Here is a replica of “La Bestia”, joined by some small figures representing immigrants. This was created by one of the immigrants at the shelter I visited today. La Bestia is the freight train(s) that individuals take as they immigrate through México. A reality where many die, are injured, assaulted, kidnapped, etc.
I don’t even know where to begin. Today was not my typical class day. Unless of course, you consider visits to immigrant shelters in México part of your daily routine. Although, that would be unlikely given that immigration to México is often the elephant in the room for many Mexican nationals. In the United States, when the conversation shifts to undocumented immigration, the population of focus tends to be of Mexican origin. It seems both countries unintentionally (or intentionally) erase the fact that Mexicans aren’t the only ones who immigrate. While many immigrants do come from México and a lot of immigration activism sheds light on the Mexican-American border, we often forget México’s other border (and those from across oceans, but that conversation is for another day).
**In order to protect the shelter I visited and those in it, I will use “the house” in reference to the shelter instead of its actual name.**
Thanks to a group of Canadian students from Wilfrid Laurier University studying Human Rights and Immigration, along with Otros Dreams en Acción, I had the opportunity to visit the house, an immigrant shelter located in the city. Our day consisted of vulnerable conversations and strong emotions as we connected with the people who lived there. Here’s some context. The immigration of Guatemalan refugees post and during the Civil War in the 80’s provoked a call to action to support the immigrants coming into México. Thus, the home that is now the house was transformed into a store, and later, the first shelter for Central American immigrants passing through México. Though today, immigration from these countries continues to be influenced by the danger, threat to human rights, and lack of opportunities in countries like Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and more. In addition, the shelter houses immigrants from other non-Latinoamerican countries.
Priest and activist Jose Alejandro Solalinde says,
“México es un país de origen, es un país de tránsito, es un país de recepción, también de retorno. Retorno de mexicanos, retorno de extranjeros.”
“México is a country of origin, it is a country of transit, it is a country of reception, and also return. Return of Mexicans, return of foreigners.”
People within Mexican states migrate to other states, especially from rural to urban. Mexicans immigrate to the United States. Others immigrate to México, and either remain there or pass through to arrive to the United States. The same interactions undocumented immigrants have with the immigration system in the United States can be almost replicated by the ones undocumented immigrants in México (mainly from Central America) have with the Mexican immigration system. Whether it be rejection, the beginning (and end) of cases to request asylum, deportation, detention, and much more. A short documentary I watched on Vice exposes some of the experiences of immigrants in México, from extortion, kidnapping, to sexual and labor exploitation including human trafficking, drug trafficking, and more. In a way, it sets implications for how undocumented immigrants can and are commercialized throughout the country, especially through informal economies.
One of the individuals we conversed with mentioned how immigration is what most suffers the loss of human rights. The documentary states that although all of these experiences can happen to those who are citizens, the difference becomes more apparent when no one is talking about nor fighting for the human rights of immigrants when they are victims to them. They become easy prey for impunity and corruption. Yet they are people too. Documentation has so much power over people’s lives. I’ve questioned it a lot in the United States, and what it means to be undocumented (and DACAmented) there. I’m beginning to learn and question how it influences peoples’ lives and rights here in México too, and how community organizing and activism are present (or absent).
The piece on the left says, “we are all migrants, and each migrant deserves everything”.
As a DACAmented individual in the United States who is undergoing higher education, my immigrant story is very different from those I met today at the house. I hold that the undocumented immigrant experience in the United States at the present moment (and in the past) is a beast in its own ways, but this is a new monster that I too need to be aware of. There are many privileges I hold, despite the challenges I myself face as an immigrant. The simple fact that I am able to document this is one of them. The fact that I even have an opportunity to study the immigration systems and to desire to do research is another.
When I’m in México this summer, I want to do my best to step outside of my bubble, or better yet, my borders. I want to step outside of my own experiences. Not to forget them or erase them, because they influence my development in many ways, but to become open to the experiences of others who are also immigrants, and in this case immigrants to México who identify as undocumented and/or refugees. Though my day was filled with a lot of sadness poured from the stories of those I connected with, it was also joined by hope and animo because of the work this shelter, along with its network, is doing with these communities. During our visit we were shown murals painted by some of the immigrants through community projects, and a community member mentioned how even through tasks like these, individuals are empowered to recognize that they are humans and deserve rights just as anybody else.
Before leaving, they noted that “La sensibilización empieza con la vista”. Awareness begins with the view, or the sight. I want to add that action and prolonged awareness begins with connection, and I will take with me the stories I was able to listen to today and the empowerment I felt from those I was able to connect with.
Part of the inside mural.
Part of an outside mural.
Sticker I found on the wall.
p.s. Here is a link to the Vice documentary: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2mWE8A8uqNI
and the English version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GzEUHF1KPY8