Walking Together: Central Americans and Transit Migration Through Mexico 0816546452, 9780816546459

Migration through Mexico is violent and uncertain, yet in Walking Together we see how this experience bonds some people

173 96 3MB

English Pages 192 [188] Year 2023

Report DMCA / Copyright

DOWNLOAD FILE

Polecaj historie

Walking Together: Central Americans and Transit Migration Through Mexico
 0816546452, 9780816546459

Table of contents :
Contents
List of Illustrations
Acknowledgments
Abbreviations
Introduction
1. Why Do Central Americans Leave Their Countries?
2. Mistrust, Violence, and Uncertainty on the Migrant Trail
3. Families in Transit
4. A Pueblo That Walks Together
5. Familias del Camino: Road Families
Is There an End to the Journey?
References
Index

Citation preview

Walking Together

Walking Together Central Americans and Transit Migration Through Mexico

ALEJANDRA DÍAZ DE LEÓN

The University of Arizona Press www​.uapress​.arizona​.edu We respectfully acknowledge the University of Arizona is on the land and territories of Indigenous peoples. Today, Arizona is home to twenty-­two federally recognized tribes, with Tucson being home to the O’odham and the Yaqui. Committed to diversity and inclusion, the University strives to build sustainable relationships with sovereign Native Nations and Indigenous communities through education offerings, partnerships, and community service. © 2023 by The Arizona Board of Regents All rights reserved. Published 2023 ISBN-­13: 978-­0-­8165-­4646-­6 (hardcover) ISBN-­13: 978-­0-­8165-­4645-­9 (paperback) ISBN-­13: 978-­0-­8165-­4647-­3 (ebook) Cover design by Leigh McDonald Cover photo by Ruben Figueroa, map by freevectormaps.com Typeset by Sara Thaxton in 10/14 Warnock Pro with Archetype and Minion Pro An earlier version of chapter 4 was previously published in Journal of Borderland Studies. Publication of this book is made possible in part by the proceeds of a permanent endowment created with the assistance of a Challenge Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, a federal agency. Library of Congress Cataloging-­in-­Publication Data Names: Diáz de León, Alejandra, 1987– author. Title: Walking together : Central Americans and transit migration through Mexico / Alejandra Díaz de León. Description: [Tucson] : The University of Arizona Press, 2023. | Includes bibliographical references and index. Identifiers: LCCN 2022031505 (print) | LCCN 2022031506 (ebook) | ISBN 9780816546459 (paperback) | ISBN 9780816546466 (hardcover) | ISBN 9780816546473 (ebook) Subjects: LCSH: Immigrants—Central America. | Central Americans—Social networks—Mexico. | Central America—Emigration and immigration—Social aspects. | Mexico—Emigration and immigration—Social aspects. Classification: LCC JV7412 .D53 2023 (print) | LCC JV7412 (ebook) | DDC 325.728—dc23/ eng/20221021 LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2022031505 LC ebook record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2022031506 Printed in the United States of America ♾ This paper meets the requirements of ANSI/NISO Z39.48-­1992 (Permanence of Paper).

To the hundreds of men and women who talked to me about their experiences of crossing Mexico. Without their generosity and willingness to share their stories, none of my research would have been possible.

Contents

List of Illustrations ix Acknowledgments xi Abbreviations xv

Introduction

3

1. Why Do Central Americans Leave Their Countries?

27

2. Mistrust, Violence, and Uncertainty on the Migrant Trail

44

3. Families in Transit

67

4. A Pueblo That Walks Together

91

5. Familias del Camino: Road Families

111



Is There an End to the Journey?

140

References 153 Index 163

Illustrations

Figures 1. Walking interview before the train leaves in Palenque 2. A volunteer and a migrant study a map of the route 3. The sole of the foot of someone who had been walking for two months to cross Mexico 4. A picture of a migrant house on the southern border of Mexico 5. The border wall in Tijuana, Mexico 6. The view from the Sonoran Desert 7. A cross in the Sonoran Desert

24 48 57 85 109 141 150

Map 1. Map of the main migrant routes between 2014–­2018, with my field sites marked

18

Acknowledgments

I did most of the research for this book while studying for my PhD in the Sociology Department at the University of Essex, a truly encouraging and supportive institution. Yasemin Soysal, my supervisor, was exactly the type of mentor I needed. She was as enthusiastic about the research as she was critical, for which I thank her. Pete Fussey always provided excellent, insightful comments about my ethnography and was continually surprised by my findings. I first knew Colin Samson and Carlos Gigoux as teachers, and they quickly became friends. When I imagined the type of academic I wanted to be when I was older, I thought of them. Carmen Fernandez Casanueva was a very generous external reader, and her critiques were essential to improving the book. Bill, Can, Tilo, and Sergio were the best PhD cohort I could have wished for. Tatiana and Aiko became my best friends and my biggest cheerleaders. They showed me how we can lift each other up and share in each other’s successes. This research was generously funded by the Mexican National Council for Science and Technology. The Society of Latin American Studies and the Gilchrist Foundation funded my fieldwork in Mexico. I had the amazing opportunity to finish my PhD while undertaking a fellowship at the Center for U.S.-­Mexican Studies (USMEX). The center provided me with a rich and stimulating environment in which to think about my findings, write up my research, meet great scholars, and hike. I especially want to thank Rafael Fernández de Castro and Greg Mallinger for their support. David FitzGerald, my mentor during that year, encouraged me to write

xii

Acknowledgments

and publish my findings. His advice—­that “the best moment to plant a tree was three years ago, the second-­best moment is now”—­has motivated me to keep moving forward throughout these past few years. At USMEX, I met Guillermo, Amalia, and Tobin, three excellent friends and colleagues. Suzi Hall, Gareth Jones, Vikas Chandra, and Mariann Sarquis Sepúlveda provided unwavering support and solidarity during my time at the London School of Economics and Political Science. I couldn’t have made it without you. I wrote most of this book at El Colegio de Mexico (Colmex). I want to thank my colleagues there for welcoming me during the pandemic year, for explaining to me how the university worked, and for including me in their social and academic circles. I cannot believe I am lucky enough to work in my dream job every day. Claudia Masferrer, Liliana Rivera, Isabel Gil, Beatriz Zepeda, and Luicy Pedroza formed my first academic community at Colmex. The research that informs this book would not have been possible without Maria Inclán and Jason de León, who invited me to their field school in 2015. I was a very nervous young researcher who leapt at the opportunity to do fieldwork with two amazing scholars. Laura Díaz de León and Juan Rojas have been my biggest cheerleaders since my first days at Insyde (the Institute for Security and Democracy, a civil society organization that focused on protecting the human rights of migrants in Mexico). I know I can count on Laura for anything. Juan was instrumental in arranging my Coahuila fieldwork. He even let me stay with him during my time in Saltillo. Roberto Llave has been a great friend and advisor ever since we met in 2015. He taught me about border enforcement in Nogales and the Sonoran Desert and took me on prison visits in Tucson. He is the kindest, most generous person I know. All the migrant houses where I have done fieldwork have my deepest gratitude. Your willingness to put up with me made all the difference. Thank you for the valuable job you do. Lisa McKee is the best proofreader in the world. I am sure that without her corrections, I would not have received such good comments on the manuscript. Tobin Hansen, my writing partner, read each chapter and made insightful comments throughout. Megan Ryburn shared her book proposal with me and encouraged me to send mine to the big and scary editorials. Kristen Buckles at University of Arizona Press was excited about the book from the very beginning and made this process as easy as it could have been.

Acknowledgments

xiii

The two amazing anonymous reviewers read my text with generosity and care and gave me superb feedback. Finally, I would like to thank the people who have emotionally supported me for all these years. Mau, Panquecito, Alonso, Cecile, Fer, Diego, Jimena, Itzel, and David have always been there for me, even if we have lived in different countries for most of the duration of our friendships. Ángel Palerm has always treated me as a family member. Patricia Torres was the first to read my research proposal. She has read most of my writing, given me good advice, and called me out on my personal and academic mistakes. Lety, Gina, and Gaby are always there when I need family close by. With Luis, my life partner, I learned that I can be loved and respected for being exactly who I am. I love you. Finally, I dedicate this book to my sister and my mom, the great loves of my life.

Abbreviations

AMLO CBP Colmex COMAR GATT HDI ICE INM MPP PRI TPS UNHCR USMEX VRH

Andrés Manuel López Obrador Customs and Border Protection El Colegio de Mexico Mexican Commission for Refugee Assistance General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade Human Development Index U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Mexican National Migration Institute Migrant Protection Protocols Institutional Revolutionary Party (Mexico) Temporary Protected Status United Nations Refugee Agency Center for U.S.-­Mexican Studies Visa for Humanitarian Reasons

Walking Together

Introduction

“I let myself be caught because I was so alone and so sad,” Toño told me. We had been talking for a while, chopping vegetables in the kitchen of the Coahuila Migrant House. It was our turn to prepare lunch. I had met Toño for the first time in Palenque, on the southern border of Mexico, where I had undertaken ethnographic research on Central American transit migration through Mexico. Back then, he was a first-­time migrant. Now, several months later and not far from the United States, his final destination, we had met again, and he was explaining his thwarted attempt to cross Mexico by himself and the subsequent success he had had traveling with three other men. Toño had left Tela, Honduras, shortly after his nineteenth birthday. He packed a small backpack, looked at a map of Mexico in an internet café, and bought a bus ticket to travel through Guatemala. He felt confident about making the trip because his half sister, who was already living in Chicago, had agreed to send him money throughout the journey: “I didn’t even bring much cash or anything. I thought I could take out cash when I needed it.” After arriving in Tenosique, the first town on Mexico’s southern border, Toño managed to call his sister to tell her where to send the money. After stalling for a couple of minutes, she admitted she could no longer afford to help him: She told me that while I was deciding if I wanted to go, she had spent the money on a quinceañera [big birthday party] for her daughter. There was not enough left to help me. She told me, “Call me if you arrive at the [U.S.-­

4

Introduction

Mexico] border and by then I might have saved enough to help you out.” I was stranded. I was counting on having that money, but I also felt . . . abandoned. You know, disappointment, but also fear because I looked around, I didn’t know where to go. I know the money wouldn’t have solved all my problems, obviously, but . . . I don’t know, it would have helped, right?

Even though he was disappointed, scared, and had no idea what to do, Toño pressed on. He found a road and started walking in the direction opposite to the river he had crossed. He followed a group of migrants from a distance, slept on the mountain at night, and ate what he could find, steal, or beg. “But,” he continued, “after a couple of days I just couldn’t stand it anymore. I mean, I couldn’t stand the fear and the nervousness, but I also started feeling, like, lonely, like I was disappearing. No one knew where I was. I didn’t have anyone to share a joke with or . . . I don’t know.” He kept walking, though, not knowing what else to do. Then, one morning, he saw a National Migration Institute (Instituto Nacional de Migración [INM]) checkpoint on the highway he was following. “I walked up to them and I let myself be caught because I was so alone and so sad,” he explained. As soon as he was put into the van with other migrants, he regretted it: “I talked to the other migrants in the van and they couldn’t believe I had handed myself to the Migra. I felt like an idiot.” Luckily, as Toño tells it, they managed to escape. While the van was stopped at a traffic light, one of the captive men started kicking the mesh windows. “And they cracked open! And we jumped! And we ran. I ran and ran and ran and hid. And I was free again.” Toño resumed the journey northward, but this time as part of a group. He had learned that trying to do it alone was not going to work: “What I did different this time is that I found a group of friends to walk together. I went to the migrant house and chatted with some men. We decided to go together. That made all the difference.” Toño walked, hitched rides, caught buses, and rode on top of freight trains from Mexico’s southern border to Coahuila, very close to the United States, with three other young men. The journey took them almost two months. They were violently robbed twice, got chased by the Migra in San Luis Potosí, and went hungry most nights. But no one died, and they arrived tired, dusty, but optimistic at the Coahuila Migrant House one Monday as I was sorting clothes. The four young men were inexperienced. Like Toño, the others all wanted to get to the United States but none of them had received any help from their social networks

Introduction

5

in Central America or the United States. However, they had managed to navigate the migrant route with relatively few injuries and were now on the verge of entering the United States. Migrating is a social process. When they plan to migrate, would-­be migrants consider where their friends and families live when they make their plans. Families often help them while they are preparing to leave, during the clandestine crossing, and to settle once they arrive. Friends and families sometimes help newly arrived friends and loved ones find a place to stay and work and welcome returned or deported migrants back home. For decades, Mexican migrants have relied on the help of their social networks in the United States to cross the border without documents (Massey et al. 1991; Boehm 2012). Sometimes family members guide them; sometimes they help them hire smugglers. Central American migrants also rely on their social ties back home or in the United States. However, most are likely to cross Mexico without the direct or indirect help from kin (Brigden 2018). In transit, many Central Americans are alone, surrounded by strangers, including other migrants they do not know and often do not trust. Nevertheless, migration remains a social process, with or without the help of kin-­like ties. People in transit often form groups that provide company, validation, identity, and mutual support—­in other words, a community. They also benefit from the strategic help and access to information provided by these loose associations, which also open the door to resources such as food and money. As Toño’s story shows, migrant journeys are often undertaken with others. Disaster scholars (Erikson 1995; 1976; Picou and Martin 2007) have observed that in times of scarcity and crisis, people tend to retreat into their family units for support because they mistrust others. Migration studies researchers Victor Talavera, Guillermina Gina Núñez-­Mchiri, and Josiah Heyman have also suggested that one does not always find solidarity between undocumented migrants of the same community, who are living under fear of deportation in the United States; in fact, mutual suspicion reigned in the communities they studied (Talavera, Núñez-­Mchiri, and Heyman 2010). However, it is precisely during difficult and uncertain times that people need to collaborate with strangers. Strangers and acquaintances provide a variety of different perspectives and information that goes beyond an individual’s social network. This is important because members of the same group tend to have similar information and somewhat closed social networks. For ex-

6

Introduction

ample, weak ties prove useful for refugees fleeing from war because they provide essential information that would not have been available through their traditional channels (Berg Harpviken 2009). The men and women who feature in this book are fighting two conflicting impulses. On the one hand, they do not trust those around them because they know that abuse on the road is rampant, are aware that people who look like migrants might be criminals hunting for their next prey, and naturally tend to mistrust strangers. On the other hand, they need information, help, and—­as I show—­emotional support and validation. How do they strike a balance between the two? How do migrants surrounded by violence and uncertainty form and use social networks during the transit process through Mexico? What types of social arrangements are formed, and which types are re-­formed, as the journey progresses and the group experiences violence and scarcity? I explore these questions focusing on Central American migrants in transit through Mexico. My main objective is to study how these migrants survive the unpredictable, precarious, and violent road by forming different (and often overlapping) forms of social ties. Throughout, I show that, while social networks remain essential to facilitating undocumented migration, the ties that migrants form along the road help them gain up-­to-­date and relevant information about changes in the arterial border, which they might not have access to otherwise. Via a detailed, multisited and long-­term ethnographic exploration of the social lives of migrants in transit, I suggest that the violence and torment of the road do not transform migrants into people who are “merely surviving” from day to day; nor do they prevent them from forming, nurturing, maintaining, and losing social connections. On the contrary, people in transit create diverse interpersonal configurations with varying levels of trust, commitment, solidarity, and care. More specifically, I study the social process of transit migration by focusing on these different types of connections. Sometimes, they are simply “one-­off ” encounters, through which migrants share some food or advice. More often, these social arrangements last for weeks or months and can provide emotional as well as practical support. Occasionally, preexisting connections change and become more restrictive, as in the case of families that leave their home country together. I also describe broken connections, betrayals, and groups that do not function effectively. In so doing, I illustrate and offer insight into the rich and complex social lives of people on the move.

Introduction

7

I study how the dynamics of families—­defined as people who consider themselves to be family members through various cultural and social processes—­that leave their home countries together change along the way. From my observations, it appears that, in response to the violence of the road, families tend to become inward looking and avoid interacting with other migrants on their journey. While this might sound like a sensible strategy, I show that, in situations where the rules of the game are uncertain and the actors are constantly moving, isolation makes the journey harder and more dangerous for families. At the same time, I show how migrants who travel by themselves commonly adopt the opposite strategy when crossing Mexico: they are often willing to meet new people and to cooperate and show solidarity with them to differing degrees. Consequently, I suggest that migrants form two types of new social arrangements in transit. First, they form what I call “road families,” or familias del camino. These consist of four or five strangers who meet during the initial stages of the transit process along the southern border and who, through a confluence of emotional connection and practical needs, decide to travel together all the way to the northern border of Mexico. These road families become established social networks very quickly and display deep trust and bonds. Groups of this type have rarely been observed in the literature on social networks, in which studies that focus on ties between strangers in need tend to examine those that are more short-­lived and disposable. Second, migrants form what I call the “transient community” of migrants. Everyone who is in transit through Mexico at the same time is a member of this community, which includes all the other types of social arrangements studied here (road families, families that migrate together, and people who travel alone). This community provides migrants with a shared identity—­ that of migrante—­that develops as a result of sharing similar challenges and similar objectives. Because they understand what others in their situation are going through, migrants often engage in small acts of camaraderie with other migrants outside their social group whom they perceive to be in need. They might share a piece of gossip, a sip of water, or a blanket on the train. These one-­off, small acts of generalized exchange reinforce the sense of community as well as help migrants emotionally and practically, in that they share information, resources, and food. Finally, by observing how other migrants behave and by talking to them, inexperienced migrants can learn the rules of the game and the behaviors that will help them progress along their way. The

8

Introduction

fact that migrants form and maintain their own community shows how new types of social arrangements can substitute for the role of traditional social networks within migration processes. It also illustrates how it is possible to establish solidarity without trust in dangerous settings, something that has not previously been described in the literature. Ultimately, I examine how Central American migrants in transit use their existing social networks and form new ties amid the violence, scarcity, and uncertainty of the transit through Mexico. I discuss how they choose their travel companions, how the new groups develop, and how they use these new or altered ties to facilitate their journey and maintain their sense of self. By listening to the stories of those who have, in the most difficult circumstances, found friends and new families, we can learn a lot about trust, care, and the creation of new ties under stress. Toño expressed it best: “We all find groups or go in groups together. If you look around, you will see that we all find friends to take on the road. No one goes alone.”

The Role of Social Networks in Migration Anthropologists and other sociologists have already established that groups are fundamental for gathering resources to survive in a variety of contexts. Bourdieu and Coleman have suggested that the most resourceful groups are usually families or people with strong social networks, as they already trust each other and are thus able to cooperate effectively (Bourdieu 2011; Coleman 2001). In the context of migration, social networks have been essential in shaping migratory flows and integration into host societies (Massey et al. 1993; Ryan et al. 2008; Castañeda 2019). Kin-­like social networks have made clandestine migration less dangerous and more predictable, especially for first-­time migrants (Berg Harpviken 2009; Singer and Massey 1998; Boehm 2012; Castañeda 2019). Social ties bind migrants and nonmigrants in a “complex web of social roles and interpersonal relationships,” and “these personal networks are conduits of information and social and financial assistance” (Boyd 1989, 639). Scholars studying migration to the United States have shown that social ties also affect the decision to migrate (Flores-­Yeffal 2013; Pérez Monterosas 2013), the direction and persistence of the flows (Flores-­Yeffal and Aysa-­ Lastra 2011), and the shape of settlement and incorporation patterns (Tilly and Brown 1967; Huang et al. 2018; Portes 1998). Networks become stron-

Introduction

9

ger as more migrants use and form part of them. Once a strong network has been established, prospective migrants can benefit from the resultant increased “social capital” when they decide to emigrate (Massey et al. 1991; Pathirage and Collyer 2011), especially if it is for the first time (Massey and Aysa-­Lastra 2011; De León 2015). At the same time, family ties change when transnational migration occurs. Some links become stronger, some break, and new ones emerge (Boehm 2012; Heidbrink 2014; Yarris 2017). Settled migrants seek emotional support through texts, messages, or calls from their families in their countries of origin. They remain very involved in the decision-­making process of their families back home, and they provide economic, social, cultural, and emotional support (Portes and Landolt 2000; Boehm 2012). New migrants draw on emotional and economic resources from their contacts both in the source country and the destination country (Yarris 2017), often forming new ties with each other. For example, young Mexican migrants tend to live together, crowded into small apartments. They cook for each other and keep each other company (Boehm 2012). Migrants can also experience social control through networks linked to their communities of origin (Morawska 1996; Yarris 2017). In transit, as I show later, migrants still crave emotional support from their families. However, few can maintain continual contact with the latter while they are in the process of migrating, partly because they do not have easy access to phones and the internet and partly because they do not want to burden their families with their pain and suffering. By analyzing migration from a network perspective, it is easy to “appreciate that contemporary migrants travel across geographic space and national borders but, at the same time, often remain within known networks” (Melero Malpica 2008, 36). Migrants are often less vulnerable if they have a community to rely on, although there have been examples of abuse and exploitation inside migrant communities (Hondagneu-­Sotelo 1994). Studies based on the migration process from Mexico to the United States have shown that kin and kin-­like social ties provide material help, information, and shortcuts for would-­be migrants. In the case of first-­time clandestine migrants in particular, the knowledge and emotional and economic support they receive from social networks in their communities of destination is vital (Massey and Aysa-­Lastra 2011; Pérez Monterosas 2013). In 1998 Audrey Singer and Douglas S. Massey conclusively demonstrated the importance of networks and having experience to draw on when crossing the U.S.-­Mexico

