Yesterday, my San Francisco friend Diane and I arrived in the unassuming, humid and hot city of Tapachula, in the state of Chiapas, Mexico. It’s definitely a weird choice for a visit — unless you want to support the people of the Caminata de Migrantes, referred to in the English language press as “The Caravan.”
What is the Caminata de Migrantes? It is people who started walking north last Monday from the Honduran border toward Mexico, headed for the US. The Caminata began with 160 people. By Friday, 4,000 people approached the Mexican border 327 miles away. They had traveled on foot, many carrying their children, few with anything but day packs and phones. Along the way, the Guatemalans supported them with food, clothing, rides on buses and flat beds, and encouragement.
At the Mexican border, the people of the Caminata knew they would face Mexican riot police at a metal gate on the bridge over Rio Suchiate. The gate had been built that week to keep them out of Mexico in response to taunting and threats from the President of the United States. On Saturday, thousands of members of the Caminata stood calmly on the bridge and eventually broke down the gate. Others swam or took small ferries across the river. No violence on either side other than one incident involving tear gas.
The politics surrounding the Caravan are complex, and the powers-that-be want you to focus on the politics so you will overlook the reasons 4,000 people would set out on a dangerous 1500 mile trek with nothing, maybe not even the hope of a better life. In Honduras, they can’t find work. Their children are hungry. Some have been subject to violence. They are threatened and extorted by gangs, drug dealers and corrupt politicians. The situation has evolved from the policies of the United States and the global economy. You can read about that here. http://inthesetimes.com/article/21427/honduras-temporary-protected-status-immigration-trump
When we arrived yesterday, we didn’t know what to expect. The news stories haven’t provided many clues for unaffiliated volunteers arriving here without connections. Like us. So this morning, Diane and I went shopping for what a CBS reporter told us was most needed among the thousands who had slept on the cement in the city’s main plaza the night before: diapers, milk, baby food, sanitary napkins, bananas and, of course, oranges.
Then we spent several hours in the plaza distributing what we had brought and learning a little about what is going on. Except for a couple of Red Cross vans, there were no signs of charitable organizations among the swell of exhausted and hungry people. One young man from the Caminata offered to help us haul fruit from the market behind the iglesia. Another helped with keeping people in lines and rounding up mothers with young babies. Several made sure the garbage was picked up in the plazas and adjacent streets. Locals handed out food and water from trucks and makeshift cooking facilities. A local restaurant owner said we could use her kitchen to make sandwiches.
Contrary to the expectations we might have had if we didn’t know our president is a consummate liar, we found no “unknown Middle Easterners” (we tried, we love our Middle Eastern refugee friends) or rapists and murderers (they stayed behind in Honduras — why would they leave?). Instead, we saw thousands of stressed out, hungry people helping each other, talking quietly and then lining up in the main road, without police support, to resume their walk north.
We look forward to spending part of tomorrow with the next group expected to arrive in Tapachula.
The deplorable conditions which have driven these people from their homeland are beyond my comprehension.
As long as we live in a world of nation-states, I am without solutions to this and other mass migrations of peoples looking for a better life.
Providing them with oranges and other foodstuffs and health related items is only to the good, but I don’t know what the end game will be and I fear the worst.
In the short term, I think the “caravan” is playing right into the hands of Trump and his cohorts.
That said, the desperation driving these people is heartbreaking and I fully support you and Diane providing whatever humanitarian assistance to them you’re able to offer.
Thanks for the nice comments. But the message has got to stop being about the politics of TRUMP– this is playing into his hands because that’s where the media and the politicans have focused the debate. If the focus were to be on why this is happening, and expressions of empathy for people who could be us — or our grandparents — it would be better for the immigrants, the refugees and the rest of the world.
Please continue to post. I have no idea what will happen when they reach the US border though I have lots of fears for that time.
Thank you for your interest….yes, there is no good ending to this short of a miracle. But they do happen
While I support you and the Caminata (both in concept and financially, as you know) I have to question the timing of this event. The midterm elections are two weeks away. While we’d love it if people in the US saw the real story behind the march, Trump and his cronies have and will lie about it in order to scare the uninformed American populace. If it tips political races here to the right, the entire world will suffer further as a result. This would have been better if it occurred after the election.
Ok yes, but not better for the people who are fleeing violence and starvation….
Do happy you made it and I know they appreciate everything they are given. As I sit here in central Mexico, I’m watching their journey closely now because of you. I had needed a news break because of how Dr Ford has been treated by many in our government. I have friends that have lived in and are from Honduras. I worry for them but I know they couldn’t stay. Mexico has been welcoming from what I can gather. The people here are the best. So kind and generous and genuinely happy. As they get closer, I may join those like you, passing out food and doing what I can. I can’t imagine what the mothers and fathers must feel. We have been blessed with what we have and much of that is because our great grandparents made a journey long and far to give their children a better life.
So happy you made it and I know they appreciate everything they are given. As I sit here in central Mexico, I’m watching their journey closely now because of you. I had needed a news break because of how Dr Ford has been treated by many in our government. I have friends that have lived in and are from Honduras. I worry for them but I know they couldn’t stay. Mexico has been welcoming from what I can gather. The people here are the best. So kind and generous and genuinely happy. As they get closer, I may join those like you, passing out food and doing what I can. I can’t imagine what the mothers and fathers must feel. We have been blessed with what we have and much of that is because our great grandparents made a journey long and far to give their children a better life.
All true Dani.
Kimmie…with you in spirit and love. You are so brave and giving and it makes me very proud to call you a friend! Love you.
It is literally my great privilege to be here. It’s so amazing to see the grace and courage of these people.
It is heartwarming to read about your journey alongside these desperate people. A friend sent this to me and knows that my heart is with the refugees, having started a project supporting a shelter, Albergue ABBA in Celaya. We are all concerned here in San Miguel de Allende for the people of the “caminata” and preparing to help ABBA help them once they arrive. Thank you for your brave and good heart. We may be but just “a grain of sand” but, in your words, “it is literally my great privilege” to help in whatever way I can. Helping those way less fortunate than ourselves is most rewarding and you are right: “it’s so amazing to see the grace and courage of these people.” I have seen that at ABBA shelter. I’ve also witnessed the wonderful generosity and kindness of the Mexican people and am so glad I live here, at least half of every year.
Thank you for such a nice message. I hope to support the safe house in Celaya when I return to SMA. The caravan is now moving to an even more challenging part of their route — where there are no accommodations for volunteers and the pueblos are very poor. It is heartbreaking.
Kim, this whole situation is so so heartbreaking and shocking. Thank you for posting these photos, including yours, and your observations. I follow this story in the Times and the Post, but you help me understand what it’s really like there. Your efforts are making a small but personal and important difference to people there. It’s terrible that aid organizations aren’t helping at all. Of course there are now so many places where so many people need help– Yemen, Syria, Venezuela– it’s all overwhelming.
Hi Wendy, It is always a privilege meeting such courageous people. The scenes are heartbreaking. There are lots of journalists here — hopefully they will get some of the big NGOs down here because the next 150 miles of the caravan is going to be brutal. Abrazos