Death and Dreams in the Desert

It was different not to see Alejandro and Jeremias* at the Comedor. They had gone to another part of Mexico, and would be crossing the dangerous border as I write this. The wind was unusually cold in the past two nights they headed there. And I could not imagine them ravaged by the cold nights and the intense heat of the desert. I wished they had brought some warm clothes or a blanket, but that would just add to the weight that they’re carrying. They had more to carry than what I could bear. Fear and uncertainty had to be heavier than any yoke imagined.

The Comedor was unusually quiet when I arrived. The group of Alejandro and Jeremias were not there. I was displaced at the kitchen by Lupita who was manning it after a long vacation. I just met her this morning, and she’s great with Margarita and Carmelita. They were my Trés Marias: the Señoras of the Cucina. And I was their muchacito, doing things at their bidding, with the affection of doting mothers.

On rare occasions, when it dawned on them that I was actually a priest, they called me their padrecito; joking that if I would become a bishop, I should invite them to Las Islas Filipinas. Of course, I said, “Sí!” – knowing that it would never happen, and it shouldn’t. I’d rather die (sorry, bishops!).

As we began to pour Oat Milk-Drinks in plastic glasses, I saw Mateo, Lucas and Marco, the remaining members of Alejandro’s group who decided to stay. I was glad to see Mateo, but I wondered why they all looked so sad with a trace of distress macho men don’t usually show. But their eyes betrayed them. In addition, they were seated with the new migrants. They used to take the special table for migrant volunteers. Sometimes there would be a special item there.

To my surprise, Lucas and Marco did not finish their drinks. They didn’t even have breakfast. I learned from Mateo that they found a job and their employer came to get them before we were able to serve Spanish rice, frijoles, and macaroni in chilli con carne.

But I still could not let go of the feeling that there was something wrong. Was it the type of job that they were vulnerable to? I did not know what they found. But many migrants had fallen into the trap of drug cartels, who could pay them more than they could earn for a month.

At this time, $2000.00 was the running price for crossing the border. I heard women were their contacts. They in turn would assure them that they had contacts at the Indian reserve, because border patrols could not enter reservations. But the downpayment had to be done. Where could you find two thousand bucks if you’re destitute and desperate?

The work at the frontiers, as the Kino Border Initiative, always entails danger, daring, and an almost impossible dream. This is true to us and those we serve. When one’s belonging is as sparse as a glimmer of hope, your dream should be bigger and irresistible than any discouragement. It needs one to be foolish enough to pursue it; and single-hearted enough to take that one chance.

We discourage unauthorized border crossings; but nevertheless, we are present at the crossroad of a migrant’s life, when the choice is life-altering or life- threatening. A record of 2,765 migrants were deported last week; 78 died in the desert from October 2010 to the present. Fr. Sean Carroll SJ, executive director of the Kino Border Initiative, said that it gets worse in the summer, around June to August. In 2009-2010, 214 bodies had been recovered. On 20 February 2008, the body of Josseline Quinteros from El Salvador was found. She died while crossing the Arizona desert. She was 14 years old.

For, what would you give for a chance at a better life? Or, for the open arms of the one you love most? The passionate lover will answer, “Everything” and will do it until the last drop of blood.

I know of Someone who did.

*not their real names.

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