cathedral tribute.

A choir consists of many components, “but you bring them all together, what beautiful music results. That is diversity,” said Valtierra, who belongs to St. Mary Parish in Griffith.

The Jan. 12 cathedral event was held in observance of Rev. King’s birthday, Jan. 15. The federal holiday marking his birthday was Jan. 20.

Diversity and immigration, the keynote speaker continued, are issues that relate to civil rights.

The annual tribute featured orator Troy Patterson Thomas’ rendition of Rev. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech and several musical numbers at the Wirt-Emerson choir.

Milagro Martinez, 18, a senior member of the choir, said the King tribute meant a lot to her.

“I’m biracial, and (Rev.) Martin Luther King opened doors for us,” Martinez told the Northwest Indiana Catholic, Gary’s diocesan newspaper. “My dad is Mexican and his parents came to this country, so (immigration) is a very big part of our lives.”

Alontaye Flippins, 15, a sophomore choir member, said Rev. King “put his life on the line for us, and we would not be able to do what we do, thanks to him.”

Today a practicing attorney, Valtierra stressed taking that “first step to faith.” Immigration, he said, “is our problem. We are responsible for helping find a solution … but we have to take that first step.”

Immigration is not just an American issue, Valtierra continued. “All of us did not start here,” he said, noting that Americans, including some of the Wirt-Emerson students, may emigrate to other countries.

Recalling his family, Valtierra said his father, a shoemaker in Mexico, could make a living in his native country, but his parents knew life could be better elsewhere. So he and his wife came with their five children to America in 1956. They had six more children. They struggled, but they made it.

That was more than 50 years ago. Half a century later, Valtierra said, this country is still battling poverty, civil rights and immigration.

If Rev. King were alive today, Valtierra said, he would point to the moral imperative in immigration.

“It’s not about us; it’s about everyone,” Valtierra said. “All humans ought to be treated with a certain dignity. We are a nation of immigrants.”

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Euvino is a staff writer at the Northwest Indiana Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Gary.