Wednesday, May 21, 2008
TROUBLE IN CHIAPAS
Mauricio is a 29 year old man who we met at the Tecun Uman house. He left to work in the United States for the first time at age 25 and has attempted to make the trip six times since that first try. Each time he was caught and sent back but he continues to go for the sake of his family. When we talked with him he was kind enough to tell us about a few of his past attempts.
Mauricio told us he leaves for economic reasons and that its harder to leave each time knowing that it may be the last time he sees his wife and children. He stated that it is harder now because his children are getting old enough to understand the reality of the daunting trip he faces. The migrant horror stories circulate in Central American towns and knowing that his children are hearing them makes leaving all the more difficult. Mauricio's kids are now ages 13, 8, and 6. In response to why he makes the trip he referenced them and their education. "Not to have luxuries, but to have their needs met".
On the first attempt he told us about how he ran into problems in the southernmost Mexican state of Chiapas. He was walking the three day trip from Tapachula to the tracks now at Arriaga. This stretch is known as "La Rosera" and is infamous for migrant robbery. Soon after crossing through the town of Huixtla he was robbed. He wasn't carrying much money but they took everything he had. When asked who the bandits were he described them as "Not gang members but people who are opportunists. People that say here comes easy money". They used a pistol to rob him. Once they had robbed him they let him continue north. That same day as he continued to walk he was assaulted again by a different group of robbers. The robbers were angry when they found out that he had nothing. Not wanting to be left empty handed for all of their trouble they took Mauricio's shoes. After telling us this story he stopped abruptly and told me "But that story doesn't even compare to the time before that".
The events unfolded in a town near the Texas border named "San Louis Potosi".
"We got there about two in the morning from another train", Mauricio began.
"We were tired after a long train ride so we decided to get off in San Louis Potosi to rest to re-cooperate our strength. At this point we had enough money to continue by bus but the bus left at seven in the morning, five hours from when we got off the train. I was traveling with a childhood friend from my Neighborhood in Honduras. I had grown up with him and we were practically brothers. Suddenly after about two hours of rest a train appeared, moving fast. Without talking it over my friend jumped up and started to chase it yelling for me to follow over his shoulder. Since I didn't want to be left alone I got up and followed him running. Because it was still early in the morning it was dark and hard to see. My friend up ahead of me managed to get on so I ran trying to do the same.
As I ran I didn't see one of the planks on which the tracks lie sticking out past the rest. Because I couldn't see I tripped on the board sending me flying through the air. As I fell I did not shut my eyes, I saw everything that happened. It was just a second but I saw that I was falling towards the wheels. And I don't know how it happened but I was able to turn and landed right next to the moving wheels. My head hit something on the way down and that's how I got this scar."
He pointed to a scar about an inch and a half long cutting his left eyebrow into two sections. He told us that his childhood friend then came running up to him in tears because from his perspective he could not see the lower part of Mauricio's body. His friend thought that Mauricio had become another victim of the train. When he saw that Mauricio was alright he was overjoyed but Mauricio told him to leave him alone for a while, he needed time to think.
"I lay there for about an hour and a half because of the scare. Because that happens in seconds, you don't mess around with the train. A lot of people have been cut in half by the train, but there's a saying... He who doesn't risk, doesn't gain. As I lay there while the train was rushing by I only thought about my family. My mom, my kids and my wife. I lay there thanking God for this new opportunity. A lot of people mess up like that because they don't want to be left alone. Not everyone can catch a train when its moving that fast. I couldn't judge how fast the train was going because it was still so dark out."
Mauricio's story is a lucky one. A single trip to the Hospital in Tapachula or a walk by the tracks in Arriaga will show you that not every story ends happily.
Shifting gears Mauricio then told us of an experience when he felt blessed by the generosity of the Mexican people, whom he told us had helped him many times.
"It's a hard trip, the one who helps us is God. God touches the hearts of the Mexicans who help us. There is this one place where the train moves slowly for thirteen hours, and when it stops, there's nothing around. On this day the heat was extreme up there on top of the trains. Making things worse, a lot of us had thrown our water bottles when we had hopped on because sometimes its impossible to catch trains when you are weighed down by water bottles. So we were left thirsty without water in the heat of the desert."
The heat in the desert is often over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Couple this with the fact that people are on darkly painted metal trains and you have an easy recipe for heat exhaustion. Fainting in these circumstances accounts for many of the deaths associated with the train aptly named by migrants, "El Tren de la Muerte" or The Train of Death.