10

Introduction

border clandestinely. They interviewed Mexican migrants about their experiences of crossing the northern border of Mexico to the United States and found that the probability of getting caught decreased for first-­time migrants if they had networks. The members of their network would either directly help them to cross or would advise them on how to find a reliable, honest smuggler who would get them across safely. Being aided by an acquaintance not only increased the probability of success—­it also made the migrants feel less vulnerable (Singer and Massey 1998). Thus, Singer and Massey showed that networks are an effective substitute for experience. In short, the creation of migration-­specific social capital through experience and social ties increases the likelihood of a safe and successful migration. Singer and Massey conducted their research in the late 1990s, a few years after border crossing became more dangerous than it had been previously. In 1994 the U.S. government had implemented the “Prevention Through Deterrence” strategy, whereby migrant flows were funneled from easier crossing points closer to towns and cities to more dangerous routes, mainly through the desert and desolate areas. The number of deaths occurring along the border had started to increase as a result. Singer and Massey’s seminal article, exploring as it does the crossing of the U.S.-­Mexico border—­a dangerous area where state agents and the inhospitable landscape can injure or kill—­provided one of the starting points for this book. The piece was perhaps the first to highlight the fact that social ties became essential in an environment where migrants had to walk for several days to cross an area totaling around thirty kilometers in the scorching sun of the Sonoran Desert with only two gallons of water. Since its publication in 1998, things have become even harder for undocumented migrants, as the Mexican government, with the economic and technical support of the United States, has extended the area within which migrants experience border control to the southern border of Mexico. Some scholars have described this as a “vertical border” (Basok et al. 2015; see also FitzGerald 2019), a concept that suggests a vast, solid space of enforcement occupying most of the area of Mexico. However, the situation on the ground is more flexible and dynamic than this picture allows. Wendy Vogt (2018) has referred to the “state bordering practices across a vast and complex migration infrastructure that spans frontiers, transportation routes and local communities” (56) as an “arterial border.” This latter is constantly changing, expanding, and contracting. It responds to local, national, and

Introduction

11

sociopolitical changes. When there is an increased state presence, migrants adapt and move to other, less obvious routes, forming new arteries. Like blood, the movement of migrants flows, stalls, and becomes sticky. Not only is this arterial border in a perpetual state of flux, it is performed and recreated daily by people’s everyday practices, by material infrastructures, by discourses and encounters. Characterizing the border as arterial allows us to see that, just as migrants adapt their routes, the strategies they use to blend in, or the places where they hide money, so too the criminals and state agents change the ways that they act. Novel, useful strategies or routes will eventually stop working after the actors who prey on migrants catch on to them. Concealing bills in the seams of pants may have been a good idea to start with, but now every criminal knows to look there. Therefore, as I show, new information is absolutely vital, as relying on dated information—­or worse, being uninformed—­can be costly or even deadly. The actors who inhabit the arterial border are fluid, complex, and constantly changing. Migrants learn how to behave, whom to trust, how to act, and when to run as they navigate the arterial border. They observe, adapt, cooperate, and alter alongside the arterial border. Migrant houses adapt the ways in which they help migrants, hustlers learn new ways to trick people, criminals learn to behave like state agents, and state agents learn how to hide their criminal activities. This process means that the arterial route and its fluid actors are never the same. In this book I explore how the ways in which migrants use and create social networks change during transit migration, a more challenging stage in their migration process than the actual crossing of the Mexico-­U.S. border (Brigden 2018). What happens to social ties when the “crossing” occurs over three thousand kilometers, in a country with constantly changing regulations, no rule of law, and multiple state and criminal actors who target migrants? My research has been guided by some other ethnographic studies in which scholars have shown how people in dire situations can cooperate and help each other. Matthew Desmond, for example, describes the “disposable ties” that people form in high-­poverty neighborhoods in the United States. Disposable ties are relationships between acquaintances in similarly precarious situations; they are characterized by accelerated and simulated intimacy, a large amount of time spent together, and reciprocal exchange of resources and usually last for a couple of weeks (Desmond 2012). Kimberly Tyler and

12

Introduction

Lisa Melander (2011) have also described the rapid and deep—­if fleeting—­ intimacy that homeless youths develop with others around them on the streets. These networks are essential for their survival and for providing them with help, food, and sometimes lodgings. For his part, Jeremy Slack (2019) has observed that care, love, and friendship are among the most important, although frequently overlooked, forms of support for migrants. Migration ethnographers have already shown how migrants break, adapt, strengthen, and create new social networks when they move. Those left behind—­usually wives, daughters, or grandmothers—­reconstitute new types of family dynamics with other female kin (Boehm 2012). When daughters migrate, their mothers are usually the ones who take over the care of the grandchildren and the management of remittances (Yarris 2017). Similarly, men form new, all-­male ties in the United States, as they live and work together in one place. Migrants might also establish new strong bonds with kin they barely knew previously when they relocate to a new country (Boehm 2012). Ties can be broken during migration, too, as family members who have left sometimes stop communicating and form new relationships in their destination countries (Yarris 2017). Migrant youths held in detention centers can come to question the ties they have with their kin if their family members are unwilling or unable to sponsor them to get out of detention (Heidbrink 2014). In short, transnational networks are flexible and dynamic, although when push comes to shove, strong kinship ties usually prevail (Boehm 2008). Migrants in transit thus often create ad hoc associations through which they help each other for short periods and then disband as their interests diverge (Brigden 2018; Wheatley and Gomberg-­Muñoz 2016). Scholars have identified different types of social arrangements that migrants form in transit. Female migrants create “protective pairings” (Vogt 2018), form groups with other women, or associate with heterosexual couples traveling together (Schmidt and Buechler 2017). Young, often unaccompanied migrants form friendships on the road and freely share information about what lies ahead for them (Heidbrink 2014). Noelle Brigden (2018) describes the ephemeral communities that sometimes—­but not always—­arise between migrants who are sharing the road. At the same time, although these new networks can provide migrants with economic resources and a sense of security, they cannot give them the necessary information to tackle the road, as the “rules of the game” in Mexico change frequently (Brigden 2014; Martínez, David Cobo, and Narváez 2015).

Introduction

13

As I will demonstrate, it is true that social networks are an essential element of transit migration for both practical and emotional reasons (see Slack 2019). However, the ties that migrants in transit use and create are not generally the traditional kin and kin-­like ties that most migration scholars have identified as vital for clandestine migration. Instead, I explore emergent relationships between people, both when they are on the move and when they are static, who meet on the road—­el camino, as migrants call it. Central American migrants in transit are rarely helped by their existing social networks when attempting to cross Mexico. For many of those making the journey, there is no safety net to protect them, and no one willing or able to give them information or material and emotional support. Migrants in transit need to find new ways to help themselves and others by forming new types of social arrangements (Vogt 2018; Brigden 2018; Díaz de León 2019). One of the most important characteristics of the associations I will describe is the solidarity between migrants. Kristin Yarris (2017), one of the few migration scholars to focus on solidarity, quotes a Nicaraguan intellectual who defined the concept as “a noble feeling that makes us react in the face of the needs and pains of others, in a generous, cooperative, and committed way” (Habed Lopez 2007 in Yarris 2017, 15). As Yarris shows, solidarity (solidaridad) becomes stronger in the face of collective adversity, like the dangerous crossing of the arterial border. Solidarity provides meaning for the migrants (Yarris 2017); it gives them a sense of identity and support. As I show, through acts of solidarity, both with old and emergent ties and with other migrants, migrants feel more connected and less lonely when they are crossing Mexico. Solidarity for migrants not only means empathy: it means supporting others in their struggles and constitutes a moral action of being with others and caring about their welfare. Throughout this book, “solidarity means something similar to care” (Yarris 2017, 19).

Transit Migration as a Unique Step in the Migration Journey The process of transit migration through Mexico is fundamentally different from the process of crossing the U.S.-­Mexico border and arriving in the United States, a difference that affects the way migrants behave and the way they use and create new social networks. The main characteristics that make transit through Mexico different are: (1) the migrants in question come from

14

Introduction

Central American countries, each with a unique migratory history; (2) these migrants receive very little support from their social networks; (3) the space that they have to transit is vast and takes months to cross because of the ubiquitous violence and the deterrence policies that the Mexican government has implemented; (4) migrants are constantly on the move but, interestingly, they also spend a lot of time waiting. Although migration from Central America is not a new phenomenon, the flows of people leaving the region for the United States have increased significantly in recent years. Honduras and El Salvador especially do not have an extensive history of migration or particularly well-­established communities in the United States that can help migrants decide to make the journey and help them settle when they arrive. Many of the people I interviewed had no family members or contacts in the United States that they could turn to for help or information. Migrants in transit receive little if any help from their existing social ties when crossing Mexico, due to several interrelated factors. Firstly, would-­be migrants usually have few contacts in the United States that can help them and people who have successfully migrated to the United States can rarely help everyone who asks. For example, as Cecilia Menjívar (2000) has shown, Salvadorian migrants in the United States are painfully aware that they cannot help everyone, and they therefore have to make very difficult decisions about whom to assist. Often, families compromise by paying for a part of the journey. The rate charged by a smuggler to cross Mexico was around $7,000 when I did my fieldwork, and more if a migrant is helped crossing the U.S.-­Mexico border. This is too expensive for most immigrant families in the United States. My interviewees told me that, in situations where families were in principle willing to pitch in, they would tell the would-­be migrant to make their own way to the U.S.-­Mexico border. If they made it, their family might be able to pay for the border crossing. This example shows how border enforcement erodes the ties between migrants and people who can potentially help them (Slack 2019). This is an interesting finding to come out of my ethnographic research and one that, to the best of my knowledge, no scholar had previously identified. Secondly, I learned that families often minimize the emotional and physical costs associated with crossing Mexico. For many families already in the United States, crossing the U.S.-­Mexico border was the “hard” part of the journey, and this, combined with their lack of funds, makes them unwilling to help migrants with the earlier trek

Introduction

15

across Mexico. Additionally, any information that families might be able to provide loses value quickly on the unpredictable and dynamic migrant route (Brigden 2018). Crossing Mexico without official papers takes a long time. The route is an obstacle course consisting of a harsh and unwelcoming landscape, the military, police, migration agents, cartel roadblocks, institutional and criminal violence, and petty criminals. I discuss the process of crossing Mexico and the violence it entails in chapter 2 but suffice it to say for now that the actors along the way are constantly changing, and advice that was good a month ago might be useless today. Migrants do not have reliable access to phones or the internet. They frequently get robbed and cannot make calls; nor can they maintain regular or reliable contact with their networks outside of the country. Even if the family of someone crossing Mexico wanted to give them support from abroad, it would not be feasible as the rules of the game and the actors change so frequently that any advice that someone can give over the phone rapidly becomes worthless. Migrants in transit are also reluctant to call home and complain about the harsh conditions or the violence they experience on their journey. They do not want to worry their families and fear that their kin will not be able to understand, as they are not living the experience. This makes them feel even more isolated and lonely. Migrants must be constantly on the move in order to reach the United States. Few migrant houses or shelters let them stay more than three days (unless they are petitioning for asylum, applying for a humanitarian visa, or are badly injured) and, in any case, most people in transit want to keep moving. Although they are always on the move, they are also always waiting. They wait for lunch to be served, for the train to start, for the roadblock to move, or for their injured friend to recover. This dual state of movement and waiting creates a situation in which migrants have time to interact with others, exchange some food, gossip, or information, and sometimes make new friends. The characteristics of this migration process make it almost impossible for migrants in transit to depend on their traditional social networks (Brigden 2014; González Arias and Aikin Araluce 2015). Yet, as other ethnographies have shown and as I emphasize throughout the book, the loneliness, stress, and uncertainty of the journey coupled with the presence of spaces to rest and interact produce a situation in which new ties can be formed (Vogt 2018; De León 2015).

16

Introduction

Given that they do not have access to their existing social ties, migrants must rely on strangers for help and information. Some of these strangers will be people who work or volunteer for institutions, migrant houses, or smaller organizations. Although they are, at the end of the day, still strangers and there have been stories of abuse within these institutions, scholars have highlighted the essential role they play throughout the migrant journey (Candiz and Bélanger 2018; Guevara 2015). Such “safe houses” along the road allow the travelers to rest, gather information, and move on, but what about the days or weeks between one safe haven and the next? This is where my research comes in: it is during this time that migrants have to rely on other migrants around them—­on strangers. Unfortunately for the migrants—­who really need to engage with strangers—­ they are surrounded by uncertainty and by actors with fluid personalities who might take advantage of them. Researchers have shown that scarcity and information asymmetries tend to provide excuses for breaking social contracts (Picou and Martin 2007). The context of uncertainty on the road, open-­ended nature of the migrant trail (from south to north moving constantly), and the absence of the rule of law for migrants in Mexico generate the ideal conditions for people to break promises and betray others without having to face any negative consequences or damage to their reputation. When they are crossing Mexico, migrants therefore find themselves in a difficult situation as they are surrounded by other migrants whom they do not know and whom they need, but whom they also instinctively mistrust.

About the Fieldwork and My Position as a Researcher I conducted my fieldwork in places where impermanence is the norm; thus, it made no sense to do ethnography in only one place. As one of the most important characteristics of transit migrants is the fact that they are constantly on the move, I decided to carry out a multisited ethnographic study, to “follow the people” (Marcus 1995). For migration scholars, it is important to place the research at different points along the migration trajectory. The field, in this case, is a “conceptual space.” I use David FitzGerald’s definition of ethnography as including, in the broadest sense, “methods of intensive interviewing as well as participant-­observation” (2006, 2). Moving the fieldwork along the route allowed me to see how migrants arrived in Mexico and

Introduction

17

prepared for their journey. I observed their physical state, preparations, and travel companions and learned about their emotions, hopes, and plans. In the northern states of Mexico, I interviewed migrants who had spent weeks or months on the road and observed how they looked, whom they joined, what they had learned, and how they had survived. Moving around allowed me to understand how the transit affects the migrants. In northern cities I met the migrants on the verge of reaching the United States. I learned how this new border presented a whole new set of rules, and how the migrants adapted to them. I spent time at migrant houses and canteens, plazas, churches, and by train tracks. I also hiked in the Sonoran Desert and crossed the Usumacinta River to get to Guatemala. The “norm” at my fieldwork sites was not stillness but movement, with migrants staying for a matter of hours or, at most, a few days. I thus observed the flows of migrants and the patterns that were repeated by the migrants who had already arrived and had stayed every time a new cohort of migrants approached. I witnessed how the permanent inhabitants of a place (volunteers and townspeople) reacted to migrants. I was also able to talk to hundreds of migrants and to conduct fifty in-­depth interviews with male and female migrants from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. I had thousands of informal conversations with other migrants, staff at the migrant houses, and INM agents. I took detailed notes on the interviews, the informal conversations, and my ethnographic observations in several field notebooks. This book relies on all these sources of information. I undertook the research for this book during four fieldwork trips to towns along the southern and northern borders of Mexico and the U.S.-­Mexico border, for a total of twelve months of ethnographic work between the summer of 2014 and spring of 2018.1 I carried out the bulk of my fieldwork between 2014 and 2016 and then complemented what I had learned with short but regular trips to different border towns. I started my multisited ethnography on the southern border of Mexico, in Palenque and Tenosique, and then moved to the northern border on the Mexico side in Saltillo, Nogales, and Tijuana. I also spent time on the U.S.-­Mexico border in Tucson. In 2014 I initially spent two months in Palenque, at the Juan Pedro Shelter, making brief trips to Tenosique’s Open Borders Migrant House.2 These 1. I received an IRB from the University of Essex to conduct the research. 2. All the names of migrants and migrant houses are pseudonyms.

González with data from the author.

Map 1  Map of the main migrant routes between 2014–­2018 with my field sites marked. Author: Ana Paula

Introduction

19

towns are the first stops for transit migrants who choose to take the route through Chiapas and on to Veracruz. In Tenosique and Palenque, I met migrants who had very recently embarked on their journey and who still seemed to be getting their bearings. Many were traveling by themselves as they hadn’t yet found travel companions. I also met people who had been deported recently and who were attempting to cross for a second or third time. They seemed more experienced, less optimistic, and warier about talking to researchers like me. Nonetheless, after seeing me around the shelter, many agreed to talk to me and to be interviewed. I conducted twenty-­three interviews in Palenque and Tenosique. After my fieldwork on the southern border, I rested for a month in Mexico City and then moved on to Saltillo, close to the northern border, where I spent three months at the Coahuila Migrant House doing interviews and helping out around the house. Although Saltillo is not right on the U.S.-­Mexico border, many migrants waited there for their smuggler or for money to enable them to cross the border. In Saltillo, I hoped to understand how migrants’ narratives, views, and social arrangements had changed after crossing the length of Mexico. It was also the place where I was able to ask how various groups had fared as they crossed the arterial border. In 2015 I conducted three months of research in Nogales and Tucson. In Nogales, I spent time at the Fray Bartolo comedor (dining area) and the Twelve Apostles shelter. There, I interviewed migrants who were getting ready to cross or who were stuck at the border. I also had several conversations with people from Mexico who were on their way to the United States or who had been deported. These conversations helped me realize how fluid migrant identity can be. While in Nogales, I also hiked across the Sonoran Desert with a friend, Roberto Llave, who volunteers with the Samaritans. We carried out water drops and helped the migrants we found in the desert. I learned to observe the materiality of the road (the ups and downs, the backpacks, cans, and shoes scattered around) and learned about the terrain that migrants had to cross. I also observed Operation Streamline in action and visited prisons where migrants and asylum seekers were held. Although I do not describe the Sonoran Desert in much detail in this book, what I learned from the experience has given me a transnational perspective on migration. I was also able to talk to migrants in Mexico about what was still to come for them. In total, I conducted twenty-­seven interviews at the northern border. During 2017 and 2018 I made several short trips to Tijuana and Nogales. I did not conduct any formal interviews at this stage; instead, I talked to

20

Introduction

migrants outside migrant houses and churches, observed the border crossing points, and discussed my research and preliminary findings with activists and shelter staff. These visits allowed me to keep in the loop about the changes in migrant flows and enforcement policies on both sides of the border. All of these observations helped to infuse my narratives with rich ethnographic detail and confirmed my findings. Starting on the southern border and then undertaking a further stage of fieldwork in the north of the country allowed me to “follow” the Central American migration flow. It also enabled me to observe whether the way that migrants acted and reflected on their journey changed with time and experience. I chose not to observe migrants directly throughout the route. I agree with Jason de León’s (2015) criticism of people who cross the border with groups of migrants. My presence would have made the migrants more visible and thus more vulnerable to extortion or violence. I did not want the migrants to have to take care of me when they were already in a precarious situation that made them vulnerable and subject to constant threats. Finally, I doubted whether I would be safe if I undertook a journey during which people frequently die or disappear. Depending on what the gatekeepers allowed me to do and on the conditions at each site, I carried out ethnography, participant observation, and semistructured interviews. I also took detailed notes and some pictures. There are few photographs in this book. In my fieldwork, I have always found that taking pictures breaks the flow of the activity we are performing and tends to make people more guarded. I am also mindful of protecting the privacy of the migrants with whom I am interacting. In my most recent fieldwork, I have started to use ethnographic drawing as a way of remembering spaces and people without taking photographs. I have stayed in contact with many of these migrants through Facebook, which means I have been able to follow their journeys, their deportations or their settlements, and, in some cases, their deaths, virtually. This multistage, multisited research design allowed me to engage with migrants over several phases of their journey, which meant I could compare the places, the mood, and the people. I saw how the mental and physical state of the migrants, and their plans, changed after crossing Mexico. The sharp contrast I observed between the southern and northern borders surprised me and allowed me to be curious about the differences between the borders that I might have missed if I had simply traveled with the migrants. Moving

Introduction

21

between places and groups allowed me to gain knowledge about the migrants and the particularities of their hometowns; displaying that knowledge enabled me to reduce the social distance between my interviewees and myself. Being able to demonstrate that I had been to various migrant houses and had been on the road with other migrants also gave me faster access to migrant groups and stories (FitzGerald 2006 previously noted this advantage). Overall, this research design allowed me to gain access to vulnerable and difficult-­to-­reach populations while minimizing their exposure to violence. However, a drawback of moving from the south to the north without the migrants was that I lost track of most of them and consequently had to interview new people at every site. I was following the “flow” because following the people proved impossible. I was fortunate in that different actors concerned with migrants and migrants’ rights facilitated every stage of my fieldwork. On the southern border of Mexico, I joined the Undocumented Migration Project and the Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas anthropology field school. In Coa­ huila, an ex-­colleague from my activist days assisted me in accessing the Coahuila Migrant Shelter. In Nogales, a member of the Samaritans allowed me to shadow him while he hiked in the desert and volunteered at the Fray Bartolo dining area and the Twelve Apostles shelter. In Tijuana, I gained access to migrants and stakeholders thanks to my participation in the Fellows program at the Center for U.S.-­Mexican Studies at the University of California, San Diego. These contacts gave me valuable advice, showed me around, and provided me with invaluable background information about the places I was visiting. I approach the study of Central American transit migration with the intention of learning from the migrants themselves, how they experience their transit and how they form ties and bonds along the road. In this research, I use a situated research methodology (Haraway 1988) and, in so doing, attempt to create “partial, locatable, critical knowledge” (Haraway 1988, 584). By using a situated perspective, I accept that my “vision” (what I can observe, understand, and interpret) is necessarily biased, partial, and situated in my own (female, young, middle-­class Latin American) body and context. I acknowledge that all production of knowledge is ideological-­political and is situated (Narvaz and Koller 2006). I also reject the notion that there is a neutral way of observing events and people (Beiras, Cantera Espinosa, and Casasanta Garcia 2017).

