My (Spanish-speaking, angelic) San Francisco friend, Diane and I are in Tijuana to help support the 7,000 Caravan members who are on the Mexican side of the border waiting for a chance to apply for asylum in the US. Since first meeting up with the Caravan five weeks ago near the Guatemalan border, we observe that some things have changed and some have not. The bad news first….
Caravan members are hungrier, sicker and colder. Although food and clothing have been in short supply throughout the Caravan’s journey, things seem worse here. At Benito Juarez Stadium, where most of the refugees are staying, there is inadequate sanitation and medical care, and the weather is changing, so many will sleep without shelter in the rain tonight. The big NGOs are not here with food or clothing and government officials told us they are only providing enough food for half the people. Since women and children eat first, the men are at risk of literally starving. The Caravan members are still relying on the generosity of local Mexicans and a handful of non-Mexican volunteers for their basic needs.
Caravan members remain peaceful and polite. In the past few days, Diane and I have helped serve food at Enclave Caracol, an amazing community center that doesn’t turn anyone away (and they need volunteers if you are available!). People wait patiently in long lines for meals, help clean up, help with shopping, express gratitude and humor. We delivered hundreds of chicken meals twice to Benito Juarez stadium…although things did get a little intense when we arrived for the third time and we had to leave with the chicken. But, as Diane says, the prospect of meat — and missing out — makes hungry people a little crazy. The scuffle at the border? A handful of frustrated people during a very short period of time caused a wildly disproportionate response by US officials and the international media. Things are quiet here now. Although the conditions for serious trouble seem to be building.
For many, there is still a feeling of hope. Many of the Caravan members still refer to their faith in god and the United States. For some, even prison (“detention”) in the United States is preferable to the conditions in their home countries. And some are falling in love. Last night, after the excitement with the chicken at Benito Juarez stadium, we headed to Enclave Caracol and found ourselves in the middle of a wedding of 9 couples who met during their journey. That chicken that almost caused a riot at the stadium was a special dinner for the 100 Caravan members who were wedding guests.