Mauricio continued. "So what happened next is we went by this little town rather slowly and we asked this guy by the tracks for water, but he didn't get the water out to us in time to throw it up. But since the train was moving slowly he got in his truck and caught up to us. He parked ahead of the train by the tracks and set up to throw the water up to us. He was able to throw up about 4 bottles of water, thank God. Sometimes the people, a lot of people, throw bags of food up to us near Mexico City."
At this point we asked Mauricio if things like that ever happen here in Chiapas.
"No not in Chiapas, but there are some people who will share food. The problem is that some migrants don't ask out of fear, because there are bad people out there too. What do they do? Well you walk by and they tell the migra 'There go a bunch of migrants' and the next thing you know there is a squad up ahead waiting for us. But in the end its all worth it, for that chance to better your family's way of life".
ON THE TEXAS BORDER
As if the prior experiences were not enough Mauricio still had stories to tell us. On another attempt to make it to the United States Mauricio made it to a border town by the name of "Piedras Negras". Once in the town he made a deal with a Coyote to lead him across the unfamiliar terrain to the United States. It was November and and very cold.
"We had no idea it got that cold on the border" Mauricio began. "I got in on a Tuesday around three in the afternoon and our group of 15, including four guides, crossed the river at about two am that night. We walked for the next hour then rested for an hour and everything was fine, but then it got cold".
We asked if the group was wet from crossing the river.
"We weren't wet because we carried our clothes in black plastic bags. And the water is shallow at Piedras Negras, it only goes up to about your knees. But then the wind picked up and it got very cold and as the sun was coming up it started to snow. The trip was only supposed to take two days, but because of the cold, wind, rain and snow the guides got lost. So we walked and walked and never got there.
We ended up walking for five days, but after day two we were out of food because you dont carry a lot. Only what you can carry in a little back pack. Not enough to fill a person up, just enough to get by. So we were out of food, we were out of water, but the real killer was the cold. The snow was gathering on the ground and with each step we sank deeper. Once the snow was past our feet it began to pack around our shoes and as you know snow gets heavy when it sticks like that. So by the fourth day people started fainting. In our group there was a sixteen year old kid, well he seemed like a kid to me. I saw him fall over. He was traveling with his uncle who pleaded with me to help him carry the boy. I really wanted to help but I couldn't. If I had stopped to help carry the boy the guide would have left us and we would have died in the cold.
At this point the group was all split up. There was only one guide in front of us because the other three couldn't take the walking. They were somewhere behind us at this point. My knees were all swollen and I prayed, 'My God, let us arrive, help me, If I stay here I am going to die!'. Because the thing about coyotes is that they aren't going to risk staying behind for one if it means endangering themselves or the rest of the group. If you fall behind they will tell you to hurry up, but if you don't, they will leave you. They are in it for the money. That's what's important to them, the money. They aren't about to risk staying in one place too long for fear of the 'Migra', because they have trucks and planes on their side."
"One time I made the trip with my wife and the Coyotes left us. My wife just wasn't strong enough to make the journey." Mauricio told us, still talking about the dangers associated with using a coyote.
"We had only been walking for a day, but it was at a fast pace. My wife was exhausted and her knees were all swollen from the journey so I pleaded with the coyote to let us rest. I begged him not to leave us because we had no idea where we were. All around us were mountains not a house in sight. I told him that if we rested for a while that my wife would recuperate and be able to continue at a faster pace, firmly believing that to be true. I just thought she needed to rest.
Reluctantly the coyote agreed, but he insisted we could not stay for long, a quick rest would be all he would allow. I layed her down to rest for a while but when it was time to keep moving my wife began to cry. 'I can't make it! I can't make it!' she sobbed. The coyote and the rest of the group got up and left."
Mauricio was left alone with his wife in the middle of the night in unfamiliar territory. He knew that since they had already walked for some time they must be near their destination but their options were quickly dwindling with the coyote gone.
"I was desperate. Once again I began to pray. We didn't know where we were, we were out of food, and we had only a little bit of water left. At that point I knew I would have to carry her. So I lifted her to my back and just started walking. We didn't have much water so from time to time I would allow myself to wet my lips. We had to make frequent stops because I would feel like I was about to faint.
There came a point where we were out of water and we stumbled upon a little puddle. The water was dirty and we could tell that this was where the cattle drank because there were droppings everywhere. But we were thirsty and out of options so we used my shirt as a strainer to try and make the water a little bit cleaner. After that we kept walking and walking until I saw a streetlight from a highway and I knew we were saved. When we got to the highway we hugged and fell asleep right by the road. At dawn we were picked up by the Border Patrol. I explained to them that my wife needed medical attention and they were good to us. I didn't complain, thank God we were picked up. She's the mother of my kids, my wife, and I love her. I can always try again, but we only live once. After that trip my wife swore that she would never again make the journey to the United States."
at 5:05 PM