22

Introduction

My strategy for approaching the migrants I studied for this book was quite simple. I introduced myself during breakfast, as people were standing in line. I explained that I was a researcher interested in their journeys and their lives and that I wanted to talk to anyone who would like to share their experiences with me. Then, I usually helped around the shelter and hung around the communal areas. Sometimes, people would approach me and start talking. I asked for their permission to record the conversation, at which point the formal interview started. I also tried approaching people and asking them for interviews, to make sure I got the viewpoints of people who might otherwise not approach me. While some people did not want to be interviewed, many were happy to participate once I asked them. The interviews were held in a safe space of the interviewee’s choosing. I gave the people I interviewed my contact details, and some of them have stayed in touch over the years. Some days I just helped around the migrant houses and took notes during my breaks, recording both the exceptional and the mundane—­the routines that they followed. Migrants usually viewed me as a slightly unusual type of volunteer. Instead of eating with the other volunteers, I generally ate with the migrants. I sat with them in the dirt outside migrant houses, by the train tracks, or in churches and shared my snacks. I ate and drank whatever they wanted to share with me, including chicken, tortillas, coffee, and Coke. I joked with them. Since I had no fixed role in the migrant houses, I rarely gave instructions to the migrants. This helped me gain their trust while showing that I did not have authority over them. Migrants often remarked that I was sencilla (humble) and that I treated them like people, not like victims or children. They seemed at ease with me. During my fieldwork and data analysis, I observed my own expectations and noted how I reacted when migrants did not behave as I expected. For example, I was initially shocked to discover that migrants in transit often had fun along the way. I had to revisit my prejudices and examine where they originated. This introspection provided me with important insights for this book and for the way that I conduct my research in general. As I tried to learn about the migrants, I sometimes made mistakes and misinterpreted things but always apologized afterward. For example, I once offhandedly minimized the pain a migrant had experienced on his journey and he reprimanded me for it. I realized that I had become desensitized to the struggles faced by migrants in transit, apologized, and adjusted my behavior. All these mistakes, and especially my willingness to reflect on them and listen to more

Introduction

23

experienced researchers, activists, and the migrants themselves, have made me a better, more aware researcher. During my fieldwork I let migrants give me their own interpretations of how things worked and together we contrasted my understanding with their perceptions. For example, when I met Chucho, a Salvadoran migrant fan of the soccer team Chivas who ran a room where the donations were distributed to the migrants, I thought it was admirable that he spent most of his time volunteering in the house. For the other migrants, however, he was an abusivo (abuser) who took advantage of his position to barter for favors and take the best soccer jerseys for himself. Contrasting my perceptions with those of the migrants allowed me to document their experiences while still giving them the opportunity to tell me their stories in the way they wanted. Over the past few years, I have gone back to talk to migrants informally about my findings. This has allowed me to learn about what they think and has given me new insight into the way they interpret and narrate their own journeys.

About My Interviewees I interviewed fifty people in total: thirty-­two from Honduras, twelve from Guatemala, and six from El Salvador. Forty of the interviewees were men and ten were women. This reflects the proportion of nationalities and of males and females migrating during the time I carried out the fieldwork. Most of my interviewees were young—­between nineteen and thirty-­five years old—­ although I interviewed people as old as fifty-­six. About half were migrating for the first time. Those who had migrated more than once had very recent migration histories, with some people having tried to cross Mexico two or three times within a year. Two Salvadoran men I interviewed had lived in the United States for several years and had recently been deported. Most of my interviewees were mestizo and did not consider themselves part of an indigenous group. In Nogales, I interviewed two indigenous men from Guatemala who told me about the distinct ways in which being indigenous affected their migration journey. Both had decided to travel by themselves and did not join a group, although they participated in the wider migrant community. They told me they preferred to make their own way because their Spanish was not that good (although I found it excellent). This might suggest either mistrust of, or a desire to separate themselves from, the wider mestizo population, but I could not tell from just two interviews.

24

Introduction

Figure 1  Doing a walking interview before the train leaves in Palenque

Most of the people I talked to had not finished high school. They worked as campesinos, in the fields or in the service sector in the cities. All of them were barely scraping by. Some were micro-­business owners who had been forced to migrate because of the derecho de piso, an extortion fee that gangs charge businesses. The people who had left because of the climate crisis rarely described it in those terms. They usually told me that they had left because of poverty; only later in the interview did they refer to the effects of the droughts and plagues, for example.

Structure of the Book In chapter 1, I briefly describe why Central American migrants decide to leave, and in most cases are actively fleeing, their home countries. I discuss the main driving factors behind this phenomenon that I discovered through

Introduction

25

my interviews: structural violence, state violence, poverty, gendered violence, and the effects of the climate crisis. In chapter 2, I provide information about the context of the transit through Mexico, focusing especially on the violence and the environment of uncertainty and mistrust that it fosters. I suggest that in the arterial border that is Mexico (Vogt 2018), actors are also fluid, with ever-­changing personalities. This makes it difficult for migrants to know whom to trust. I explain how the Mexican government has created an obstacle course for migrants; I explore the different state and criminal actors who delay, harass, and injure them. I also describe the landscapes they cross, which (as their accounts reveal) are simultaneously beautiful and dangerous. I illustrate, too, how this context creates the environment of mistrust, loneliness, and violence that transit migrants experience while crossing Mexico. In chapter 3, I analyze families migrating together—­including straight and gay couples—­sometimes with children. I look at siblings, fathers and sons, and family-­type relations such as godfathers or family friends. I show, through ethnographic examples, how families who leave their countries of origin together become inward looking and tend to avoid others. I argue that one of the consequences of this isolation for the families is that they have no access to up-­to-­date information about the route; this makes them more vulnerable to violence. I also demonstrate how the experience of being undocumented and unwanted in a country affects the masculine identity of some migrants and how the latter react by exerting more power in the only place where they have some control: their families. The chapter describes how families create a private sphere within which women are kept. In order to protect women, families become inward-­looking (as the literature on catastrophes suggests). I show that women rarely benefit from being part of a family when migrating and that families are not the social arrangement best suited to cope with transit migration and its ever-­changing rules. In chapter 4, I focus on the relationships between the members of the wider community of migrants and how they show solidarity with those walking alongside them without really trusting each other. I advance the concept of the “transient community” of migrants—­an imagined community comprising everyone who is attempting to migrate at the same time. I discuss the origins and characteristics of this community, and how migrants conceive of and engage with it, ultimately showing that solidarity can thrive without trust and that migrants can form a community even while on the

26

Introduction

move. I argue that this community even extends to the Mexicans who are waiting to cross or who have been recently deported. Their precarity, isolation, and vulnerability to violence fits with the stereotypical image of a migrante that transit migrants have. As a consequence, both aspiring and deported Mexican migrants at the U.S.-­Mexico border become part of the transient community and can access some form of solidarity and help. In chapter 5, I inquire how, in an uncertain context where mistrust seems to be generalized, some migrants are able to become “brothers” quickly, joining “road families.” In contrast to the more superficial (but still useful) relationships explored in the previous chapters, these ties are deep, based on great trust and even love. The chapter unpacks how the migrants are affected by the aggression and dehumanization they face as soon as they arrive in Mexico and how, in turn, they react not by isolating themselves but by looking for “brothers.” I reveal how migrants decide who is trustworthy by using a mixture of strategic thinking and “gut feeling.” Like traditional social networks, road families provide emotional support, information, help, identity, and resources to the members of the group. The chapter also discusses group longevity and the ways in which members show that they trust each other. These social networks—­albeit not of the kind predicted in the literature—­are crucial for surviving the migrant journey. In the concluding chapter, I note that the objective of this book is to reflect on the way we form social ties when we are in dangerous and uncertain situations and surrounded by strangers. Although inevitably there is mistrust, betrayal, and violence between migrants in transit, there is also a surprising sense of solidarity, understanding, and cooperation. Migrants are much more than victims who are merely surviving. The road does not suspend their humanity, their selfishness, their need for fun and for support. They are ordinary people who are looking for ways to survive and to connect. Looking at the transit route as a place where socialities can also be created is important to give it nuance and to go beyond the trope of “good” or “deserving” versus “bad” or “undeserving” migrants. By showing that migrants in transit have social lives even while experiencing great suffering, this book hopes to give migrants depth and personality beyond the “victim” trope.

CHAPTER 1

Why Do Central Americans Leave Their Countries?

Luis did not imagine that he would spend his daughter’s second birthday surrounded by nuns, volunteers, and migrants in Palenque, Mexico. He did not think that five-­year-­old Pepe, his oldest son, would spend his day running around a migrant house, rather than his backyard. Luis had a truck, which he had bought last year, and a motorcycle. He and his wife had a house in Honduras that was sufficient for them. Pepe was going to start school soon. And then, the maras—­the gangs—­came. He owed them money, or else he had angered them. Either way, they had to leave because Luis knew they would die if they stayed. That’s how Luis and his family ended up spending six months in a migrant house on the southern border while they applied for a visa that would allow them to travel through Mexico (their ultimate plan was to get to the United States). Mayra, a mother of one, told me that she had also left Honduras because of the violence and the poverty she experienced in Tegucigalpa. She had decided to go to the United States by herself so that she could earn enough money to send to her son, who had stayed behind. She wanted him to go to a good school; her dream was to eventually move him out of the dangerous neighborhood where they lived: “Yes, we are poor, but I don’t know if I would have left just to make money. I left because if I earn enough money, I can have him move to a safe neighborhood or even with me to the United States. Honduras is poor and very dangerous.” For Mayra, and many like her, poverty was not the only reason for leaving her home country. Poverty she could have lived with; it was the violence that made her decide to finally take

28

Chapter 1

the plunge and leave. It is clear that, for her to be able to escape the violence, she was going to need money to move to a safer place. This rationale was common among the people I interviewed. In this chapter, I discuss why migrants from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador decide to migrate through Mexico and, in doing so, risk the violence and uncertainty of the migrant trail. As I show, my interviewees are intelligent people who evaluated the risks of staying versus the risks of tackling a dangerous road and living clandestinely in a new country. They had to decide how much everyday insecurity, poverty, and violence they could tolerate before deciding to move. From talking to them, I learned that there are five main interrelated factors that affect their decision to leave: the effects of the climate crisis; economic inequality; gang violence; state violence; and gender-­based violence. From these conversations, I learned that most people from the region had withstood high levels of interrelated violence and stressors for years. Their stories show the specific incidents that made them decide to leave. For some, it was a dramatic, shocking event, such as the murder of a family member, or the first time they were approached by a gang. For others, it was just another in a long line of aggressions that they had endured. Yet, for some reason, that one incident was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Everyone who made the decision to leave believed that if they did not move away, they would eventually come to serious harm or die. They moved in order to break the cycle of violence that had defined their lives so far. Yet, within this context of an overarching “violent” reason for leaving, whether political or criminal, it is important to consider the ecological, political, economic, and social reasons for migrating. Often, all these factors are interconnected and one affects another, as Mayra’s story shows, to the point where it becomes impossible to distinguish between “economic” and forced migration. In this chapter I describe the interrelated factors of climate crisis, economic inequality, gang violence, gendered violence, and state violence that interact with individual decision making and kinship networks to create and sustain the migration flows from Central America. I show that these stressors do not just have the effect of forcing people out of their homes; they also change the way they migrate in terms of how prepared they are, who they leave with, and the relationships they form on the migrant trail. In this chapter, and throughout the book, we can observe the creativity and solidarity migrants draw on to evade the mechanisms that the migration industry uses to create obstacles to human mobility.

Why Do Central Americans Leave Their Countries?

29

Climate Crisis The climate and ecological emergency affects rural people’s access to water, food, and shelter. It makes the weather more variable and extreme and increases the reliance of the affected countries on food imports. Central America is one of the regions most afflicted by the climate crisis. The average temperature in the area has increased by half a degree Celsius since 1950 and will rise by a further one or two degrees by 2050. The area will continue to be damaged by a lack of rainfall in areas that need it, with droughts becoming more persistent. Additionally, increasingly unpredictable floods and storms will batter the region more frequently and with greater intensity (Markham 2019). Regions that had formerly been lush jungles have become deserts where finding water for human consumption, animals, or farming has become almost impossible. Large areas of the Guatemalan highlands, for example, have become drier, with farmers struggling to grow crops that had been planted for centuries (Blitzer 2019). If the rains do not follow a constant pattern, farmers cannot plan the planting of their crops. Every year they get further into debt trying to finance the next crop and buy food for their families. Nuncio, a Guatemalan Mayan farmer I met in Nogales, had left precisely because of what Jonathan Blitzer (2019) describes is happening in the highlands of Guatemala: inconsistent rain, droughts, and the desertification of his lands. Nuncio asked me to chat with him while my friend Roberto Llave, a volunteer at the comedor, cleaned the huge blisters that had formed on the soles of Nuncio’s feet after walking for several days in the Sonoran Desert. He was in pain and wanted to be distracted. We started telling jokes and talking about ourselves until, finally, he told me why he was on the northern border of Mexico, away from his family, in the harvest season: First, I moved to the city because the crops weren’t growing well anymore. One year we had too much rain and the following years we had a drought. You cannot plan like that. Even when we harvest enough, we cannot compete with some bigger farms or international farms in prices. We just couldn’t win. So, what I did is, I sold my last crop, gave the money to my wife and moved to the city [Guatemala, the capital]. In the capital I could not find a job, I didn’t speak good Spanish and I knew no one. I eventually ended up sleeping on the streets and selling candy outside schools.

30

Chapter 1

Eventually, Nuncio decided he could not go back empty-­handed to his family. He called them to let them know he was going to try to make it to the United States. His intention was to reach California, work in the fields, and save enough money to go back and improve his small farm. As an indigenous man, Nuncio migrated by himself and was unable to make contacts on the road since his Spanish was not very good and the other men did not want to go with him. Nuncio was already more vulnerable to poverty and violence than his mestizo counterparts.1 His story illustrates the important role being played by the climate and ecological emergency in Central America, especially in rural areas. Natural disasters caused by the increasingly unpredictable weather have destroyed whole towns and displaced their inhabitants. In October 1998 Hurricane Mitch came to a halt over Honduras and Nicaragua, killing more than 10,000 people, affecting 6.7 million, and causing as much as $8.5 billion in damage. The rural population was affected as both export products and food staples were damaged (United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean 1999). The destruction of the crops meant that permanent and temporary jobs working in the fields were lost, forcing peasants without land into an even more vulnerable position. Many had to relocate to urban centers or migrate abroad (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations 1999). Three years later, in 2001, El Salvador was hit by three major earthquakes, which affected around 1.3 million people. Eleven hundred people died, and several hundred houses and buildings were damaged or destroyed (Messick and Bergeron 2014). These catastrophes have had the effect of sending thousands of migrants heading for the United States each time. The United States responded to these disasters by assigning Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Honduras, Nicaragua, and later El Salvador. Once a country is designated as having TPS, those nationals who are residing in the United States at the time might be granted protection regardless of how they got into the country. There were an estimated 212,000 Salvadorans, 64,000 Hondurans, and 3,000 Nicaraguans benefiting from TPS in 2014. El Salvador was first granted TPS in 1991 because of the civil war and then again in 2001 in response to the earthquakes. Honduras and Nicaragua were 1. Although I interviewed very few indigenous people for this book and was thus limited in the extent to which I could analyze their trajectories in Mexico, there is some excellent research on the topic (see Stone-­Cadena 2016, for example).

Why Do Central Americans Leave Their Countries?

31

granted this status in 1999 in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch (Messick and Bergeron 2014). While the TPS is, since 1990, granted to nationals of some countries that have become embroiled in a conflict or suffered a national disaster, it is not a guarantee of permanent status in the United States, although people who hold TPS can apply for legal residence in the country through other means (such as marriage). TPS provides protection against deportation and gives an individual permission to work in the USA for a limited period of time. Once the humanitarian emergency is over, the United States can end the TPS for the affected country. The granting of TPS and the fact that many migrants already had established networks in the United States facilitated the migration of thousands of Central Americans to the United States after 1999. In 1990, 1,134,000 Central Americans were living in the United States. By 2000 the number had almost doubled to 2,026,200 and by 2010 it had almost tripled to 3,052,500. Between 2000 and 2010 Central American immigrants were the fastest growing segment of the Latin American immigrant population, according to the Migration Policy Institute. The top three countries to send migrants were El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras (Stoney and Batalova 2013). Structural factors, as well as the networks that had already been established, maintained and strengthened migration to the United States. I have included the climate crisis within the wider theme of “violence” that causes migration and forced migration because being vulnerable to increasingly unpredictable weather and famine while other countries (in Central America but specifically those in the Global North) reject calls to decrease carbon emissions and transition to cleaner energy and more sustainable economies is a type of direct violence inflicted on society’s poorest people. These climate catastrophes, compounded by the effects of free market capitalism, deregulation, and free trade that have displaced people from their traditional livelihood strategies, have weakened the social safety net, reduced protection for workers, and forced many to migrate.

Economic Inequality and the Legacy of State Violence Until the 1980s the Central American countries had relied on an agro-­export economic model. However, during the 1980s, the model failed, finally col-

32

Chapter 1

lapsing in the 1990s. Governments liberalized the markets to stimulate development and joined the globalized markets. The production of coffee, bananas, sugar, and cacao for exportation was no longer a viable way for local producers to make a living. Large multinational companies took on the production of nontraditional exports, such as flowers and fruit (Hurtado 1999). The liberalization of the markets caused primary crops to be abandoned. This led to a dependency on the importation of staples from developed countries, eroding the food security of the poorest people in Central America (Hurtado 1999). Many families were forced to sell their land and work for the big landowners or move to the cities (Segovia 2004). Poverty continued to increase in rural areas despite the fact that overall poverty declined between 1990 and 1995 in Central America (Hurtado 1999). Another blow to the region’s economy came from the collapse of the International Coffee Agreement in 1989. Local coffee producers could not compete with the international markets and went broke. Many stopped producing and sold their lands. Some peasants found jobs on the new plantations and supplemented their income with things they could grow on small plots of land (Hurtado 1999). Many—­like my interviewees—­migrated to the city to try to make a living. Eventually, when they were unable to find a job that paid enough to live on, they migrated to Mexico or the United States. Poverty and unemployment in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador are among the highest in Latin America. In 2019 over 19.3 percent of the population in Honduras lived in multidimensional poverty,2 while an additional 22.3 percent was classified as vulnerable to multidimensional poverty (UNDP 2020b). Despite the fact that the Honduran economy has grown, 50 percent of the population is subemployed and 5.7 percent is officially unemployed (Forbes 2020a). The Human Development Index (HDI) of Honduras in 2019 was 0.634, ranking it as number 132 in the world (UNDP 2020b).3 In 2018, 29 percent of the households in El Salvador lived in multidimensional poverty (Segura 2019). In 2019 the country’s HDI was 0.673, 2. Multidimensional poverty is an index that represents the indicator on which the United Nations Development Program is based. It was created in 2007 by experts from the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI) and comprises three dimensions of poverty that are each worth one third: health, education, and living standards. For more information, see https://ophi.org.uk/research/multidimensional-poverty/. 3. The HDI is a composite index comprising life expectancy, education, and gross national income per capita. It ranges from 0 to 1 and the higher the number, the better the level of human

Why Do Central Americans Leave Their Countries?

33

only slightly higher than after the end of the civil war (UNDP 2020b). True, El Salvador has slowly been improving its poverty indicators, mainly because illiteracy has decreased, the percentage of homes with drinking water has increased, and child mortality has fallen (Segura 2019). However, it still has a long way to go in terms of quality of life for its citizens. Guatemala is also struggling. Its HDI is 0.663. By 2014, 28.9 percent of the population lived in multidimensional poverty and 21.1 percent were classified as vulnerable to multidimensional poverty (UNDP 2020a). According to reports, the reason that Guatemala has such a low unemployment rate (2.5 percent) is because people have stopped looking for jobs and are thus not counted in the unemployment statistics. Half of the population lives in poverty and Guatemala has the highest rate of infant malnutrition in Latin America (Barría 2020). When people from rural areas move to the cities, it is very hard for them to find a job in the formal economy that can sustain them; the service sector is unable to absorb the constantly arriving new batches of laborers. All three countries have a weakened state capacity that is unable to provide basic services such as healthcare and education to the poorest people. The newly arrived live in marginal barrios without sanitation, water, or roads. Nuncio, the Guatemalan farmer, was one of them. Most people in these countries are unemployed, and many earn less than the minimum wage, especially young people (Savenije 2007). Rober and Juan moved from the countryside in Honduras to the capital, Tegucigalpa, in 2014. They had been working as day laborers at a transnational farm that grew coffee but were earning barely enough to live on and support their young families. They left their families in the countryside, promising to get good jobs and then send for them. In Tegucigalpa, they were surprised not to be able to find a job. They were willing to do anything but still had no luck. They often went hungry, as Juan told me: “What we didn’t realize is that in the city you have to buy everything you eat. Everything is bought and we didn’t have any money.” They were shocked by the violence, too. There were neighborhoods that were not even safe to enter. Once, while walking along distractedly, they bumped into a young man who was a marero, a member of the maras. He got agitated and started screaming at them. Then, he took out his gun and shot at them as they ran for cover. development. El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Honduras all have a medium Human Development Index.

34

Chapter 1

After this incident, they decided to leave the country: “Like that, from one day to the next. We gathered what we had, took the money we had been saving to send home, and took a bus to Guatemala. We didn’t even look at a map of Mexico. We knew it would be hard, but we were slowly dying there! You have to understand!” They left in order to survive. Economic inequality and the legacy of state violence, especially in the cities, exacerbate the situation for an already precarious and impoverished population. El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala are among the most dangerous countries in the world. Indeed, San Pedro Sula, in Honduras, has been described as the most dangerous city in the world (González 2015). People like Nuncio, Juan, and Rober live in precarious situations, surrounded by violence. The violence that they know they will experience crossing Mexico does not seem too bad by comparison, especially if they have never attempted to cross the country. Many feel that they would be in an extremely vulnerable situation if they stayed anyway. However, as we will see in the next chapter, crossing Mexico involves coming into contact with violent state agents, gangs, and cartels; facing abuse from the locals; and experiencing exposure to the elements. Only once migrants are in Mexico do they come to realize that types of violence very similar to those they experienced back home have followed them across the border. Based on the interviews I conducted between 2014 and 2018, it appears that those who leave as a consequence of structural inequality, poverty, and slow-­onset climate catastrophes, rather than because of a specific incident that acts as a trigger, tend to migrate without their families—­some do so with friends—­and are more inclined to plan their movements. Nuncio is a good example of someone who left in this manner. He endured poverty and precarity for years in the countryside and in the capital. Eventually, he reached a point where he could not take it anymore and planned his escape. When he migrated from the countryside to the capital, he sold his land and said goodbye to his family. When he decided to cross Mexico, he borrowed money and tried to find out what lay ahead. He even showed me a hand-­ drawn map of Mexico that he had copied. Other migrants I spoke to who had left in circumstances similar to Nuncio’s sold their things, borrowed money, got a good pair of sneakers, and contacted a family member or acquaintance in the United States to ask for help, although, as I discussed in the introduction, they did not always receive the help they had requested. These people tend to set out either by themselves or with a couple of friends and/or family

Why Do Central Americans Leave Their Countries?

