Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Mexicans in Solidarity with Central American Migrants in Vera Cruz

I hope all is well with everyone. I’m writing from Mexico City. Arrived here around noon on a bus from Xalapa, in the state of Veracruz, and tomorrow I fly to Denver. These ten days of travel in Mexico have been full of activity and sobering observations, as well as new people with their ideas and experiences from around the world.
I traveled much of the time with a friend from northern Colorado who was also presenting at the IAIE (International Association for International Education) conference in Xalapa. She was also interested in going with me to some of my regular stops along the route that Central American migrants travel in the state of Veracruz, Tierra Blanca and La Patrona. Little did she know what she was signing up for!
After leaving behind the snow in Colorado, it was delightful to land in warm, muggy Veracruz late on Friday night February 10, but still with plenty of time to hang out on the plaza buzzing with outdoor cafes, marimba music and general Friday night merry-making. Saturday we wandered a little and then took the bus to Tierra Blanca, a small town in the state of Veracruz where Central American migrants travel through. They usually get off one freight train and wait for another there. The numbers of migrants have been unusually high since mid-January. Fortunately, the levels of violence on the part of the drug cartels seem to have stayed down for the last couple of years. However, traveling by freight train through a country that exploits and rejects migrants continues to be extremely dangerous for them. (That country is Mexico. This all happens before they get to the U.S., the other country that both exploits and rejects migrants.) The numbers of women seemed higher, too, than the last time I was there. We hung out with a group of people I’ve come to know over the years who fix food for people right along the tracks, and they’ve had one hundred to three hundred people per day, with two or three trains leaving each day, for several weeks now. At the migrant shelter, run by Catholic nuns, they have 15 or 20 people sleep there each night, but serve a hundred or two hundred meals a day to other people who come just for meals. They’ve also seen an increase in the number of women.
Early Monday we left for La Patrona, a small community near the city of Cordoba. A group of women there have been fixing food, packing it in plastic bags, and tossing the bags of food and bottles of water to migrants passing through on trains for more than fifteen years. The trains that leave Tierra Blanca arrive in La Patrona a few hours later, so they’ve been getting the same numbers, several hundred people a day. When I was there last summer, they were still working out of an outdoor kitchen with a leaking roof and several other structural problems. An international organization helped them build a new roof and make several other improvements. At some point while we were there, I started to feel really angry and frustrated. I figured out that my anger came from the fact that no matter how many international aid organizations help build better kitchens and shelters, migrants are still risking their lives riding on the tops of freight trains so they can do the lowest-paying jobs in the U.S. and thus subsidize the economy here. And, they’re going to keep doing that until we take action to change laws and policies in this country. The kind of humanitarian help they get in Mexico keeps people alive through the horrific conditions they have to survive, but the real change needs to come from the U.S. The immediate need to feed people overwhelms people who are on the ground in places like Tierra Blanca and La Patrona, but the deeper picture needs to be fleshed out, too.
By Tuesday afternoon we were in lush, hilly Xalapa for the conference, a big change, but not completely disconnected from where we had been. The conference themes included intercultural education, social justice, indigenous education programs, migration and much more. Presenters came from Mexico and the U.S., but also from Spain, South America, Europe and the Philippines. Originally the conference language was to be English, but over the last few months it grew to be a much more bilingual conference with many workshops offered in Spanish. It was a good experience for me to attend sessions in Spanish and note the difference in my levels of engagement as I listened to people who simply read a paper in Spanish and contrasted that with people who had some kind of visuals. I did my presentation on Thursday afternoon and had a good response, including several conversations with people who talked with me later. As with most conferences, the richest moments were the conversations with other participants.
So, I’m heading home with plenty of good experiences, a few new books and motivation for what I want to do. See you all soon.