Migrant Caravan: Life At The Border

What has brought us to this point?

It’s Monday morning in Mexico, I’m getting ready to come back to the U.S. after the holiday break and as I’m getting in my car, I see a military chopper flying very close over my mom’s house. I was so surprised, I didn’t have time to reach for my phone to take a picture or video. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen choppers before; I guess it was the reason the chopper was flying over that felt surreal in some way. To put things into perspective, my family lives almost two blocks from the border, just twenty minutes from a U.S. military base camp, and not once have we ever seen any military activity close to our home. As this chopper flew by, I felt like something had changed in our reality. It was a somber morning.

In the ten minute drive to the border, I passed seven border patrol cars. Normally in that area, you only pass one or two driving south. The increase in security all across the border has definitely been noticed and it has put somewhat of an eerie feeling in the community. Not a regular holiday season cheer, that’s for sure.

For the past two weeks, living in a border city has sparked an ongoing conversation about the migrant caravan. Good or bad, everyone seems to have something to say. You wake up to memes about things some of the migrants have done or said, or to WhatsApp chains asking the government to do something to restore stability in our country. Other times, the messages have a scary precautionary tone – like the cartels warning the community to stay in their homes because they were going to force the migrants out of the country. Thankfully this warning did not become a real threat for the entire caravan. A few migrants were in fact attacked for “offending the Mexican people”, but knowing what this threat could have meant for the entire group, people are just happy things did not escalate to unnecessary violence. Some of us were forwarded a “warning” post Monday night. Needless to say, it set a different tone for Thanksgiving week this year. The saddest part about this situation is the reason these people fled their countries to begin with was to escape this kind of danger just to end up in the same place after walking thousands of miles.

Our hometown is three hours away from Tijuana. Very few migrants have passed through since most were sent to Tijuana on buses. It seems our government decided Baja California should deal with their situation, but this hasn’t stopped the U.S. border initiative to secure our border entry. Lanes have been closed, wires line both the border fence and other lanes coming to and from the U.S. back to Mexico. As a result the border wait time has increased significantly in all entry points. This has created a negative sentiment towards the caravan for “creating this problem”. Kinda like in elementary school when one of your classmates got the whole group in trouble. You were annoyed with them because you had to pay for their deed, but in reality you weren’t that onboard with your teacher either. It’s a complicated situation. You want everyone to be safe and receive fair treatment, but in situations like these, there will always be collateral damage.

It was Thanksgiving when the first group of migrants who, realizing the U.S. wasn’t going to open their doors for them, as they were initially promised at the beginning of their journey, tried to approach the San Ysidro border but were convinced to turn around by Mexico officials. Ironically, this is the same day in history that colonizers decided to kill and take over other people’s land. In case you didn’t know, like most Disney movies, Thanksgiving too is a twisted story; definitely not as nice and magical as you’d like to believe.

After hearing about Sunday’s incident at the border of San Ysidro and San Diego and the caravan’s attempt to cross through, my first thought was, “how did Europe handle their refugee situation”? Why are we as citizens of this transitory country not capable of handling this? Is this feeling of uncertainty the norm in these situations? How can we better educate ourselves to be more empathetic? How can we be better organized as a country to deal with all these asylum applications, requests for shelters or even places for migrants to wait for their turn to apply for asylum? Right now people are forced to wait in streets or outside businesses affecting customers and potentially revenue.

 

Empty businesses assure the closing of the border has affected their foot traffic. Image: Telemundo 20.

 

Much is said in the news that Tijuana residents are against the caravan, that there were marches protesting against their presence and possible stay in the city, but that group doesn’t represent the whole. The city feels divided between locals, that part is true. When we ask friends living in Tijuana about the situation, some respond with “Not sure. I haven’t been affected by it.” Others say “I don’t really want to give my opinion. It’s all very complicated.” And then there are the ones that claim the caravan is taking advantage of Mexico’s aid, that there are many criminals that will end up staying in Mexico, and that due to the border closing for a few hours, businesses suffered a loss of millions of dollars. Collateral damage.

It’s always the case that a few people who decide to cut corners or simply have their own agenda, cause the rest of the group to pay for their mistakes. From rejecting food and leaving trash behind to speaking badly about the Mexican people, many migrants created a sense of animosity with groups in the Mexico community. Some people responded with a flood of memes while others took to more drastic measures.

Military installing wires around border fence and crossing lanes.

 

Delays in border crossing and messy common areas don’t justify the backlash from the Tijuana community. Why the animosity then?

There were many speculations about why the caravans had been organized in the first place. Some people don’t understand why the governments in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador weren’t able to provide safety and job security for their people. The reality is that politicians and leaders in these countries, fueled by their own agenda and greed, have left people in desperate situations. Unfortunately, people of Tijuana who are protesting against the caravan don’t believe their stories. It’s easier to reject the unknown then to try to understand it and help fix it.

So this brings me back to my original question, “How did we get here?”

How did we become the region in Mexico less tolerable towards our fellow Latinxs? Only a few months ago, Mexico was against the U.S. immigration techniques and now the northern part of the country is starting to think that Mexico officials should mirror these same techniques? It’s interesting how things are looked at differently until they affect you personally.

Let’s hope none of us are ever in a situation where leaving everything behind and walking to another country is our only option to survive. I’m sure most of us can’t imagine what that is like. We don’t even want to walk across the grocery store parking lot, let alone a country. Thanksgiving has passed, but let’s take the name of the holiday to heart and be thankful for how lucky we are to be safe, healthy and happy.

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