35

members. When I was doing fieldwork, most of these migrants were male, although there were also some families. Interestingly, many of the young men I interviewed who had left to escape the poverty and uncertainty of their home countries had decided not to say goodbye to their wives/girlfriends or their mothers. Most of them told me it would have been too hard to leave them behind. They usually called them after entering Mexico to explain what they had done, and they lovingly showed me their pictures and letters. Those who left as a consequence of a specific trigger, such as a targeted threat, or an encounter with a violent actor like a gang member or a police officer, usually left relatively quickly. Rober and Juan provide an example of this type. They were managing to get by and had no intention of moving until their encounter with the young marero. After that, they packed their backpacks and left quickly, with minimal planning. They evaluated what they knew about the dangers of the migrant trail and compared it to what felt like the real possibility of being killed in Honduras. Leaving seemed safer than staying home so they left. Since they left in a hurry, they spent very little time learning about the route, borrowing money, or selling their things. Some people simply flee. They tend to leave by themselves, or, if the threat was directed toward the wider family or group of friends, with those who also being targeted. In the next section, in which I discuss the gang and state violence that force many Central Americans to flee, we will see how the decisions to leave are more rapid and immediate in these cases.

Gang Violence It is practically impossible to disentangle violence and poverty as reasons for leaving Central America. Even if someone’s story about why they left starts with a job that did not pay enough or a sister who was sick, the narrative eventually gets round to the generalized and targeted violence that most of the population in Central America has to live with. In the case of my interviewees, poverty increased their vulnerability to violence. I met Marlo, a seventeen-­year-­old Honduran first-­time migrant, on the northern border. He was alone and was very proud of having come so far. He had left with a guide but, when the guide left him in a motel in Veracruz while he went back to collect more people, Marlo started feeling restless and continued the journey by himself. After a month of riding the train and walk-

36

Chapter 1

ing alone, during which time he survived by virtue of his luck and charm, he had arrived at the migrant shelter where I met him. He was resting and thinking about how he could cross the U.S.-­Mexico border without a guide. More experienced migrants told him that his luck would run out when faced with the heat and the cacti. He liked playing rummy with me. On one occasion, when I was beating him at the game, he tried to explain to me why he had quit school and left for the United States: “I came to the United States to get out of the poverty in which I live because . . . because only poor people suffer the violence in Tela [Honduras]. If I come back with money . . . What I mean is that if you are not poor, then you can move to a place without violence. You can move to a gated community; you can pay someone to protect you. Being poor makes you a target for the maras, the police, other young men. I came to the United States so that I can protect my family with the money that I will earn.” Again, it is clear from this account that, for some migrants, the goal is to save enough money to buy themselves safety. For them, poverty is inextricably linked with vulnerability to violence. In Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, gangs are formed of mostly young men who are usually from poor neighborhoods. The maras in Central America have links to the trafficking of drugs, arms, and humans (Dammert 2017). The most well-­known maras are the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-­13) and the 18th Street gang (M-­18). Young men are harassed and threatened by the maras, or they are forced to collaborate and join them (most people join the maras when they are between eleven and twenty years old). Many of the young men I interviewed had decided to flee because they had been targeted or recruited by the maras. Some fled because they had been part of the organization and wanted out; they knew the only way to leave the gang was by leaving the country. Jose Juan, a fourteen-­year-­old Honduran migrant, was very vocal about not wanting to move to the United States. He was accompanied by a man who introduced himself as his uncle. They were traveling together to the U.S.-­Mexico border from where they planned to cross together to the United States. The uncle knew all the routes, he told me. Jose Juan explained why he had been forced to leave: They [his parents] convinced me to leave. I left because of the violence; because to tell you the truth, I didn’t want to leave, but I also, didn’t want to stay there because there are a lot of maras. And my mom said that maybe, just by

Why Do Central Americans Leave Their Countries?

37

hanging out with, just one [gang member] I could become bad as well, maybe eventually join a mara. Back there, there is a lot of evil, you can become one of them. Even if you don’t want it but in the end, young people are like that. I’m telling you that I avoided that and left to find a new future. Maybe here I’ll do better, I don’t know. I don’t get used to life back there [Honduras]. What happens is that, well, all the time they are talking about dead people, about robberies and, and I would like to be away from that.

Most of the young migrants who left because they were fleeing a direct threat by the maras migrated either by themselves or with a guide or trusted family member to accompany them. Their families usually stayed behind as they were not worried that the gang would come after them once the young man left; their only concern was to take the teenager out of circulation. The gangs also extort businesses and charge them an impuesto de guerra (literally “war tax”) to protect them. Many migrants report that the impuesto de guerra is often higher than the amount that the person can earn. Marina and her husband had a small business selling fried peanuts outside schools in El Salvador. They were barely breaking even before the maras started charging them an exorbitant fee for protection. Her husband tried to negotiate by showing them how much they really made. The gang would not reduce the price. Marina told me, “They just throw a number at you! They should at least do some research!” The family decided to leave the country with their two toddlers. If someone cannot pay the tax, their business could be vandalized and their family could be killed. The impuesto de guerra is an example of how poverty and violence work together as push factors. Having to pay these rents impoverishes workers who are already subemployed, bankrupts poor people’s small businesses, and causes everyone to live in constant fear. Some of those who leave dream of coming back and helping their families relocate to a safer zone or at least be able to pay the impuesto de guerra. The preferred solution of the upper and middle classes to this insecurity is to hire private security guards, but the poorest people have to coexist with crime and pay their rents to the criminals. Don Goyo (fifty-­five years old) explained his reasons for leaving to me: “As soon as you get hired by a business and start working, they [the gangs] ask you for a percentage of your earnings. If you don’t give them that money, when you get out of your job, they kill you.” Eventually many flee. In contrast to the young men who flee because they get recruited by the maras or the men who flee because of targeted

38

Chapter 1

gang violence, people who are threatened with an impuesto de guerra tend to flee with their nuclear or wider families. Many of the families I met and interviewed had left because of these types of threats. Often, when the maras threaten the family of the worker or the business owner, the families find the threat credible enough to make them all leave together.

Gender-­B ased Violence Women leave Central America to escape the gendered violence they experience in their communities—­harassment, rape, and femicide (Asakura and Torres Falcón 2013)—­and to get away from the extortion and death threats from criminal groups (Menjívar and Walsh 2019). In 2020 El Salvador registered 121 femicides (Forbes 2020b), and abortion is completely banned and criminalized there. Honduras is one of the countries with the highest number of violent deaths among women. Between 2005 and 2017, 5,348 women were murdered; half of those killings were femicides (Luciano et al. 2019). In Guatemala, 846 women were murdered in 2014, making it the third most dangerous country for women to live in (Piette 2015). To make matters worse, these countries do very little to prevent violence against women and rarely prosecute it (Menjívar and Walsh 2019). Women experience the insecurity in their countries differently than men. Although they too face the political, racial, and ethnic violence that men experience, they also have to live with high levels of domestic and partner violence (Asakura and Torres Falcón 2013). Many of the femicides are committed by the partners and family members of the victims. Often, women believe that fleeing the country is the only solution that would allow them to fully escape their abusers (Willers 2016). Some take their children with them when they flee. Rosita, a forty-­year-­old woman from Guatemala, left with her daughter after her husband hit her so hard that she passed out. When she regained consciousness, she packed a bag, took her daughter, and started walking. Others leave as a family to protect young female victims of gender-­based violence, like Ramona and her partner, Julio. I met them and Ramona’s niece at the Fray Bartolo comedor in Nogales. Ramona’s niece, who was only seven, had witnessed her female cousins being murdered by the ex-­boyfriend of the oldest (fifteen years old). One Friday, all the female cousins were having a party when, late at night, the ex-­boyfriend broke in and stabbed all the sleeping children: “[Ramona’s niece] was stabbed in the

Why Do Central Americans Leave Their Countries?

39

belly, and all her cousins were murdered in front of her. She was the only one who survived.” Since the killer was a member of a gang, the child’s family had to help her escape in case they came back for the only witness. According to UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women in Honduras Rashida Manjoo, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex community is facing escalating violence. She found that 107 members of this community had been murdered between 1994 and 2012. Her reports also note other forms of discrimination and harassment that serve to fuel migration: “Lesbians and other women who live outside of heterosexual norms are often subjected to violence, rape, and other forms of discrimination. In the workplace they are often bullied, harassed or overlooked for promotions, and may even be denied employment due to their style of dress. The Special Rapporteur was informed of an increasing trend of migration, especially among transgender sex workers seeking to flee from discrimination and abuse” (Manjoo 2015). I met Yuri and Selma, two Honduran women who were traveling together, at a migrant house in the southern border. For two days we hung out and had informal talks. Finally, the day before they were due to leave, Yuri agreed to an interview. It was only at the end of the hour-­long interview that Yuri “confessed” that she was gay. This was impossible to guess from the way she behaved around Selma, her partner, as they had learned to act as if they were friends and to avoid showing any intimacy while growing up in Honduras. In Central America, a strongly Catholic region, homosexuality is still considered deviant and people who are members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTQI) community have to be very discreet if they want to remain safe. On the road, I met four women—­two couples—­who were forced to escape after being outed as homosexual. The other couple did not want to give me a formal interview but their story was very similar to Yuri and Selma’s. Here is the moment where Yuri told me Selma was her life partner: “To be honest, she is my partner, and we live in a village where men don’t accept that two women are partners and they tried to rape us. And once, someone tried to dance with her [my partner] and she said no and ran home. But later the man was waiting for us in front of our house with a machete and there was a mess and we had to leave to protect our lives and our child’s life.” Women and sexual minorities, in short, move in order to have “a better life,” which has been described as having more “liberty, autonomy, the exercise of citizenship, and sexual freedom” (Femenías 2011, 90).

40

Chapter 1

Women who leave Central America as a direct consequence of gender-­ based violence follow different strategies when they decide to leave. Some plan their journey, save money, and do research, while others just spontaneously take off with whatever they have on hand (Asakura and Torres Falcón 2013). I met several women who decided to take their young children on the road with them. They did this to spare the children, especially if they were girls, from abuse by their partners. Many also expressed their belief that the best place for a child is with its mother, even on the treacherous migrant route. Finally, sometimes a mother or whole family decide to migrate together because there is no one to leave the children with. Regardless of the reason for leaving, if the parents believe their children will be worse off staying with a relative or friend, they will sometimes decide to bring their children with them.4 Many of the women I interviewed did not want to leave their children behind because they did not trust their families to take good care of them. Lety, a twenty-­one-­year-­old migrant from Honduras, suffered abuse from her grandmother, who was supposed to care for her when Lety’s own mother migrated. Lety was seven the last time she saw her mom. She told me, “To be honest, my mother migrated and left me with my grandmother. And she sent money, and I knew . . . but I never got any money for clothes and I didn’t get a lot of food and my grandmother wasn’t good to me because my mother was not there protecting me. I think that there is no substitute for the care and love of a mother, and I would rather suffer with my child than have her suffer with her family that won’t love her as I do.” Here, Lety shows that she believes people outside the nuclear family cannot always be trusted, even if they are related. Like many of the mothers I interviewed, she felt that only mothers can take proper care of their children and that the best place for a child to be is with her mother. Many of the mothers who took their children with them also came with their partners.

State Violence In 2016 the murder rates in Central America were among the highest in the world, with 56.5 murders for every 100,000 inhabitants in Honduras, 82.84 in El Salvador, and 27.26 in Guatemala. The murder rate for Mexico in 2016 4. For more on these transnational relationships, see Yarris 2018.

Why Do Central Americans Leave Their Countries?

41

was 19.91 (in contrast, the comparable rate for Canada is 1.68) (Menjívar and Walsh 2019). The violence is a consequence of the rise in organized crime and drug trafficking and the subsequent lack of law and order. There has been an increase in gang activity, the police are slow and inefficient in responding, and corruption is rampant. Many organizations have reported links between the police or the military and organized crime and gangs (Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos 2015). The police have adopted a mano dura, or zero tolerance strategy toward the maras. This means tackling youth gang violence via punitive measures and policing youths who are considered dangerous. The result of these initiatives seems to be the increasingly sophisticated tactics used by the gangs and the victimization of young men in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. By 2015 the violence in the cities involved not only confrontations between gangs but also confrontations between the police and the maras in El Salvador (Dammert 2017). Criminals and the state protect each other and sometimes work together. In El Salvador, Amnesty International has received complaints that implicate the police in possible extrajudicial killings and cases of torture. Additionally, the military are increasingly taking on policing activities (Amnesty International 2021). In Guatemala and Honduras, climate change activists are being murdered at alarming rates, with 467 attacks against activists, including at least twenty murder attempts, registered in 2019 in Guatemala (Amnesty International 2019). This climate of generalized violence has led to the indiscriminate possession of guns. It is estimated that there are between eight hundred thousand and one million firearms in Honduras, where 82 percent of the murders in 2010 involved the use of a gun. Another consequence has been the increase in private security forces. The United Nations has calculated that there are around sixty thousand private guards in Honduras in contrast to only fourteen thousand police officers (UNHCR 2013). I met few people who claimed that state violence was their only reason for leaving Central America. However, in most of the interviews, I observed a fear of the police and the conviction that, when anything bad happened to a citizen, they could not trust the state authorities to defend them. In the stories I shared in this chapter, it is apparent that the police are completely absent from the narratives of the people who are migrating. People in these countries seem to have to face the violence alone or try to combat it using

42

Chapter 1

private means (such as security guards). At best, the police ignore the problems; at worst, they cooperate with the criminals in terrorizing the local population. Even if it is not explicitly admitted, it is clear that state violence is a constant in all the other types of violence: the police look the other way when extortions happen, or human rights leaders are tortured and killed; they cooperate with criminal organizations, target young men, and are slow to prosecute gender-­based violence.

Interrelated Violence and Patterns of Leaving People leave El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to escape the interrelated effects of the climate and ecological emergency, institutional inequality and poverty, state-­and gang-­related violence, and gender-­based violence. Although some migrants focus on one of these factors more than the others in their narratives, most of the factors are usually present in one way or another. The main reason for the would-­be migrant’s decision to leave is important in determining how prepared they are for the journey and whom they take with them. People who leave in response to the climate crisis and poverty and inequality, and who made their decision without a specific trigger, tend to plan their journey more carefully, like Nuncio. People who had endured the same conditions but left because of a specific trigger, like Rober and his friend’s ill-­fated encounter with a gang member, tend to leave more quickly and without planning their journey. These people may decide to leave with their friends or acquaintances but rarely bring their families. People who are fleeing a specific threat, such as young men targeted by a gang, tend to leave (or be sent) alone or with a guide. In this case, the families believe that if the young man leaves, the rest of the family will not be in danger. In contrast, those who flee after being asked for an impuesto de guerra tend to take their whole families with them, fearing that if they leave them behind, the gangs will exact retaliation on them. Families in this situation tend to leave relatively quickly, although some take a couple of days to gather resources. Finally, women who are fleeing gendered violence tend to leave by themselves or with all or some of their children. In most cases they flee quickly, leaving nearly everything behind. And yet, in fleeing the violence of their native countries, the migrants encounter violence of other kinds on the road. In the following chapter I

Why Do Central Americans Leave Their Countries?

43

explore the different types of violence that migrants face when trying to navigate the “arterial border” (Vogt 2018) and the multiple actors that inhabit it. I show how the latter’s fluid identities add to the uncertainty of the path and make it difficult for migrants to trust those around them. This, in turn, serves to show why choosing traveling companions is a difficult but essential task.

CHAPTER 2

Mistrust, Violence, and Uncertainty on the Migrant Trail

Sometimes, when everything was calm on the migrant trail, I found myself getting lulled into a false sense of security. When there had been no raids for a few days, when no one had died or fallen off a train, and when relatively healthy migrants arrived at the migrant shelter, I started thinking that surely things were not so bad. I played cards, listened to stories, learned to cook rice with the nuns, and attempted to dance punta. I made plans for the following day; I gave a couple of backpacks and a pair of pants to a man who had lost his. I also bought some snacks for lunch to share with the people I liked most in the shelter. I was enjoying my first few weeks at the Juan Pedro shelter in Palenque. For many migrants, Palenque is the second place they stop after crossing the Guatemala-­Mexico border. The migrant house is situated in a neglected area consisting of a few blocks. The streets are unpaved, and the wind picks up the dust, the papers, and the wrappers when it blows. Most of the houses are poor and only half finished. Scraggy dogs roam the area looking for scraps of food. From the open dining area of the shelter, you can see the freight train go by. More importantly, the facility is close enough to the tracks that, when the train starts puffing and screeching as it gets ready to depart, people who are resting or eating gather up their backpacks, put on their shoes, and run to catch it. Migrants riding on top of the train from Tenosique—­the town before Palenque—­can disembark safely at Palenque and walk to the shelter. The vegetation in Chiapas is lush and the weather is hot and humid. The green of the vegetation contrasts with the bright blue sky. It feels comfortable

Mistrust, Violence, and Uncertainty on the Migrant Trail

45

to sit on the grass and chat. People thought that the Migra did not pick people up in the blocks around the migrant house, so sometimes I did interviews in the park or in the street, where the migrants seemed more relaxed. We were far enough away from the house to make them feel that they did not have to speak quietly, but close enough for them to run back to take shelter if they felt scared. I was comfortable. I thought we were safe. Then one morning, I arrived at the migrant house and found everything eerily quiet. The hustlers who usually hung around outside of the house were nowhere to be seen, but their trash and the cardboard they used to sit on were still there. Someone—­probably migrants—­had burned a black plastic bag, some plastic cups, and what looked like potato chip wrappers; the smoke was still hanging in the air. I rang the doorbell and an armed guard opened the door. He did not let me in; nor did he explain what was happening. When I was finally allowed in, I saw two panicking nuns, several wailing women and children, around thirty fatigued and scared migrants, and no breakfast. What had happened? I was told that some men—­the Migra perhaps?—­had come last night. They had not only taken the people from the street but had inspected several of the houses in the vicinity. While illegal, this made sense as the people who live near the migrant houses or the train tracks often rent rooms to the migrants or let them sleep in their backyards or entrances for a small fee. Some people pay for a room if they arrive late at night and the migrant house is closed. Estrella and her family had arrived the previous evening, and since it was too late to room at the migrant house, she paid fifty pesos (three dollars) for them to stay in a neighbor’s spare room. “What happened,” Estrella told me between sobs, is that in the middle of the night four trucks came. Then men with long guns came out and started knocking on everyone’s doors. The neighbors had to open their doors and show that they did not have any migrants inside. Me and the children [her six-­and thirteen-­year-­old daughters] went down and hid in the chicken coop. The chickens did not make a peep. They were scared too. The men with guns took out all the migrants and lined them up in front of the trucks. They beat them, took their things, and then took them away.

Someone asked, “Were they agents of the National Migration Institute?” Estrella replied, “Well, they weren’t wearing uniforms. They wore all black.”

46

Chapter 2

The migrants who were not caught in the raid ran toward the shelter and begged to be let in; they did not want the men to come back and take them. The people who ran the shelter were scared too and did not open the door. They did not want any “bad” migrants to take advantage of the situation and come inside. The survivors ended up hiding in treetops, in chicken coops, or behind cars until the shelter was opened to let them in at 7 a.m. Then I arrived. This shattered the sense of peace, demonstrating that not even the migrant house is safe from the power of the state and that of criminals. Moreover, the event really affected me. It was my second week doing fieldwork and I had started to feel comfortable observing and interviewing. I had written in my field notes, “Although migrants suffer a lot when they transit, I am surprised by the amount of laughter and flirtation that I find here. They still have time to relax and have fun when they are safe.” The event made me finally understand that migrants were continuously under threat and that they could never really let their guard down. When I shared my insight with a pair of young Guatemalans who had avoided capture during the raid, they looked wearily at me and told me that they knew that. They never let their guard down. They were always stressed, aware of the possibility of dying or of getting deported. It was I, a visitor, who did not realize that. It was only I, a novice, who had been lulled into a false sense of security. For everyone else, the stakes had always been high; playing cards, cooking, and dancing punta did not distract them from the menace. They knew they were never safe while they were in Mexico. This event reflects some characteristics of the migrant trail that explain the presence of rampant distrust. First, the men who arrived and violently detained the migrants were not dressed as agents of the INM. They were wearing black and had guns, which the INM do not have. They knew exactly where to look for the migrants and came in unmarked vans. Secondly, according to some of the people I talked to, someone must have snitched. How else would the men know to look for Estrella and her family among precisely those houses? How did they know how many people were there? Who told the men that there were a lot of migrants in the town that night? Of course, we never found out if someone had in fact snitched. The perpetrators could have forced someone to give them that information through the use of threats or actual violence. Regardless, the reactions of the migrants illustrate the pervasive mistrust that exists on the road. This story also highlights how

Mistrust, Violence, and Uncertainty on the Migrant Trail

47

many actors in the arterial border (Vogt 2018) have fluid identities. Were the men dressed in black police officers moonlighting as criminals? Were they INM agents during the day? No one is safe. No one can really rest easy. “This is not our country; we cannot let our guard down,” Gerardo told me as we walked the two blocks from the Juan Pedro shelter to an internet café. “The park looks all peaceful and you just might think you can relax,” he continued, his head bowed and looking straight ahead. “But that guy, the one in the black baseball cap and the red sneakers . . . I am pretty sure he is the guy who kidnapped us last month.” Wendy Vogt’s conceptualization of the migrant trail as an arterial border illustrates the fluid configurations and spatializations of migrants’ vulnerability to risk: “Unlike the relatively bounded spaces of state enforcement along national borders, the arterial border is ever-­changing; it expands and contracts across space and over time, depending on local, national, and transnational sociopolitical contexts” (2018, 54). As the state and criminal presence intensifies, migrants adapt and use different routes; however, eventually the arterial border follows them, and new arteries of the route are formed. The border is performed by all the actors every day. Visualizing the border as arterial allows us to imagine shifts in enforcement, violence, and the ways that migrants adapt to change. It also illustrates the uncertainty that is omnipresent on the road and the way in which the rules of the game and the best strategies for survival must change on an hourly basis. Borders that limit mobility and trap people within a particular space, combined with roadblocks and other restrictions (such as constant raids, profiling, the difficulties migrants experience in getting wire transfers), fuel fear and uncertainty within that space (Castañeda 2019). In Mexico, especially, the seemingly random nature of enforcement and the limitations on free movement increase the uncertainty for migrants. Although Vogt mainly focused on the ever-­changing nature and unpredictability of the migrant trail, the uncertainty is not limited to the road. It extends to the actors who, like the border, can have fluid identities (Brigden 2018). Who is a smuggler? Who is an oreja (literally, an “ear” or a spy for the cartels)? Is that man wearing all black with a gun a cartel member or a state agent? Is this woman offering me an apple a do-­gooder, or is she trying to lure me away from my friends to kidnap me? When the arterial border shifts, the actors and the rules change too. Migrants in transit are constantly

48

Chapter 2

surrounded by new rules, new roadblocks, and new people. They need to navigate all these changes by themselves. They need to decide whom to trust, whom to talk to, and which group to join. Talavera, Núñez-­Mchiri, and Heyman (2010) have shown how the uncertainty and vulnerability that undocumented migrants experience elicit a series of—­sometimes contrasting—­affective responses ranging from fear, anxiety, and depression to bravado, courage, and expectancy. They have also illustrated how mistrust can flourish in these circumstances. In this chapter, and throughout the book, I show how migrants feel when crossing Mexico. We will see, as we meet them and learn about the environment in which they move and wait in Mexico, how these contrasting feelings of anxiety, mistrust, hope, and solidarity appear and affect the way in which they react to other migrants and influence how trust and solidarity are formed. In this chapter I present the context of violence and uncertainty of the migrant route and show how the fluidity of both the arterial route and the various relationships—­of alliance and collaboration or profiteering and predation—­ between migrants and the people they seek to engage with makes social ties .

