And he says goodbye. Alejandro’s* plan is to return to the United States, taking off somewhere in Mexico and then walk across the Cerro Pinacate desert, a hostile, black, and barren landscape. It is a long stretch of inhospitality, little surface water and heat, with temperatures as high as 120° F. He cannot settle in Mexico because his family lives in California.
As Sr. Engracia ME packs sandwiches for him and places them in a used plastic bag, I realize I will never know whether he will return to his family alive. Fr. Sean Carroll SJ, Director of the Kino Border Initiative, said that from October 2009 – September 2010, a total of 258 bodies were found in the desert. As of this writing 78 deaths have occurred since October 2010, recorded by the organization called No Mas Muertes (No More Deaths). No Mas Muertes endeavors to prevent further deaths caused by unauthorized border crossings from Mexico to the United States. These undocumented migrants cross the borders because their families live in the US or they have to support their families they left behind in Mexico or Central America.
I work at the kitchen of the Comedor, the feeding center of the Kino Border Initiative (Like our page here). Some migrants stay for awhile and help us in our work as a gesture of great gratitude. They have become my friends, getting by with my little Spanish and their little English. But relying on trust, non-verbal communication, and pure companionship, we are able to share some part of our lives that we don’t divulge to strangers.
The companionship though does not promise forever. They have to move on with their lives: deciding to stay for good, wait some years, or take the risk of crossing the border again. Alejandro once had to deal with extortion from shady characters who promise to safely bring them across only if he pay them $2000.00 dollars. To the poorest migrants, they will get the phone numbers of their relatives in the US to extort money from them before they are released. Some women have experienced physical, sexual and psychological abuse on their way back to the US.
But returning from where they come from in Mexico or Central America is not an option. Just recently, Mexico confronted mass killings in the northeastern state of Tumaulipas, where drug trafficking networks Los Zetas and the Gulf Cartels extorted and kidnapped undocumented migrants. 240 bodies (and counting) were recovered in San Fernando, around 85 miles south of the Mexico-Texas border. (related news here) Death awaits if one returns, so the bleak possibility of a better life is worth the risk. They have done it before, and why not again?
And on my part, the Comedor experience will end in a few weeks. I will return to Los Angeles for the last leg of my Tertianship, before I head back to a new assignment at the other end of the globe.
At the Comedor, people come and go. But you cannot be un-involved, un-attached, and cold. We provide warm food, and we serve them with great passion. It is a place for the heart and the soul. It is place for all to dine in peace, hospitality and friendship.
When they come, they are welcomed by a line of volunteers greeting them with “Buenos dias/tardes!” a handshake and a wide genuine smile. Our hearts are like the door of the Comedor, it opens to whoever needs it; and closes when they are ready to move on.
And when they go, we wish them the hope they need and let God be with them. That is why, as they leave, we say, “Adios!”
With the hundred migrants we feed every day, our lives converge at a certain point, hoping that in that brief moment at table, we have all recognized the Lord in the breaking and sharing of the bread of our lives.
And so it is with Alejandro, and many others like him. As I lay my hands on his head for the blessing, I prayed to the Lord to be with him.
And I? I can only hope that he returns to the open arms of his family, safe and sound.
*not his real name.
- Migrants forced to be sex slaves in Mexico (thehighlyphe.wordpress.com)
- 51 migrant hostages rescued in Mexico (edition.cnn.com)