Figure 2  A volunteer and a migrant study a map of the route. Note all the different routes, or arteries.

Mistrust, Violence, and Uncertainty on the Migrant Trail

49

challenging and risky. I discuss how the infrastructure of border enforcement and the different actors on the migrant trail interact with each other to create conditions of extreme violence, uncertainty, and mistrust. I outline the migratory policies that Mexico has implemented to deter and prevent migration and show how these have increased the violence and abuse perpetrated by state and nonstate actors. I explain the Programa Frontera Sur, the deterrence plan in place when I did most of my fieldwork, and show how this plan, once again, altered the flows and strategies of undocumented migrants.

Mexico’s Violent Border Control Although Mexico has never openly welcomed migrant flows from Central America, during the 1970s and 1980s it did not have the institutional capacity or the willingness to stem them. In the 1970s thousands of people fled Latin American dictatorships and took refuge in Mexico or the United States. Starting in 1973 and continuing throughout the next decade, refugees from Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala fled the conflicts in their own countries by moving toward Mexico and the United States (Castillo 1999). The Mexican government improvised a response to the first influx of Guatemalan refugees from 1981 to 1983 by letting them stay in the country, close to the southern border (Castillo 1999), but was not prepared to deal with these migrant flows on a longer-­term basis. It was only in the late 1980s that Mexico started actively tackling immigration. Since joining the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) in 1986, the country has attempted to reduce tariffs on trade with the United States. To convince the U.S. government of its ability to increase trade and control migration, the Mexican side cooperated with the Americans to enhance control along Mexico’s southern border. The United States helped by providing information, training, and money to stop migration through its southern neighbor (Dunn 1996). In 1988, when Salinas de Gortari became president of Mexico, migratory control along the border became more visible and deportations of Central Americans increased by 500 percent (Flores 1993). By the beginning of the 1990s, Mexico had expelled a hundred thousand migrants, reaching the astounding total of 126,440 (Castillo 1999). During the subsequent decade, Mexico aligned its migratory policies with the objective of deterring and preventing Central American migration to the United States (Flores 1993). The government established a patrol force

50

Chapter 2

called Grupos Beta in 1990 with the intention of preventing crime in the borderlands (see Rosas 2012). The official role of Grupos Beta was to protect unauthorized crossers on the Mexican side of the boundary. However, activists and migrants that I have talked to believe that Grupos Beta was an effort of the Mexican government to curtail undocumented migration, as Grupos Beta specifically targeted smugglers and arrested them. The cooperation between Grupos Beta in Mexico and the Border Patrol in the United States became evident when the Border Patrol donated radios and equipment to the Mexican agency. Overall, the two agencies have often joined forces in apprehending suspected criminals in the border region (Nevins 2010).

Plan Sur Plan Sur, implemented in 2001, was the Mexican government’s first attempt at containing the migration flows coming from the southern border. This plan was rolled out “as part of a Mexican strategy to placate the United States to negotiate better conditions for Mexican migrants” (Sheridan 2009, 89). Santiago Creel, Mexico’s secretary of the interior, echoed this view: “In exchange for better conditions for Mexicans working in the US our government is prepared to increase measures aiming to arrest foreigners in the country heading for the US” (Sheridan 2009, 89). The intention of the plan was to improve Mexico’s ability to control the migratory flows coming from Central America and prevent the crimes attributed to Central American migrants crossing Mexico. It was backed by the U.S. authorities, who worked together with the Mexican government and the Central American governments to implement it (Jaramillo 2001), and designed to increase Mexico’s presence in the fight against organized crime (Gabriela Rodríguez Pizarro 2002). Officially, the idea was to combat the smuggling of migrants and to enforce human rights protection along the southern border in an “environment of respect for the law” (Casillas 2002). The scale of its operations would be evident very soon after its adoption: between June 4 and June 17, 2001—­a period of only thirteen days—­Mexico deported six thousand migrants (Jaramillo 2001). The way in which Plan Sur was laid out and explained to the press established a link between migration and crime. The media responded with a sensationalized portrayal of migrants, giving the impression that they were

Mistrust, Violence, and Uncertainty on the Migrant Trail

51

a threat to the country (Gabriela Rodríguez Pizarro 2002). The fact that the Mexican army was enforcing the roadblocks also signaled that stopping migration was a matter of national security. Since the plan’s adoption, this language has permeated the way in which subsequent governments have spoken about migrants coming from Central America. Similarly, the local media, especially on the southern border, linked migrants with delinquency in the region. As the Mexican government attempted to control the migrants coming from the south, the violence that Central Americans experienced from all types of institutional and criminal actors increased dramatically within Mexico. State officials mistreated and robbed migrants. Once in detention centers, migrants were held in precarious conditions without access to doctors or legal advice and were often subjected to violence inside the centers (Rodríguez Pizarro 2002; Sin Fronteras 2005). One of the most significant drivers behind the acceleration of repression against migrants in the twenty-­first century has been Mexico’s war on drugs, started by Felipe Calderón of the National Action Party (PAN) in 2006. Since then, efforts to fight drug trafficking and organized crime have been irreversibly linked with securing the southern border and stopping undocumented immigration. In 2008 the United States rolled out the Mérida Initiative, a security cooperation agreement between the United States, Mexico, and the Central American countries designed to stop organized crime and money laundering. From 2011 the third pillar of the Mérida Initiative aimed to “create a 21st-­century U.S.-­Mexican border while improving immigration enforcement in Mexico.” This included more than $100 million spent by the U.S. government in training and equipment to secure the southern border of Mexico (Seelke 2021). To date, the United States has given $1.6 billion in the form of training, equipment, and intelligence to the government of Mexico (“The Merida Initiative” 2021). As had increasingly been the case since 9/11, the link between national security and migration was further reinforced in this context. As migrant flows have increased and the pressure from the United States on Mexico to stop transit migrants has intensified, Mexico has sent more agents to the southern border and created yet more roadblocks. The Programa Frontera Sur of 2014 represented the culmination of these efforts to date.

52

Chapter 2

Programa Frontera Sur: Blockading the Southern Border One of the first things that surprises those new to the Mexico-­Guatemala border is that the bodies of water marking the geographical international boundary, the Usumacinta and Suchiate Rivers, are not heavily patrolled. Migrants, day-­trippers, and merchandise can cross legally via the crossing points or without permission in large rafts on the Usumacinta or Suchiate. This all takes place out in the open. The indifference of the police and the military is palpable. This deceptively easy crossing conceals the risks that await further north. In 2014 the government of Mexico implemented the Programa Frontera Sur (funded mainly by the Mérida Initiative) in Mexico’s southern states. The Programa moved border enforcement inside the southern states of Mexico, forming concentric circles of roadblocks, inspection stations, kiosks, and migrant detention centers in the area south of the Istmo region (where Mexico is geographically narrowest). The Programa Frontera Sur maps provide a stark illustration of how the practices of rejecting, deterring, and hunting down migrants are not limited to the geographical border of Mexico: the border is enforced all the way along the country’s territory. As part of the Programa Frontera Sur, and with the stated intention of protecting migrants and preventing trafficking and smuggling, the Mexican government increased the speed of the freight trains and put cement blocks at the side of the train tracks to prevent migrants from running along next to the trains and jumping on top of them while the trains are moving. Many migrants die or lose their limbs while trying to climb onto a freight train, as I discuss later in this chapter. The government also increased the number of raids on bars, guesthouses, and restaurants where Central Americans gather. The raid that I described at the beginning of this chapter was of this type. Cumulatively, these actions have made crossing Mexico more difficult and dangerous. Instead of riding on top of the freight train for most of the trip, migrants now have resort to a mix of train, buses, and walking to cross Mexico. They are forced to walk for longer parts of the journey and to take more secluded routes. They try to follow main roads but often have to take lengthy detours to avoid the roadblocks set up by the INM or the army. Since it is now more difficult to find secure lodging, migrants often spend several nights in the jungle, where they get bitten by bugs, go hungry and thirsty, and catch colds. Pushing migrants to use less visible routes makes them

Mistrust, Violence, and Uncertainty on the Migrant Trail

53

more vulnerable to abuse from the authorities and to violence, murder, and kidnappings by criminals. Furthermore, these detours make their journey longer, which has visible effects on their bodies and spirits. They get blisters on the soles of their feet, deep scratches on their arms and legs from running through the jungle, and severe sunburn from spending hours each day out in the scorching sun; they are often malnourished and tired. When talking about border control it is important to remember that the policies created by the Mexican government have made the route more difficult and more dangerous for migrants. Within migration control there is a “tactical relationship between federal border enforcement and [ . . . ] harsh landscape” (De León 2015, 29). When a migrant “falls off the train” it is because the government limits his use of safe transportation and makes the train go faster. When a migrant gets injured in the monte, it is because the roadblocks have forced him away from the main routes (among migrants, monte refers both to the thick, tropical jungle in the south and the drier, mountainous terrain in the center and north of Mexico; in both cases, it is a wild place where there are no people and the Migra rarely follows). As Deborah Boehm (2008) and Lauren Heidbrink (2014) have argued, when analyzing any kinship and social ties in the field of transnational migration, it is fundamental to consider the backdrop of state power.

Legal Protection for Migrants in Mexico On paper, transit migrants and asylum seekers in Mexico have the right to justice, education, and health, among other things. In 2011 the Mexican Legislature passed the National Migration Law. For the first time, the rights of migrants—­regardless of their legal situation—­were supposed to be protected. According to the law, migrants could now access medical services, education, and criminal or civil justice. They should also be informed of their rights and about the possibility of asking for refugee status. Another important recognition was the explicit stipulation that people who help migrants through goodwill and without any intention of profiting from their actions would not be considered guilty of a crime (Secretaría de Gobernación and Instituto Nacional de Migración 2011). In theory, this should protect human rights activists from threats (Morales Vega 2012). Regrettably, the law has not made any significant difference. Human rights defenders are constantly harassed, bullied, and threatened. When I was conducting fieldwork, a police

54

Chapter 2

van maintained a constant presence outside a migrant shelter. The man who ran the shelter told me it was there to keep an eye on him, not to protect him. In October 2018 Irineo Mujica, a prominent migrant rights activist, was arrested for “resisting arrest, lesions, and damage to property” (Heraldo de México 2018). The charges were eventually proved to be fabricated and the general consensus among activists is that he was targeted for helping a migrant caravan traveling through the country. Some migrants in transit have access to certain documents that make their journey easier. Eligible migrants can apply for a visa for humanitarian reasons (VRH) or they can apply for asylum. Migrants who experience violence during their transit across Mexico, those who are applying for asylum, and those who are in a “vulnerable situation” can apply for a VRH (Ley de Migración 2011). Having such a document can make transit or settlement in Mexico easier and thus affects the routes and strategies that they choose. The status allows migrants to live in Mexico for a year, can be renewed, and can lead to permanent residency (Coria and Zamudio 2018). However, in order to get a VRH, victims need to prove that the crime they experienced was “severe,” as defined by Mexico’s prosecution office. In 2017, 1,214 people were granted a VRH; of those, 88 percent were Central American migrants (Coria and Zamudio 2018). Migrants with a VRH can cross Mexico legally; this means they can take long-­haul buses and face migratory agents with confidence (although there have been cases of agents refusing to recognize the document). Despite the strategic value of the VRH for migrants, those who are victims of a crime are often unaware that they can apply for this document. Many times, too, they are scared to show up at a police station, as they do not trust Mexican officers. Finally, applying for a VRH takes several months and migrants often do not want to delay their journeys any more than necessary. Paco, a middle-­aged man from El Salvador, had decided to wait for his VRH to arrive. He had been kidnapped, along with others in his party, as they were walking along the side of the highway at the beginning of their journey, close to Tenosique. After hearing his story, someone from a migrant house convinced him to apply for a VRH. When I met him, he had been waiting for three months and was in a very vulnerable position. He could not work or go out because if he were noticed by the INM he would be deported. He was completely reliant on the support of the migrant house and was feeling despondent. Eventually he contacted me from Tucson. After waiting for

Mistrust, Violence, and Uncertainty on the Migrant Trail

55

five months, he had received his papers and been able to catch a bus to the northern border of Mexico, where he hired a smuggler to take him across the desert. The strategy had paid off. Most of the migrants who are fleeing Central America do so because they want to escape the violence, the poverty, or the effects of the climate crisis in their home countries (González 2015). Thus, many are eligible for asylum in theory. Under Mexican law, any government official who receives a request for asylum (written or verbal) must forward it to Mexico’s refugee agency, the Mexican Commission for Refugee Assistance (Comisión Mexicana de Ayuda a Refugiados, COMAR). People who are apprehended and then ask for asylum are usually detained, whereas people who go to COMAR are not detained while the process is ongoing. In general, those migrant houses that have more resources and access to lawyers advise asylum seekers to ask for asylum before being detained so that they can stay in a shelter while waiting for their case to be decided. Although the asylum law in Mexico follows international standards, accessing the procedure is complicated. Officers rarely inform detained migrants about the possibility of applying for asylum, there is justifiable fear that interviews will not be conducted properly, and people have to wait in detention for over a year if they want to hear the result of their application (Human Rights Watch 2016).

Dogs and Doghouses: State Violence The government of Mexico targets and “others” Central American migrants by securitizing migration control and using repressive policies to control and deter undocumented crossers. When I was conducting fieldwork, I learned that INM agents frequently refer to migrants as perros, “dogs,” and the vans that they take them away in as “doghouses,” perreras. In interviews, some agents told me that migrants “have a distinctive stench, like dirt and fear” that makes them easy to detect. I have also witnessed migrants being illegally stopped and violently detained. The agents justified this behavior by claiming, “If you give them the chance, they get violent on you; you have to strike first.” Migrants expressed confusion and uncertainty about these interactions: “Sometimes they are in a good mood and let you go; once an agent gave me a soda. More often they are mean, and they run after you and hit you and drag you through the jungle.” The unpredictability of the

56

Chapter 2

state agents combined with the changing nature of the arterial road makes migrating a new and confusing experience every time. However, it is important to note, as Wendy Vogt stresses, “that violence against migrants is not random, anomalous, or an unintended consequence of militarization. On the contrary, violence is routinized and central to state security and enforcement practices” (2018, 63). The state knows that the checkpoints, the presence of more agents, and the othering of migrants make them more likely to experience violence. Thus, directly or indirectly, the state incapacitates them, slows them down, is responsible for their disappearance, and kills them. Although there are regional variations in the way violence is perpetrated, the results are the same: confusion, uncertainty, vulnerability, and mistrust. After crossing the Usumacinta River with relative ease, Juan and Jarvis were forced to walk for a week alongside the highway to get to Palenque. They could not take combis, small passenger vans, because there were too many checkpoints on the highway. When vans are stopped at checkpoints, INM agents look at all the passengers and “detect” the migrants. Jorge, an INM officer who was lauded as one of the best in the Palenque area for detecting migrants just by sight and smell told me, “Last week we caught eleven in one day. They are very easy to detect; I don’t know why they keep taking those combis.” The checkpoints make what is already a dangerous journey more perilous and protracted. Juan and Jarvis were forced to walk for seven days instead of reaching their destination via a three-­hour van ride. “What we didn’t expect, honestly, were the checkpoints and the Migra agents,” Jarvis told me, “so, so many . . . and when you see them, you have to jump into the monte, the jungle, and take a detour that takes days! Look, my sneaker is already broken. Damn jungle.” He continued, “We were hungry, hot, and thirsty. I swear to you that we were hallucinating food and a good coffee prepared by my wife. We could barely walk.” The detour weakened them. Indeed, some migrants end up with blisters on the soles of their feet so big that they cannot walk for days, let alone negotiate the obstacles associated with traveling through Mexico. Jarvis and Juan were eventually detained by the Migra. They were walking along the highway when they saw the INM van, whereupon they dived into the jungle and started running. They were tired and hungry, and Jarvis’s broken sneaker was slowing him down, so Juan decided to stop so that he could be with his friend when they were arrested:

Mistrust, Violence, and Uncertainty on the Migrant Trail

57

Figure 3  Walking for weeks takes its toll on migrants. Here we can see the sole of the foot of someone who had been walking for two months to cross Mexico.

The Migra agents are bad people. When they see you, they try to run after you, and they throw things at you to make you stop. The guy who arrested us hit my friend in the head with a stick; here you can see the scar. He also called us “dogs” and was making fun of us. When they stopped us, they stole our sneakers and the last of the pesos we had. I guess we are lucky because this Migra didn’t hand us in to the maras or the narcos; they just detained us and were going to deport us.

As the Migra were escorting them to the perrera, another migrant who had been caught before them started running: “And he distracted them, and we

58

Chapter 2

were surrounded by monte, by jungle, so we just started running,” Jarvis told me. “And we were scared but then I thought, ‘I haven’t even given Mexico a try yet, they can’t deport us so close to the border.’ So, I ran, and Juan ran, and we ran and ran and ran and here we are; broken but not defeated.” Juan and Jarvis’s experience is so common among migrants that they almost gloss over it when they are describing their journeys. It was presented as a funny tale, and one in which they were fortunate, but it featured violence. From listening to them and all the other migrants in the Palenque migrant shelter and riding the bus to the border, it became obvious that the Mexican government had created an obstacle course within its southern states that pushes migrants into more secluded and dangerous areas. By making it impossible for them to take the safer and faster transportation routes, they force them to make decisions that will result in them being hurt, disappeared, or killed. Migrants have to walk for days across uneven terrain in hot and humid conditions. They frequently go hungry and thirsty. Sometimes they become ill and die from drinking polluted water. They twist their ankles, scrape their arms, get sunburned, and end up with huge blisters that stop them from walking. They become weakened, miserable, and desperate. Human predators roam this terrain, too. Some migrants are robbed and assaulted in this “no man’s land”; many have gone missing or been kidnapped. Thus, even when no agent of the state touches the migrants, the state exercises power and violence over them by forcing them to take the more dangerous route (see De León 2015). Another type of violence that frequently recurs in this narrative is the forcefulness with which the state agents do their job. They dehumanize migrants; they talk about them like animals, and they make them feel as if they do not deserve to be treated like human beings. For example, Rulo, another migrant, told me, “If you could see me when I am at my house, my country, you would see that I am a human; If you could see me after a shower, a good meal. . . . I am a human back home, here I am . . . less.” When they are caught, migrants suffer abuse while being held in detention centers before getting deported. In some cases, there are no doctors in the facility, women and men are mixed together, and children are not properly taken care of. Sometimes migrants have to stay there for several days, waiting to be repatriated. They do not have access to legal advice and are not told about their rights (Sin Fronteras 2005). Detention centers do not

Mistrust, Violence, and Uncertainty on the Migrant Trail

59

cater for special diets, and migrants seldom have contact with lawyers from civil society organizations (Ávila Morales, Díaz de León, and Andrade 2017). Sometimes the agents of the National Migratory Institute take advantage of them. If migrants are victims of a crime, they are dissuaded from reporting it or are deported before they can testify against the perpetrator (Ortiz Ahlf 2012; Díaz de León and García Alanís 2019). They do not have access to justice or means of redress in Mexico. Despite the passage of the 2011 Migration Law, the violence that Mexico subjects them to continues to be palpable.

Out of the Frying Pan into the Fire: Criminal Violence Criminal violence against migrants is rampant in Mexico. The changes in border control have forced migrants to use more remote routes that overlap with the drug trafficking routes of organized crime (Slack and Campbell 2016; Vogt 2013). Migrants are targeted by cartels, gangs, and petty criminals who often collude with the Mexican authorities at all levels. Criminal organizations humiliate, scam, extort, rob, kidnap, kill, and sexually assault undocumented migrants with impunity. Thousands of migrants have disappeared en route to the northern border. According to Simón Izcara Palacios (2016), Mexican criminal organizations use three main strategies to exploit undocumented migrants: charging them fees to cross territory that they control, kidnapping them for a ransom, and kidnapping them for labor. For example, gangs frequently charge a fee—­la cuota or derecho de piso—­to cross territory that they control. They stop migrants who are walking, or they jump onto the train and ask for la cuota. Often, those who cannot pay are beaten, taken away, or pushed off the train. Since Mexican territory is dominated by different criminal organizations, all vying for control of new areas, the criminal map changes constantly and migrants need to pay la cuota several times along the route. Dionisio, a first time-­migrant from Honduras, crossed from Guatemala to Mexico and headed toward Palenque on foot. The police robbed him in the jungle and he lost his backpack on another occasion when running away from the Migra. “But I was still optimistic,” he told me. “I had not gotten injured or died and I had a plan.” After Palenque, he walked along the train tracks and took the freight train at Salto del Agua. He did not know it at the time, but he had just made it through the rings of contention around the

60

Chapter 2

Istmo, the narrowest part of Mexico where most of the INM checkpoints are located. He then took a train that was going northward. The train took him to Veracruz, a long and narrow state sandwiched between the Gulf of Mexico and the Sierra Madre. Here, the presence of organized crime intensifies, and migrants are more likely to encounter cartels or gangs. Veracruz is one of the most dangerous states in Mexico and one of the deadliest stops along the migrant route. Hundreds of migrants go missing in this area; the last communication from many missing migrants to their families often says that they were on their way to Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz. Everyone I interviewed who went to Coatzacoalcos had been stopped by the gangs, the police, or the INM and been asked for la cuota before they could pass through it. Dionisio was no exception: Dionisio: So, you are riding on top of the train and then it stops in the middle of nowhere and these morenos [black people] jump on board and ask for one hundred dollars to let you through! They tell you, “If you don’t cough up the money we’ll throw you off the moving train.” I’ve seen them throw people off the train, is no empty threat. Alejandra: But I don’t get it, do you really have one hundred dollars to pay? I thought most of you had no money. Dionisio: Obviously we don’t pay a hundred dollars each but we give them all we have. They even make us take our shoes off to show them we don’t have any money. Alejandra: Oh wow, and on top of a moving train. Dionisio: Yeah, it’s very scary! When it was my turn to pay them I only had coins, so I took them out and they told me they didn’t take coins, only bills. I thought they were going to throw me off. But something distracted them and they moved on. I was even able to pick my coins up again and the coins that other people had thrown. I even earned money! Hahaha. Kidnapping is also a very real risk along the migrant route. Many of the people I met and interviewed had either escaped a kidnapping attempt or had been kidnapped previously. When I was doing fieldwork, the ransom charged by the criminal organizations seemed to be around $4,000. Those who cannot not pay might be kept as workers. Cartels can also take people specifically for their labor, such as guarding other kidnapped migrants,

Mistrust, Violence, and Uncertainty on the Migrant Trail

61

committing murders, participating in robberies, working in the poppy or marihuana fields, and extorting people over the phone (Izcara Palacios 2016). Women are often sexually exploited or forced to cook and clean for the cartel. In 2015 I interviewed a Guatemalan woman who, while she was a prisoner of the cartel, was forced to clean up for the sicarios, the hitmen for the cartels, after they had executed the undocumented migrants who could not pay the ransom to secure their release. During the four years in which she was a prisoner of the cartel, she estimated that she saw around a thousand migrants being killed. Eventually, she managed to escape. Kidnappings often lead to exploitative practices, including human trafficking or organ harvesting. It “is not purely about using the body to access accumulated capital but also a way to harness the intrinsic functions of the body such as labor and sex” (Slack 2016, 4). A lot of the stories I heard about kidnapping involved a transiting migrant making a new (dangerous) friend or asking someone for advice and getting ill-­intentioned information that led him into danger, illustrating the point that forming social ties with new people is always risky. Jordan, a first-­time migrant from Guatemala, was led to a security house by a Salvadorian man he had met the previous week. Upon arrival, Jordan was kept there for three months on a diet of chips and soda until the police rescued him. He had trusted the man who sold him to the cartel; they had spent seven days walking in the sun, talking, and stealing food together. The man seemed genuine, like “a real migrant.”5 When I talked to him, he remained impressed by the level of commitment his false friend had shown in order to trick him. Often migrants are taken in large groups; I have heard about mass kidnappings of up to seventy people. These are usually made possible by the collusion that goes on between the criminals, state agents, and people working or living in the area. For example, when migrants are taken from a train, the train conductor has to stop it in an isolated area. Migrants are also convinced that whenever the Grupos Beta agents provide food or advice to migrants, they also note how many of them there are and where they are going so that they can communicate this to other organizations. We can see here another example of the fluid identities of the actors in the arterial border. Again, it is clear that migrants always have to be aware of how much information they are providing and of who is around them. 5. For a more detailed analysis on how migrants decide whom to trust, see Díaz de León (2021).

62

Chapter 2

Maycol, an experienced forty-­five-­year-­old man from Honduras, once saw how a group of men whom he believed belonged to a cartel took a group of around thirty people walking near the train tracks in San Luis Potosí: I usually walk twenty or thirty meters behind big groups. I assume they have a smuggler who knows what he’s doing. Also, if something is going to happen, it usually happens to the people in front. Anyway, I was following this group, they had women, and suddenly they were cut off by a group of five young men with big guns. I jumped into a bush and hid, and some other people ran away. I saw how they made the group sit down; the men beat a couple of them, and they started pushing them into vans. It was very scary. I stayed in my bush all day. I was paralyzed with fear [pauses]. I hope the group are ok.

Marvin, a seventeen-­year-­old migrant from Honduras, was kidnapped (along with others in a large group) by maras on the train on his way to Veracruz. It was his first trip. They were driven to a big ranch containing several houses, where he believes the gang kept migrants. They were put in a room with at least fifty other people; a tall and muscular man with tattoos and a moustache approached them and gave the prisoners three choices. They could ask their families for the ransom money; work it off; or get shot right there and then. Marvin chose the second option, and so every day they drove him to a set of traffic lights where he had to ask drivers for money. Eventually, he escaped and managed to take the train to Mexico City. In this example, Marvin was used as a laborer for the gang, paying off his fee by working for them. Other migrants I have interviewed who were taken by cartels have been forced to work as sicarios or to cross the border with backpacks containing marijuana. These stories stress that anyone can be a suspect and that mistrust is rampant on the road. To add to the uncertainty, the open nature of the migrant trail makes it practically impossible for tricksters or criminals to acquire bad reputations. Migrants are moving in one direction—­from south to north—­so they do not have the chance to engage in any exchanges about their experiences with those who follow their path. If someone is tricked by a scammer posing as a migrant, for instance, the victim will move northward and the scammer can move somewhere else. It is almost impossible for warnings about a specific person to be given, so migrants are suspicious of all strangers.

Mistrust, Violence, and Uncertainty on the Migrant Trail

63

Actors with Multiple Identities In the previous sections I neatly divided the violence perpetrated by state actors from the violence perpetrated by criminal actors. In reality, and in accordance with the theme of this chapter, the instability of the actors’ identities in the arterial border extends to the authorities, the criminals, the organized criminals, and even some members of the community. It has been well documented that the police are often involved in robberies, kidnappings, and executions in Mexico. There have been many testimonies from migrants who claim that not only are the police working for the criminals—­they are often the same people. Along the route, it is possible to find cops moonlighting as sicarios, or gang members who don police uniforms and drive police vans while pretending to be cops and engaging in criminal activities. I met a man from Honduras called Paco, who had been kidnapped in a plaza in broad daylight by men wearing civilian clothing. He was kept in a dark room for a couple of days on what he believes was the second or third floor of a building. He told me that, through the door, he could hear people coming into the office next door and reporting crimes and human rights violations. The man who had taken him and held him captive worked in a government institution during the day and as a criminal at night! Similarly, migrants who have been stopped at what look like official police or military checkpoints sometimes end up kidnapped in a security house belonging to a criminal organization. Likewise, local people migrants meet along the route can take on multiple identities and fulfill several roles. Some locals help the shelters by donating money, food, clothes, or volunteering. Many guide migrants to the shelters when they see them on the street. However, other—­or the same?—­area denizens take advantage of migrants in ways such as overcharging them for food, lodging, or resources. Sometimes, they hire them to do odd jobs for almost no money, or they do not pay them at the end of the day. It is a complicated relationship that changes and evolves depending on the number of migrants passing through, the relationship between the leadership of the shelters and the local population, and the way that migrants are portrayed in the media.

The Humanitarian Routes The precarity and insecurity of the road have led to the creation of civil society organizations whose aim is to help undocumented transit migrants.

64

Chapter 2

Migrant shelters, migrant houses, dining spaces, and churches have created a “humanitarian route.”6 There are more than sixty shelters, migrant houses, and canteens spaced throughout Mexico, which are not part of a coordinated movement (Candiz and Bélanger 2018), providing free services to migrants. Most of them are run by local Catholic priests and nuns with the help of the Mexican church, the Red Cross, or the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR). These shelters vary in terms of the extent and type of help that they provide the migrants. Some have psychologists and lawyers on staff who are able to help asylum seekers. Others can only provide basic medical assistance, food, and a place to sleep for a couple of nights. These rest stops are very important for migrants in transit and for deported migrants on the U.S.-­Mexico border. Often migrants try to structure their journeys around the migrant houses. Many of my interviewees had agreed on contingency plans with their group. If they were scattered by the Migra or the cartels, they would plan to meet at the migrant house ahead, for example. Often, experienced migrants try to visit migrant houses they had liked on previous journeys. Although not all migrants visit all the migrant houses along their route, for many, just knowing that a migrant house was there means that they are on the right path to the north. The time that migrants spend inside migrant shelters influences their decisions, actions, and routes (Candiz and Bélanger 2018). I have observed how, in these spaces, migrants can recharge, shower, replace their torn clothing, and gather important information about what is to come. In the open spaces of the rest areas or the long, shared tables of the dining rooms, migrants exchange experiences, strategies, and jokes. They ask each other about previous stages of the journey and compare strategies and impressions. The more experienced ones share tips. The stories they exchange provide important information about the journey while reaffirming the idea that the road is fraught with peril, including false friends and bad smugglers. Staff at the migrant shelter can also influence the plans and attitudes of the migrants (Agudo Sanchíz 2021). They talk to hundreds of people who are knowledgeable about the route every week. They chat with migrants, 6. For the purposes of this text, migrant shelters are spaces where migrants can rest, eat, and sleep, but from which most of them have to move on after a couple of days. Migrant houses are spaces that provide basic services plus help with mental health, legal advice, and advocacy. Given the huge variety of activities that goes on in these spaces, this rough classification will need to be refined in future research.

Mistrust, Violence, and Uncertainty on the Migrant Trail

65

record human rights violations against them, walk around the area, and negotiate with the authorities and often the local criminals. They are aware of the comings and goings of most of the actors in the arterial border. In every migrant shelter that I have been to, speeches are given before lunch every day. In these them, migrants are reminded of the perils of the road, including the very real possibility of being tricked, kidnapped, or killed. As a priest in a migrant shelter on the southern border repeated every night before dinner: “And I remind you, please pay attention to who talks to you. Why are they being so nice? Are they trying to scam you? To kidnap you? We try to be careful here, but I guarantee you that there are smugglers and enganchadores here. Be careful. Trust no one.” Indeed, not even in these spaces can migrants drop their guard. Migrant shelters, houses, and canteens can be infiltrated by coyotes or traffickers. Some scholars have argued that because often migrants take the location of migrant houses into account when planning their route, these facilities also make it easier for criminals to find potential victims (Vogt 2018; Candiz and Bélanger 2018; Slack 2019).

Deterrence, Violence, and Mistrust The fluid, arterial route through Mexico follows the migrants and adapts to their strategies. These stories show the rampant and ubiquitous violence that occurs around migrants within the country. The border is actively enforced all along the migrant route by multiple actors, including criminal organizations. In this chapter I provided insight into the context of violence, mistrust, and betrayal that surrounds transit migrants as they attempt to make their way to the northern border of Mexico. It is not only the route that is fluid and ever changing; the actors adapt, move, and disguise themselves, too. The very real and painful stories of betrayal, kidnapping, and murder that are repeated constantly by migrants and activists help generate a sense of uncertainty, unfamiliarity, disorientation, and uneasiness. It is in this context that transit migrants, who are often crossing without the help of their family members, attempt to form new social ties. Not only do migrants have to negotiate dangerous people and people they do not know, they must also navigate an ever-­changing arterial border in which they encounter new spaces and places with new rules and arrangements. This constant uncertainty, vulnerability, and inability to predict

66

Chapter 2

what will come next leaves migrants feeling isolated from their families back home (who would not be able to understand what was happening to them) and gives them a sense of being people who do not matter, whose lives are “ungrievable” (Butler 2009). These feelings of isolation and “inhumanity” leave migrants with a yearning for someone who will see them as people and who will remember them if they die or disappear. As I show in the following chapters, these feelings are among the factors that encourage migrants to overcome some of their natural mistrust of others and to form new, important social arrangements.

CHAPTER 3

Families in Transit

The first person who greeted visitors to the Juan Pedro Shelter in Palenque was Jonathan, a six-­year-­old boy from El Salvador. He would run toward whoever came to the house and start asking them questions or throw his soccer ball to them. He had not been allowed to leave the migrant house for five months and was going crazy. Bored out of his mind, he became very excited to be able to meet and play with so many new people. Jonathan and his parents had fled home after a local gang threatened his father. They left their house in the middle of the night and Jonathan was forced to leave most of his toys behind. His sister was only two years old and could not play with him, and so, from Jonathan’s perspective, was boring. The family was waiting for a transit visa to allow them to travel through Mexico and could not leave the migrant house in the meantime, as they would risk being deported. Fortunately for Jonathan, there was a constant influx of children who had left Central America with their parents. They would arrive tired and dirty from the road but would soon be sufficiently recovered to play soccer or tag with him. Unfortunately for Jonathan, most families left after a couple of days because their parents wanted to get to the United States as quickly as possible. As a consequence of the political and economic situation in Central America, an increasing number of families are choosing to migrate together. On the road many families like Jonathan’s can be found. There are also straight and gay couples without children. I often talked to groups of men who were

68

Chapter 3

all related to each other and had chosen to move as a family but had left the women back home. I encountered several pairs of brothers and sometimes fathers with their teenage sons. Although the family dynamics depend on the composition of the group, they all have something in common: they tend to isolate themselves from the rest of the migrant community and remain in their own group. This, as I show throughout the chapter, makes their journey more difficult and uncertain because they are unable to get up-­to-­date information and help as they travel along the road. In this chapter I investigate why people traveling in family groups tend to perceive the road as more dangerous and be more mistrustful of individuals outside of their group than migrants who travel without families. I then discuss a specific threat that heteropatriarchal families face—­sexual violence—­and discuss how they deal with it when they encounter it on the road. Finally, I show how families are more isolated from the community of migrantes (the community of migrants who are traveling at the same time as them) and more reliant on the help of advocacy institutions. I use a definition of family relations that encompasses people who consider themselves to be family members through many cultural and social processes. This includes having biological family members in common, being bound symbolically together by religious ceremonies (such as baptism), close friendships, a sexual relationship, or kinship bonds. The meaning of the term “family” in Latin America is constantly shifting (Castañeda 2019). In this book I do not discuss how these families interact with the law, so I use a fluid definition of “family,” which varies from person to person and is often more extensive than the narrow legal definitions. There does not need to be any sexual procreation involved in these families. If the people I interviewed considered themselves a family before embarking on the process of migration, I considered them a family too. This is important because if we stick to a legal definition of families, many of the people who consider themselves families would not be considered one from the legal perspective. Scholarship on transit migration rarely focuses on the different types of families on the road and on how they interact with other actors on the arterial border. To address this gap, this chapter outlines some family arrangements that exist on the road and describes how the migration of these groups differs from that of people who leave by themselves or with friends.

Families in Transit

69

Why Do Families Migrate Together? One hot and humid Saturday morning a couple of other researchers and I took a combi to the Mexico-­Guatemala border. We wanted to see how much security there was along the river and how easy it was to cross. As the combi was rattling along the road, we saw a family walking next to the highway. For a while we had been observing small groups of men walking toward Palenque. We assumed they were migrants as they were carrying backpacks, wearing caps, and were walking northward. The family was probably migrating too. It consisted of a tall, dark man with a little girl of no more than three years old on his shoulders, and a woman carrying a baby in a sling on her chest. They both had backpacks and looked tired but determined. I hoped that they arrived at the shelter safely. We spent the day at the border where we crossed the river to Guatemala in a small raft without having to show our passports. We had lunch and took the raft back, again without interacting with any border officials. At around four o’clock we took another combi and braced ourselves for the three-­hour drive and the roadblocks that we would have to face. When we were an hour away from the migrant house, we saw the same family still walking along the road. They were distinctive enough for us to be sure it was them. We wondered if they had planned on arriving at the migrant house where we were doing research. They never did, though, so we thought perhaps they took another route or were picked up by the National Migration Institute or the gangs. Although those with children are the most visible families, I soon learned that there were many groups who were composed of members of the same clan. Often, I talked to groups comprised of all men with a wide range of ages and discovered that they were brothers, sons, uncles, and nephews traveling together. In those cases, they had decided to leave the women of the families back home. Sometimes I saw fathers who had come back from the United States to take their teenage sons (never daughters) away from the gangs and the violence in their home countries. I met several queer couples who had fled the gendered violence they were experiencing. There are clear gendered reactions to women, children, or even teenagers attempting to cross Mexico. People are often surprised or even scandalized by their presence. For example, Yadira, who was migrating with her uncle,

70

Chapter 3

expressed to me the shock that she felt during our interview. “I don’t understand why those women bring their children and their babies,” she said. “It is just plain stupid. Why would you bring a child that will die on the road? You have to make him walk. If he gets sick you don’t have medicine. If he gets injured you don’t have a doctor. It’s selfish. It’s stupid to bring your child on the road.” Yadira herself was a victim of those prejudices, as a woman who had been told she had no place on the road by more than one migrant. Most of the male migrants I interviewed told me something similar to the views that Pedro, a two-­time migrant from El Salvador, articulated: “I wouldn’t migrate with a woman because they are a bit slower than us and they are more vulnerable. You have to help them get on the train and wait for them. They should stay home or hire a good smuggler to take them.” Families formed only of men rarely had to deal with this problem, as no one contested their right to brave the migrant route. When I talk about families that migrate together, people often ask me: Why do they decide to leave as a unit instead of just sending one person? Would it not be smarter for someone to stay at home to take care of the house and provide support from a distance? Why risk everyone? The answers to these questions are complex and varied. There are as many combinations of factors as there are families. Like individual migrants, families are strategic actors who use the information they possess to react to their economic, political, and social context. Often, families negotiate the decision to migrate together, making hard choices within the constraints of migration policies that often reject family reunification or that see the migrant as an individual laborer (Boehm 2012). Migration is also informed by risk: it is one of the strategies that people can use to escape or manage threats. The way in which people understand and evaluate danger influences the decision about who stays behind and who leaves (Williams and Baláž 2012). In Central America, the risks can be economic (loss of crops, loss of income) or related to personal integrity (extortion and threats of violence, death threats, gendered violence). Most of the decisions families make are taken after careful consideration of how their actions will affect the family and the family’s assets. As I showed in chapter 1, families leave together as a consequence of poverty, physical threats, and gendered violence. And as I have already mentioned, among the migrants I met, sometimes mothers brought their children with them when they took to the road because they mistrusted their families back home.

Families in Transit

71

Many of the families who told me they had only left because of poverty (and not violence) were straight couples from El Salvador, Honduras, or Guatemala who had decided that the best way for them to improve their situation was by staying together so both partners could earn money. If they had children and trusted their extended family with childcare, they left them back home. Martha (thirty-­two years old from Honduras), whom I met in Saltillo when she arrived with her husband and her brother-­in-­law, told me that they had left their three teenage sons with her mother. “They’ll be fine there,” she told me. “They’ll get the money we send, and have a good life. We’ll see them in a couple of years and we’ll all be better. I know that my mother will take good care of them and will prevent them from doing drugs. Plus, they are older now; they can take care of themselves.” This was Martha’s first time in Mexico, but her husband’s third. Like most couples I interviewed, they wanted to be together in the United States (“so that he doesn’t find a new one [woman],” Martha said) and had decided that earning two salaries in dollars would make it quicker and easier for them to go back to Central America and start a business if they wanted to. Martha also clearly wanted to keep a closer eye on her husband, to make sure he did not cheat on her. Alejandra: Why did you leave your country? Martha: Because of the poverty. I had a job and one day they asked me to train someone new and then they fired me and they only gave me half of my paycheck. I couldn’t protect my rights as a worker because my boss was very powerful. And my husband is a construction worker and he got hired to build a house and then he wasn’t paid what he was owed. So, in the end we did not have any money and we had to pay rent and the food for our children so we took out loans and now we owe a lot of money. We are going to the United States because we have debts and we know we will not be able to pay them in Honduras. They were relocating to escape from their debts and to make some money so that they could come back. In Central America and Mexico, it is very common for people to migrate and leave their children behind with their grandparents in exchange for a contribution to the household (see Yarris 2017). Martha’s narrative is one of the few among those I encountered that did not discuss violence. She felt that her children would be safe back home;

72

Chapter 3

she was not scared of the gangs in Honduras. To introduce the topic of violence, I had to ask about the gangs in her region (Olancho). She said that mareros were not an issue where she lived. In this respect, leaving her children behind makes sense: in their case, the children could take care of their house and remain safe. I have already shown how sometimes families or women migrating by themselves brought their children with them, not because of the generalized violence in Central America but because they felt that they could not leave their children with someone else. In several interviews people told me that they did not want to leave their children behind because they did not trust their families to take good care of them. Lety, whom we met in chapter 1, revealed that she was mistreated by her grandmother, who stayed behind with her when her parents migrated. Her parents knew nothing about that and thought the money they sent had been well spent on Lety. She, like many mothers I met on the road, believed that the best place for a child is with her mother. Many of the mothers who brought their children with them also came with their partners. I observed that in this context of generalized violence the way in which people evaluate risk changes completely. When there are immediate physical threats, economic considerations take second place and survival becomes the number one priority. Many of the families I interviewed had been very poor and had tolerated a certain level of violence before they migrated. They told me they had just enough money to get by or had debt that they were managing; most people had been subemployed or unemployed and were used to managing the precarity and violence. They told me how they tolerated the everyday aggressions of being robbed on the streets, seeing their neighbors get killed or join the gangs, or being charged the derecho de piso. Eventually, one of these hostilities would become intolerable and would convince them that staying in Central America was no longer an option. The way in which they evaluated risk changed. Suddenly, it seemed more dangerous to stay than to migrate. Nevertheless, when they reflected on the reasons why they left, they almost always included economic factors. As other scholars have discussed (Yarris and Castañeda 2015), the lines between “economic” and “forced” migrants are blurred; thus, forcing those who decide to migrate to give a clear and unequivocal reason for moving is pointless and superficial. Reno and Darwin, two brothers from Honduras (eighteen and twenty-­two years old), explained that they had migrated “because of the poverty and the

Families in Transit

73

mafias that want to force you to work for them. . . . We had a problem six years ago with our father: he was murdered. From then on, we have experienced threats and attempts to kill us. That is what made us leave our country and leave our family.” Reno and Darwin had been threatened a couple of times already and their father had been murdered because he refused to pay the war tax on his business. However, this was not what made them leave. One day, Reno was stopped by a gang member while he was on his way home and threatened with death if he did not agree to join them in twenty-­four hours. After this, they decided to leave. They left their families behind as they believed their families would be safe as long as they were gone. It seemed that they were right: they had contacted their wives who told them that the gang members had laid off. However, there are other circumstances under which migrating with the whole family is the only way to save all its members—­as the following story shows. Rosa and Pedro had a small business in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, selling used clothes at markets. They had two kids and were just about scraping by: they could afford to rent a small house and buy food every day. But then, they told me, “We were OK but one day we had to leave. The mareros came and asked for the rent; they just threw a random number at us . . . We really couldn’t pay it; we would have gone broke, and then what? They would kill us! Pedro couldn’t go to the United States to get more money because if we stopped paying they were going to kill me and the children. We sold everything we could and we came [with the two kids]—­what would you have done?” The threat was persuasive enough to convince Pedro’s twin brother and his family to escape too, just in case they also became targets. A comparison between Darwin’s and Rosa’s interviews shows that they faced the same threat: both were warned that they would be killed, and the threat was credible enough to make them flee. Both Darwin and Rosa have young children. However, Darwin did not assume that the threat was directed at his whole family, while Rosa did. Darwin had experienced more direct violence while living in Honduras (his father had been killed, he had been robbed at gunpoint four times, and he had witnessed a murder) than Rosa (she had only experienced the fear in her neighborhood, but never direct violence). Perhaps their background, and the violence they had endured before, affected the way they reacted. Rosa and her husband are clearly more conservative when evaluating risks, so they decided that it was safer for the whole family to migrate to the United States. They feared their children

74

Chapter 3

would be killed if they left them behind. Although they were given very similar information, Reno and Darwin decided to leave their families behind as they calculated risk differently. It is hard to say which strategy is better. Sometimes families that are left behind are not bothered by the gangs again. Nothing had happened to Reno’s and Darwin’s families when I interviewed them, five days after they left their home. Unfortunately, sometimes family members who stay behind do get killed. I introduced Ramona, her husband and her niece when I talked about how there are gendered reasons for fleeing Central America. Ramona and her husband fled Honduras to save their niece’s life after she was a victim, and only surviving witness, of a mass murder in Honduras. Ramona did not want to migrate, but she believed that her niece was going to be targeted by the gang that the perpetrator belonged to and that taking her to the United States was the only way to save her life. Most of the family stayed behind. A day before I interviewed Ramona at the comedor in Nogales, she had found out that twenty members of her family had been murdered for helping her niece escape. Ramona, her husband, and her niece are the only ones left. Cases like this show that bringing the whole family can prove to be an effective strategy when people are making decisions in a context of such uncertainty. This was one of the last interviews I did as part of my research for this book. Even with many years’ experience of interviewing migrants about their accounts of difficulty and hardship, the way Ramona told the story while her niece played between the legs of the tables in the dining area made me feel like I was inexperienced again. I was not sure what the appropriate response was, or how to react. We ended up sitting in silence and sipping our coffees for almost an hour after the interview. As I have shown previously, escaping domestic or intimate partner violence is one of the main reasons why many women leave their communities (Ponce Mendoza 2013; Stephen 2019). Ramona’s niece had witnessed her cousins being murdered by one of their ex-­boyfriends. Because the killer was a member of a gang, the child’s family had to help her escape to save her life. In other—­frequent—­cases, women leave with their children to escape their violent partners, like Rosita, who left with her daughter. Men are also affected by gendered violence in Central America. The gang members frequently force kids as young as eleven to join their ranks. If they refuse, they are threatened and later murdered. For example, Mario went to Honduras from the United States to retrieve his son, Lucas, because he had

Families in Transit

75

been recruited by the MS13. The reach of the gangs is so vast that the only way to effectively run from them is by going to the United States (Martinez and Anderson 2016). As this section has shown, the decision to migrate as a family, especially if children are involved, is not taken lightly and is not considered irresponsible by those making the decision. Families try to be strategic actors and use the information they have about the economy, the political situation, the dangers of migrating, and the pay-­offs in the United States to make the best decision they can. This influences who stays, who leaves, and how they act during transit.

“The Danger Is in the Others” Like people who decide to migrate alone, families are often surprised by and unprepared for the experience of crossing Mexico. At the same time, they realize that they can rarely get any help from acquaintances while they are in Mexico. The sheer length of the journey and the possibility of being kidnapped sever—­sometimes permanently—­their ties with former social networks. Sometimes they lose touch with their families because they forget or misplace their contact details or they simply run out of money and so cannot make calls. Even those who are able to stay in contact with their families in Central America are often unable to receive help: their families are usually too poor to sustain them. Finally, most Central Americans do not have social networks in the United States that are willing to support them. In contexts of stress and violence, research has shown that social ties tend to break, and that trust tends to be limited to family members and not extended to the rest of the community (Erikson 1995). Other ethnographies have also shown how, even when new ties are formed, kinship ties tend to become stronger under stress, often excluding other people (Boehm 2012). This happens to most transit-­migrant families in Mexico: they rely on each other and do not trust outsiders. Martha was migrating with her husband, two cousins of her husband, and Lydia, a close family friend—­“just a friend, not a family member,” as Martha told me. They were all from Honduras and they had all saved up some money to cross Mexico and they had agreed to stick together and share resources along the route. As Martha expressed, “We know that either we all arrive together, or no one arrives.” In Palenque, shortly after having crossed the

76

Chapter 3

Guatemala-­Mexico border, they were caught and deported to Guatemala, not Honduras. In Guatemala, Martha, her husband, and the cousins stated that they wanted to try again. Lydia hesitated. After they all showed how much money they had, “Lydia realized she had more money than us and would have to share it with us and decided to go back and use the money in Honduras rather than helping us. She was not family, she just left.” Martha believes that Lydia put her own well-­being before the others’ and abandoned the group, leaving just the family members. Martha, in retrospect, was not surprised because—­as she learned—­blood is thicker than water. From her narrative, it is clear that Martha understood what researchers like Kai Erikson (1995) have documented: in dangerous times, social ties tend to break down, leaving only family ties intact. People often become more selfish, as self-­preservation is paramount (as in Lydia’s case). Families instinctively start looking inwards to protect themselves. This seems logical, as families are believed to be the “most effective forms of social capital” (Field 2008, 104). Strong social capital leads to increased trust and more effective cooperation while migrating. Thus, families appear to represent the strongest and safest social arrangements in a difficult situation. Nevertheless, authors who assume that families always produce social capital fail to consider that, sometimes, social ties produce negative capital, as Rocio Rosales (2014) has shown in the case of strong ties and Rawan Mazen Arar (2016) has demonstrated in the case of weak ties. My research, too, challenges the assumption that families are the best groups with which to face a crisis. It shows that what seem to be the strongest qualities of a family—­close bonds and internal trust–­do not help them to meet the challenges of a volatile situation where information is scarce. It argues that, by attempting to exclusively protect their members, families undermine their ability to survive while they are in transit. Families are held together not only by love and trust but also by shared transnational connections to other members of their wider kinship network in Central America or in the United States. These transnational ties can exert some control over members of the family and prevent them from defecting from the group. If Martha had decided to leave, she would have had to explain to the rest of the family in Honduras why she had left the others behind. She might have been scolded, punished, or even ostracized. Oscar and Franco (both nineteen years old) found themselves in a similar situation. These two first-­time migrants left with their cousin, Luis. Luis knew he had to protect them because, if something happened to his cousins, he would not

Families in Transit

77

be able to go back to Honduras and face the rest of the family. These transnational control mechanisms cannot operate while migrants are in Mexico, since communicating with the family back home is difficult. Yet they are activated as soon as the family members can be reached. Additionally, while people cannot be instantaneously punished for abandoning a family member on the migrant trail, those on the road do think about what family members would think if they knew they were shirking their obligations. Because they focus all their trust inward and mistrust almost everyone else, migrant Central American families try to stay apart from Mexicans, even from those who seemed nice. As one migrant, named Brian, warned me, “If people are too nice, they might kidnap you.” From what I observed of migrant families, when they had to ask for money, they would do it outside churches; they felt that it was less likely that Catholics would take advantage of them. In general, they were more mistrustful of Mexicans than other types of migrants I encountered and less willing to accept food, money, or help. Migrating families are often suspicious of other migrants and may even fear them. As Reno told me, “Most of the time, some migrants take advantage of other migrants. There are very selfish migrants who hurt you; not all, but some of them.” The brothers summarized the position of most families: “It’s like that . . . like when you feed the birds and they come: you come, and you never know how you ended up being tricked. So, you cannot let your guard down. I came here with my brother because he won’t let me die and I won’t let him die. So, I don’t trust anyone and I don’t go with anyone because I do not know the type of people that they are.” In general, the families I encountered were more fearful about the road and about strangers than other migrants. As I will show in the following chapters, migrants who leave home without their families tend to join groups or exchange information with people on the road. Their position with regard to trusting other migrants is more nuanced and flexible. Families formed only of men were cautious in their approach to other migrants: they tried to sit apart from them, and in general were more selective about whom they talked to. Most of them chose to remain as a closed unit and not to accept anyone who tried to pegárseles (stick to them). Probably because they could not see the point in joining forces with other migrants and because they had never felt the loneliness and fear of being by themselves, they did not force themselves to be social and find new travel associates.

78

Chapter 3

At the same time, levels of mistrust and withdrawal among families with female members are significantly higher than those of families comprising only men. Their strategies for protecting the women rely strongly on a gendered division of labor and a clear division between the private and the public sphere, whereby women are expected to remain in the private sphere. The following section discusses the role of women within migrating families in more detail, analyzing in particular strategies for their protection.

Women in Families in Transit Families and the Threat of Sexual Violence All migrants are aware of the violence that surrounds them, as I have shown throughout this book. Yet, families with female members are also worried about the constant threat of sexual violence faced by the latter. This fear permeated my conversations with such families. For example, a woman named Rosa told me, “The train is very dangerous because there are men and also because you can fall.” Similarly, Estrella expressed to me her fear of what might happen when “there is no one on the train tracks and someone can touch you.” In the first statement, it is clear that Rosa equates the violence that men can inflict with losing a limb or getting killed by a train. Later in the interview it emerged that she fears men because of the threat of sexual violence. In Estrella’s interview, the reference to inappropriate touching is more explicit, but the perpetrator is again ambiguous, not limited to criminals and, if analyzed in the context of the interview as a whole, clearly male. Interestingly, interviews with women migrating by themselves do not reveal the same pattern. Although they mention sexual violence, it does not seem to loom as large in their overall narrative of the road. Migrants, researchers, and members of advocacy groups agree that women are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence while they are crossing Mexico (Willers 2016). In a report from 2010, Amnesty International estimated that six out of ten women were raped during their journey—­some more than once (Amnesty International 2010). Rapes are such a frequent occurrence that some smugglers give women contraceptive pills to make sure they do not get pregnant while on the road. Some of the women I interviewed had already experienced sexual abuse and rape while migrating. This threat is so prevalent in the collective imagination that many male migrants choose not to cross Mexico with women because they believe that doing so makes

Families in Transit

79

them more vulnerable. When I asked them about migrating with women, male migrants often replied along the lines of “Yeah, and we saw how they took those women from the train and were going to rape them, but what can you do? If you defend them they kill you too, it is just too dangerous for women to come . . . it is really not worth it to bring a woman.” In addition to sexual violence, female migrants are more likely to experience other types of gendered crimes, such as trafficking and kidnapping (Center for Gender and Refugee Studies 2017). According to Gibbons and Luna (2015), in Central America there is still a very strong patriarchal tradition, wherein men are primarily valued as strong breadwinners who take care of the family, and women are primarily valued as demure and virtuous persons. In this tradition, women are “bad” insofar as they are sexual, adventurous, or contaminated by their activities in the public sphere. The image of the pure, untouched mother as the angel—­the spiritual force of the family—­is still very persistent (Gibbons and Luna 2015). When a woman is sexually abused while migrating with her family, she not only faces the trauma of her body being violated, she also faces the fear and shame of her family witnessing it. She is no longer an angel; her presence in the public sphere has contaminated the whole family, altering the family dynamics and the way that the members relate to each other. If a woman is raped, it shows that her partner is not the strong leader that the family needs, weakening the family. The man’s masculine identity as the head of the household is shattered and his sense of self might be altered. Thus, for migrant families, sexual abuse of women does not fall into the same category as other violent acts that they could experience while attempting to reach the United States: sexual abuse is worse, because it will haunt the whole family forever. This awareness of sexual violence is a crucial difference between migrating families—­most of which have female members—­and the rest of the migrant community (including women migrating by themselves). In families, the fear of others comes mainly from the threat of violence against women, who are considered to be the weakest members of the group (alongside children). Because they dread anyone who is not part of the family, such groups react differently than other migrants do to the state and criminal violence that they witness while in Mexico. What these transgressions teach them is that “the threat is the others” and that they are only safe within their families. By contrast, as I show in the next chapter, members of the familias del camino learn that they need to let their guard down—­if only for a

80

Chapter 3

second—­in order to meet other migrants who can help them survive the journey across Mexico. This “additional vulnerability” and the perceived softness of women affect the way in which families behave during their journey. Whatever happens to the men, they can tolerate it, but letting the woman experience violence or get raped by gang members or the cartels is unthinkable. Sexual violence, according to Willers (2016), is perceived as a punishment by both men and women. For their male partners, sexual violence against a woman is humiliating, because it shows they could not protect her. Since in many countries, including Central America, women are implicitly treated as the property of the man, a rape is an offense against the property rights of a man, who should have been guarding her (Das 2008). For women, the threat of sexual violence can be interpreted as a punishment for occupying and using the public space and as a payment for crossing cartel-­or gang-­controlled areas (Segato 2018). Both men and women experience the stresses of crossing Mexico in specifically gendered ways. These gender power imbalances remain in operation when settling into a new country (Boehm 2012) and, as my research shows, during transit.

(Re)Creating the Private Sphere From the perspective of male partners, women have to be protected and kept safe during the journey. To preserve the woman’s virtue and maintain the functionality of the family, the man becomes serio (serious) and protective. It makes sense for men to take care of the family by separating the vulnerable ones—­women and children—­from the “others.” This is difficult to do on the road, however. In transit, migrants are exposed all the time: they are permanently surrounded by other migrants and strangers, whether they are outside, in the streets, on the highways, or on the trains. Even when they are technically inside, they are observable: the way the migrant houses and canteens are designed does not allow for privacy. Effectively, migrants are in public all the time, constantly surrounded by the prying eyes of others. Since Aristotle’s discussion of the polis, at least, authors have differentiated between the public sphere, where politics happen, and the private sphere, which is the domestic arena. While men can move freely between both spheres, women are confined to the private sphere where they must remain apolitical. A man, then, has two statuses: he is a public and a private

Families in Transit

81

person, while women are totally immersed in the household and do not participate in the “public” (Bethke Elshtain 1974; Rosaldo 1974). However, the public sphere in Mexico does not function like a polis for Central American male migrants: they are not citizens of that country and they are not entitled to use public areas as they would normally. For them, the public sphere in Mexico is hostile; they must walk with their heads down and make themselves invisible to the citizens who own it. They are, perhaps for the first time in their lives, transgressors of a public space that does not belong to them. Deborah Boehm observed that migrant men in the United States “practice new forms of control as they simultaneously experience loss and are subjected to power imbalances in the United States” (2012, 86). In transit across Mexico the same thing happens: men react to having power taken away from them by tightening their grip on their families and trying hard to (re)create their own private spheres. For example, this is what Mabel and Juan were doing in the Saltillo migrant house: they were attempting to create a domestic, intimate sphere, where both would feel safe and comfortable. Similarly, Rosa, her sister Tatiana, and their husbands struggled to emulate a domesticity that the exposedness of their situation (staying in a migrant house) had stripped from them. Rosa, Tatiana, and their babies stayed apart from the rest of the migrants all morning. During this time, they chatted, washed their families’ clothes, cooked, and waited (all gendered activities). When their husbands came back from looking for occasional work or from working, they would relax with Rosa and Tatiana and would talk or play with the babies. They rarely spent time with the other male migrants and made an effort to remain apart from them. Most migrant families I observed “carried” their domestic sphere with them. This strategy allows the men in the family to reclaim their traditional masculine role by becoming the serio, strong protector of the private sphere. While in Mexico they have no public sphere to lay claim to, but they retain their power in private. Simultaneously, this “invisible private sphere” that the family creates allows women to retain their private morality by not transgressing it. By fashioning a new private sphere in public, both women and men make the men feel more in control of their lives and their destiny, as the families isolate themselves as much as possible and privilege the women’s traditional role. The division of labor within migrant families remains largely gendered. Ramona’s husband goes out, talks to people, and researches the route while

82

Chapter 3

she stays with the child. Similarly, Rosa’s and Tatiana’s husbands work and find information about the road while they take care of the children and wash the clothes. Women are still considered the spiritual force of the family, encouraging their husbands to keep going and boosting morale after difficult experiences. After they were robbed for a second time, Martha’s husband wanted to quit: “Yeah, we were very, very scared, very scared and we didn’t want to keep going on and my husband told me, ‘Let’s go back!’ And I told him, ‘not a step back!’ Scared but moving forward, not a step back! And so it went; and now we are here.” Mario, Martha’s husband, confirmed that she had been brave when he could not take it anymore and that was what kept him going. It is apparent that Martha does not perceive her role as less important just because she does not “go out”; she is the madre (mother) that pushes them onward while ruling the domestic sphere. While women try to remain in the imaginary private space their families have created while in transit, they do “go out” to help the family when needed. As Melissa W. Wright has observed, even within a patriarchal narrative, women can sometimes be compelled to enter the public space for private reasons (such as helping the family when there is no other alternative) (2011). In most cases, women take a leading role in finding sustenance for the family when there is no money, no food, and their partner is unable to find a job. For example, Alicia, a thirty-­four-­year-­old woman from Honduras, explained, “My husband and my friends were too embarrassed to ask for help so I went and knocked on a door and asked the lady who opened for some tortillas and salt. And she gave us some beans too. If you really need help, you have to overcome your fears and ask for help.” I observed many of the women in the Open Borders Migrant House going to Tenosique’s town center to beg for money in the town square or outside the church, a financial contribution important to the family’s success on el camino. In this case, women take advantage of their own perceived vulnerability and nonthreatening appearance to approach people on the streets and ask for help. They usually get more help, and more quickly, than men would in a similar situation. Rosa told me that if she sent her husband to beg for money, he would come back empty-­handed. Women also contribute to the family’s migration by talking to other female migrants in the migrant houses and obtaining information about the road. If there is a space exclusively for women in such a facility, they can let

Families in Transit

83

their guard down and spend time with others in a safe environment. In the Open Borders Migrant House in Tenosique and in the Coahuila Migrant House, for example, women spent most of the day together separated from the rest of the men (especially if their partners are working or gathering information). Females show a lot of trust and solidarity between themselves when they are alone. These fleeting but deep bonds provide them with emotional relief; Alicia told me how happy she was every time she could share her experiences with other women who have lived through something similar. Women also give each other information about migrant houses and the services they provide for themselves and their children (they frequently ranked them in front of me). Still, although women participate in gathering information, most of the families delegate the final decision making to the head of the family. He also acts as the public face of the family and the gatekeeper to the private sphere. He is the one who mediates the interactions with the rest of the migrant community and decides who (if anyone) can join the group. Families travel alone and rarely let anyone join them; the mistrust of others and the fear of sexual violence keep them from talking to other migrants and letting them into their social group. In this section I argued that, perhaps for the first time in their lives, men understand what it feels like to transgress a public space (Mexico) that they do not own. Both men and women are also affected by the constant threat of sexual violence directed towards females. They are afraid of the consequences of rape, not only due to its effect on the woman’s body, but also because of its effect on the identity of everyone in the family. I suggest that the way families react is by (re)creating a private sphere in public where men can perform masculinity as the serious protectors of the family and women can be kept away from “external” violence. By performing and maintaining this fiction, they attempt to regain some power and control over their lives in order to get through a transit that is both physically and mentally difficult. These new “invisible homes” that migrants create have contrasting meanings on the road, as was probably the case in their home countries. On the one hand, home is a place of sanctuary, where women are considered to be safe (Price 2002). On the other, it can be a space of control, where men try to demonstrate and feel comfortable with their masculinity (Segato 2018; Price 2002).

84

Chapter 3

The Consequences of Isolation for Families In general, families, whether queer, straight, or all-­male, isolate themselves from the wider migrant community—­and the potential allies they could find in Mexico—­to their peril. Although it sounds counterintuitive, when the stakes are high, at least while crossing Mexico, engaging with strangers can be the most efficient strategy for survival, as I have shown in the previous chapters. Although there is always the risk that an outsider will be a criminal, people external to one’s social group are more likely to have new and varied information that might prove useful in dangerous situations.1 The context of Mexico changes frequently. For example, the gangs and cartels do not always charge the quota in the same places and the roadblocks of the National Migration Institute and the army move daily. The migrant houses are a relatively stable feature of the route, but other well-­ intentioned actors such as researchers, volunteers, and priests can appear—­ and disappear—­suddenly. All these factors make the arterial road unpredictable and ever changing. As I discuss in the following chapters, the migrants on the road are a fluid “transient accidental community.” All migrants who are taking el camino understand what everyone else is going through. Even if they do not trust each other completely, they can still sympathize and show solidarity with other migrants, as Andabas, a Guatemalan migrant, was pleasantly surprised to discover: “What I learned on the road is the solidarity, the companionship among the migrants; I understood we are all migrants and we are going to the same place and we are not competing—­we all want everyone to arrive.” Another migrant, named Gordo, also understood how important it is to actively participate and reciprocate: “When you are on the train for ten hours and you are thirsty and someone gives you a sip of Coca Cola or a bite of a taco even if they do not know you . . . and I did the same thing sometimes. At the end of the day, we are all migrants.” Families do not usually participate in these acts of solidarity. On the train tracks, in churches, and in the migrant houses, I observed that families tried to sit separately from the others. For example, the Coahuila Migrant House consists of an open space where migrants and volunteers spend most of 1. For an example of when forming new ties with strangers is very dangerous for migrants, see Mazen Arar (2016).

Families in Transit

85

Figure 4  A picture of a migrant house on the southern border of Mexico. Here, male and female spaces were separated and women had more opportunities to chat and relax.

their time. From the rummy table, I was able to follow the daily flows of migrants. I saw them arrive tired, dusty, and hungry and then revive after having a shower and food. I noticed how they sat next to other migrants and engaged in cautious but lively conversations, or how they played checkers or football. By contrast, families like those of Cheryl and Juan spent most of their time apart from the rest of the migrants, attempting to create their own private space; Cheryl was friendly with other women but never spent time around men who were not Juan. I saw this situation recur everywhere I went; families do not participate in the small ceremonies of the rest of the migrante community. When I asked Juan why did they not join the activi-

86

Chapter 3

ties of the others in the shelter he answered, “We are very serious, we stay apart. . . . if they talk to me. . . . I might give them a smile, that’s it.” Serious men are men who only care about their family, who do not drink and waste time with other men. Being a serious man in Central America is a thing to be proud of on the road; serious men are respected and left alone, even if people consider them standoffish. The transient community of migrantes is one of the most memorable features of the journey for migrants: it gives them a sense of camaraderie, common destiny, and identity. It also acts as a valuable repository for the information that migrants learn while crossing Mexico. The rumors and information that experienced migrants and recently deported migrants can provide is invaluable for enabling them to adapt, plan strategies, and survive. Brian, a twenty-­nine-­year-­old migrant from Honduras who joined a familia del camino, was always talking to people to find out about the route: I talk to those that I see on the road. . . . Because they have experience and I ask them about the journey; I don’t want to fail, I don’t want to have an accident. . . . I’ve heard that you have to pay a hundred dollars, they say, to get on the train, maybe [to] the mareros, maybe [to] the Zetas. I know that one way is migración, one way is the maras, and one way is the Zetas [a Mexican criminal syndicate]. That worries me, but at least I know.

By contrast, Ramona, who embarked on the route with her niece and husband, summarized the position of most families: “We do not talk to anyone else, no one that is not ourselves. We don’t trust anyone. We are serious and we are apart. That’s what keeps us safe.” As already mentioned, the scholarly literature indicates strongly that individuals and groups that exist in a context of uncertainty need to have regular access to new and varied information to survive. Kristian Berg Harpviken (2009) showed the importance of diverse information for families fleeing the war in Enjil, Afghanistan. In that case, “weak ties” (Granovetter 1983), or links with acquaintances, provided the money and strategies needed to secure a safe departure from the region. Weak ties also provided the most up-­to-­date information about the conflict situation and the roads. Without those links, many families would have been stuck in Enjil or would have found escape much more dangerous than it ultimately was. Families in Mexico do not have the opportunity to communicate with their own weak ties.

Families in Transit

87

However, they are surrounded by other migrants who could provide them with some guidance. When families refuse to engage with the transient community of migrants, they limit their access to knowledge and their ability to make informed decisions about which strategies to adopt. I have already mentioned Reno and Darwin, in the context of migrants’ reasons for leaving. They had left after being threatened by the maras in Honduras. I met the brothers on the southern border of Mexico. It was their first attempt to migrate, but so far everything had gone well. They had decided not to trust anyone and to only get their information from observing other migrants and by talking to volunteers in the migrant house. They had a plan: from Palenque they were going to follow the train tracks to the next stop and then take the train from there. They knew there were criminals in the jungle, which frightened them; they bought two huge machetes from a local peasant. They showed them to me and left. After they had entered the jungle, another migrant approached me and said, “Those two that just left are idiots, everyone knows you are not supposed to take a weapon—­the mareros will kill them.” I was surprised, worried, and angry at the migrant for not warning them. When I asked him why he had not said anything before, he responded, “I don’t know them, they didn’t ask, and they wouldn’t have trusted me if I had told them.” Two days later I found out that Darwin and Reno had indeed been murdered by the gang that dominated that part of town (most likely the MS13). Most people agreed that it was because they had machetes. The fact that they were not constant participants in the gossip and chat of the migrant community prevented them from finding out about commonly accepted “rules” of migrant behavior in the region.

Acting Strategically to Compensate for Isolation Families in Mexico are thus in a very vulnerable position because they refuse to interact with other migrants and to take advantage of the rich source of information that doing so provides. Nonetheless, families are strategic actors and use a variety of tactics to compensate for their lack of social contact, thereby improving their chances of survival. Ramona’s husband, for example, eavesdropped on the conversations of other migrants: “My husband is very serious, so he just sits next to them and listens,” she explained. “And since he is very serious, no one talks to him directly. I stay behind with the child.” Another tactic, used by Martha and her

88

Chapter 3

family, is to follow other groups from a distance: “So you arrive on the road and if there is someone walking around you, you are not going to tell him ‘go away,’ but you do try to get away. We didn’t like to be at the front because we like to be behind and see what happens. And that is why nothing happened to us; because when we saw that everybody ran, we ran; and if you are at the back you have more opportunities to get away.” Thus, they used the migrante community to help them but without directly participating in it. Some families (especially those comprising only men) remain detached but ask questions of others cautiously. For example, according to Ramona’s husband, “Yeah, with reservations, it is easy to say ‘hello,’ but you do not talk. You do not give information and they do not want to give you information. Sometimes they offer you a taco—­and you take it because you are hungry—­ and when you get close to them, they grab you and kidnap you.” Others, like David (forty-­one years old, from El Salvador), identify the coyote in a group and watch him closely to learn more about him. They also walk ten steps behind the group with the coyote so they can copy his strategies. This information is sometimes not enough, as Reno and Darwin’s case shows. Families know that it is often easier to get help as a family with women and children. For example, Rosa took her children with her to ask for money and food in Tenosique because she knew that she would receive more money: “I take the children and I can take care of them; but also people, especially older women, give me more money and more things because they feel bad for my children. I feel bad too, but on the other hand if I take them we all get more help.” Fortunately for families, advocacy institutions along the migrant route in Mexico—­including migrant houses and canteens—­help them compensate for their lack of weak ties and information. Some of these institutions have formal methods of gathering information about the conditions on the road and the distribution of actors: the people who work there distribute brief surveys to the migrants when they arrive or ask them to talk to a counselor. Many have databases and files in which they store the information about the migrants and their experiences. In places where the data is not systematically saved, newcomers can chat to the volunteers who run the institution, although families are often reluctant to do so. This information is then given back to the migrants through formal and informal channels. For example, volunteers usually talk to migrants about roadblocks they have seen on the road or about strategies they have heard

Families in Transit

89

work. The Open Borders Migrant House in Tenosique has a huge mural depicting the main routes and main migrant houses along the way. Although the map is not updated, it elicits thousands of interesting conversations among migrants, in which they share information. Migrants are continually studying and trying to memorize this map. As I mentioned previously, the priest who ran the house at the time of my research gave a speech every night warning migrants against the coyotes and telling them about the new strategies criminals and police officers use to take advantage of migrants. Similarly, organizations like Doctors Without Borders provide migrants with pocket maps containing information about the route (see figure 2, in chapter 2). Finally, these spaces also provide an ideal opportunity to eavesdrop on other migrants, ask the volunteers questions, and sometimes use the internet (for free in Tenosique; in other places migrants have to find an internet café or use a volunteer’s cellphone) to look at maps or research routes. Families that include women and children also take advantage of the fact that they are traveling with people perceived as vulnerable when engaging with advocacy institutions. In most of the latter, preference is given to women and children. For example, Ramona knew that it is easier for families to stay in migrant houses for longer periods of time: “We can stay longer in the house because we brought the child; we are prioritized because we are a family . . . we also stayed with Padre Flor in Tapachula—­he hired my husband to build a fence. He knew the family needed the money.” Similarly, Martha attributed most of the help they had received both inside and outside the migrant house to the fact that they are a family group: “They give us extra help because they see we are family and that we are struggling.” These advocacy institutions provide a very valuable tool for all migrants, but they are lifesavers for families who would otherwise be completely isolated and thus more vulnerable without them.

Conclusion In this chapter, as indeed throughout the book, I show that migrants in transit are not merely surviving while they are crossing Mexico. Like all migrants, families are reacting to their new context; they are adapting and changing the ways that they relate to each other and to others around them. Yet, there are specific dangers inherent to traveling as a family, having to do with the way the families interact with those around them while en route.

90

Chapter 3

By choosing isolation, families are prevented from participating in the migrante community. They therefore miss out on opportunities to experience small acts of solidarity on the train or the highway. More importantly, not forming weak ties limits their access to information about the ever-­changing migration routes. This increases the families’ vulnerability because it makes them less able to change their strategies and adapt. These findings add to the feminist literature that argues that social networks do not always produce social capital and that not all members of a group benefit in a similar way (Hondagneu-­Sotelo 1994; Rosas 2012). It also suggests that families are not always the best group with which to travel in stressful and violent situations, especially when uncertainty is rampant and new and varied information is fundamental to making life or death decisions. It shows that, in some cases, looser social arrangements might be better suited to helping people survive.

CHAPTER 4

A Pueblo That Walks Together

There is a song I cannot get out of my head.1 The nuns who ran Juan Pedro Shelter in Palenque on the southern border of Mexico loved it and taught it to everyone who came through. Nuns, migrants, and volunteers sang it every day in the light and airy dining area before lunch and every time a visitor came. They usually found a guitar player to accompany the song, which is sung in the style of a hymn. The chorus goes like this: Somos un pueblo que camina Y juntos caminando podremos encontrar Un lugar de la esperanza Sin penas ni tristezas, lugar de libertad We are a people that walks together, And by walking together we will find A place of hope where there is no pain and sadness A place of freedom

Originally, this song was meant to refer to Christians walking to Heaven together. The nuns, though, believed the lyrics applied perfectly to people 1. An earlier version of this chapter was published as Alejandra Díaz de León, “‘Transient Communities’: How Central American Transit Migrants Form Solidarity Without Trust,” Journal of Borderland Studies 7 (October 2020), https://​www​.tandf​online​.com​/doi​/abs​/10​.1080​/088​ 65655​.2020​.182​4683.

92

Chapter 4

clandestinely migrating to the United States. Although migrants thought it was rather cheesy, they also found it hopeful and sang it with gusto every time. The part of the song that interested me most was the idea of a “pueblo that walks together.” In Spanish, the concept of pueblo encompasses both the physical space—­the town itself—­and the people living there. It is not just any form of social collective; rather, it implies people with a shared sense of identity. In many of the stories about migration that I have heard, migrants were surprised and moved by the solidarity they had experienced on the road—­a solidarity shared among people on the move. I was amazed that, among all the mistrust, cheating, uncertainty, and pain, they still had time to sit together and appreciate the view of the night sky from the roof of the train or the cool water from a lake by which they were resting. Paradoxically, the social process of migration not only includes distressing and dangerous episodes—­of which there are plenty—­but also restful, social, and generous moments, too. Andabas, a forty-­three-­year-­old welder, had fled Guatemala to escape a gang that was asking him for “protection rights.” He was making his second attempt to migrate when we met at the Coahuila Migrant House; he seemed optimistic about his chances. He could already picture himself in Chicago working in construction. Andabas was thin and his skin had a deep brown hue. He no longer got sunburned, as he had been waiting for months before crossing the border. He always carried a small bag with him containing his most valuable possessions: a comb, his ID card, and toilet paper. In a very long interview interrupted only by a lunch of rice, beans, nopales, and chicken tinga, he told me how he had survived both a kidnapping and an attempted kidnapping and how he had met the famous “Patronas,” the women who give food to migrants in Veracruz. He had walked, taken buses, and ridden the train. He had gone hungry, had received help from some Mexicans, and had lost two pairs of shoes. In most of his stories he described being by himself, although sometimes younger or more inexperienced people made an appearance. He never wanted to travel with a group: “solito, como dice el dicho [alone, as the saying goes],” was his constant refrain. Traveling alone allowed him the freedom to choose his own routes and strategies without having to discuss them with others. In contrast with many other people I met, Andabas felt safer—­“more invisible”—­when he was by himself. Additionally, he did not really trust the migrants around him: “You never know who wants to outsmart you and take your stuff. By yourself you don’t have

A Pueblo That Walks Together

93

to worry.” For Andabas, a successful strategy involved going it alone. I wondered how someone who insisted on migrating without any help had made it all the way to the northern border twice. It emerged that he had not really been on his own. He was alone but he was rarely lonely or isolated. Toward the end of the interview, I asked him, “What have you learned during your second migration?” He immediately responded: The camaraderie. Like I told you, we helped each other. If someone had something, he gave it to the person who didn’t have it, and if that person had something, he gave that to someone else and we shared everything. If you got a kilo of tortillas and someone else got beans, we made tacos. The camaraderie was quite good, to tell you the truth. There is more sharing on the train. On the train, someone gets on top and even if they don’t know you, they share even a cigarette or any other thing. For me, the train beats the streets because on the train you are always with migrantes and on the streets it’s more difficult to find each other.

When I pointed out that his initial statements seemed inconsistent with the more optimistic view he expressed here, he told me that was not the case. On the one hand, he felt that he could not trust others around him, but on the other, he liked the camaraderie he experienced when he was surrounded by other migrantes like himself: “I can feel someone’s pain and not trust him, obviously. I just meant that I couldn’t share everything with them but that when we made tacos, we helped each other. You can help and be cautious of others, just look around,” he tried to explain to me. I concluded that they were “a pueblo that walked together” after all. In this chapter I explore the tension between being alone and yet simultaneously forming part of the migrant people, a community on the move, by discussing how members of the wider community of migrants help each other and create an in-­group collective sense of “we.” I argue that migrants in transit form a transient community that provides them with an identity, strategic information relevant to the journey, and resources that help them compensate for the help that their kinship ties cannot provide. This community exists even in, and perhaps to an extent because of, a violent and uncertain situation where migrants are reticent about trusting others and forming social ties. Migrants create this transient community by sharing small acts

94

Chapter 4

of exchange, or pueblo-­building, without expecting anything in return. This cooperation is not strategic; they do it because they see themselves in others. As migrating clandestinely becomes more isolating, precarious, and lengthy, migrants are finding ways to resist, adapt, and form new types of solidarities in the face of extreme deterrence policies and xenophobia. In this chapter I show that migration practices through Mexico have evolved from a primary reliance on networks abroad to a collective process involving a substantial amount of collaboration between individual migrants and those around them. As some scholars have observed, this new type of collectivity could lead to new ways for migrants to demand rights (Wheatley and Gomberg-­Muñoz 2016). Others have noted that traditional social networks such as kin and kin-­ like ties seem to lose relevance for Central American migrants in Mexico (González Arias and Aikin Araluce 2015), while new forms of socialities are formed. Some migrants in transit create ad hoc communities that help each other for short periods and then disband as their interests diverge (Wheatley and Gomberg-­Muñoz 2016). Female migrants create “protective pairings” (Vogt 2018), form groups with other women, or associate with women traveling with their husbands (Schmidt and Buechler 2017). While Noelle Brigden (2018) has suggested that ephemeral communities of practice, where migrants share information, exist on the migrant trail, she describes them as impermanent, communities “that arise from time to time” (56). The type of cooperation that I describe here happens in addition to the closer ties that migrants form. The interactions I observed are between strangers who are thrown together for minutes (or hours on the train and at the migrant house), who are constantly on the move, who assume (usually correctly) that they will never see each other again, and who (sometimes or always) mistrust each other profoundly. Yet, these interactions are the ones that provide new information and essential resources when they are most needed, as well as a sense of belonging.

Walking Together: The Transient Community of Migrantes In the Coahuila Migrant House, Camilo, a volunteer, gathers the migrants together on the patio before every meal. The migrants line the edge of the patio while Camilo stands in the center, talking to them. First, he welcomes

A Pueblo That Walks Together

95

the new arrivals to the house and, with the help of veteran migrants, reminds them of the rules. Then, he tells them that one of the most important house policies is to eat everything on one’s plate and not to waste food; if they do not like a particular type of food, they should ask for it not to be served to them; once it is on their plate, they should eat it. “Why do we do this?” asks Camilo. Five or six migrants raise their hands and then Gordo (a twenty-­ three-­year-­old, from Honduras) answers: “Because each little grain of rice that we waste could have gotten together with other grains of rice and could have eventually become a taco, and that taco would help feed someone who comes later, another migrante.” Then Mabel (thirty-­one years old, migrating from El Salvador with her four-­year-­old child) adds, “And since we are all migrants and we know how hard walking here is and how hungry we get, we understand we need to eat but also consider those who come later.” Camilo agrees and states, “Remember that there is always someone else coming after you; and this house is for you, but also for the ones who will come after you.” Eventually, he lets them proceed slowly into the dining room. Only those who have undertaken el camino can understand what it is like to be hungry, scared, or threatened and discriminated against while attempting to access a new country. They can understand the experience because they have already lived it. Josué, twenty years old, a third-­time migrant, told me in Palenque that he felt he could not talk about what was happening to him with his family back in El Salvador because he knew they would not be able to imagine what he has seen and how he felt. He had been through frightening experiences, like the time when he saw a woman fall from the train, but he had also met very generous people who have opened their homes to him and offered their help. Not only could people who have stayed behind not imagine the vicissitudes of life on the road, but others who are making the journey become connected through their shared understanding. Esteban, a twenty-­two-­year-­old migrant from Honduras, whom I met in Saltillo, told me that migrating is hard but beautiful: he remembered how the landscape changed when he was on the train, from jungle to desert, and how he had seen the most striking view of the stars while traveling on top of the train. All those who undertake el camino share similar memories and similar fears; migrating changes them and they know it. Liisa Malkki (1995) observed a similar phenomenon in a refugee camp where she carried out fieldwork. She noticed that the people living in the camp had shared understandings of their situation and formed an “acci-

96

Chapter 4

dental community of memory” that was not anchored to a local or national community. Instead, they were drawn together by a “less explicit and often more biographical, microhistorical, unevenly emerging sense of accidental sharings of memories and transitory experience” (91). For her, “accidental communities of memory” can be formed by people who have shared experiences—­for instance, of war, of living in a refugee camp, or of fleeing a revolution. In all these cases, the event brings people together who might not otherwise have met during the normal course of their lives. They all understand that they have lived through a unique experience that only those who were there will be able to understand—­an experience that now constitutes their shared and transient history. However, this community goes beyond understanding and sharing a common experience. Malkki’s description of an “accidental community of memory” focuses on the shared understandings and narratives that a group of people experience, not on how those shared experiences lead to action. The concept of bounded solidarity (Portes and Sensenbrenner 1993) addresses how those shared understandings of oppression can activate solidarity within a group. The concept I suggest, of “transient communities,” takes this idea a step further by showing how a common experience of oppression can lead to the articulation of a group identity that, through solidarity without trust, can provide mobile people of different nationalities who are living through intense violence and uncertainty with some much-­needed rules of behavior, information, and resources. This transient community helps compensate for some of the disadvantages migrants experience through not having access to their kinship ties. Andabas, the migrant who preferred to go it alone, noted, “They all share. When you are on the train sometimes you bring something, and the other guy doesn’t, and you share. We are going towards the same goal, the same dream; we have the same objective, but we share our things; there is no competition.” This transient community of migrants is one of the most stable and ubiquitous components of the transit experience in Mexico. In general, communities have strong and stable ties that extend back over time. They provide a context for intimacy, represent morality, and serve as a repository for old traditions (Erikson 1979). In the transient community that exists in Mexico there is little mutual intimacy between its members, and there are no traditions, although there is a culture that can be transmitted. The way migrants learn to make coffee in Coke bottles or the way they take the train are part of the cultural repertoire of the pueblo. It is still a com-

A Pueblo That Walks Together

97

munity, but one in which the members do not know or trust each other and where few strong bonds are formed. However, the way it is organized provides migrants with essential resources for surviving the transit. Being part of the transient community allows migrants to have (1) a group identity; (2) access to resources through cooperation, even in the absence of trust; and (3) migration-­specific cultural capital, such as the “rules of the game” and the behaviors that are best or least suited for achieving their ultimate goals.

Shared Identity: “ We Are All Migrantes” In the Twelve Apostles shelter, the Nogales migrant house on the northern border of Mexico, deported Mexican migrants and Central American migrants in transit wait for about an hour in a small chapel inside the migrant house for dinner to be served. They all sit quietly in chairs facing the altar, which is decorated with a statue of the Virgin Mary, striking in blue, red, and golden hues. The windows are open and the roofs of the neighboring houses can be seen. A few people rearrange the chairs in order to see those around them; no one speaks. Many of those sitting there had just been dropped off by the U.S. border patrol on the Mexican side and still carry the smells and colors of the desert. Their sunburned noses, the scratches on their arms, and the dust that clings to them tell the story of how they crossed the border, probably ran, and were captured. Some had been deported after spending time in detention centers or prisons. They wore the shiny jeans and white sneakers that screamed that they had just been deported. Central Americans, just as tired and sunburned by the journey through Mexico, sat quietly. The people in this space all seemed tired, anxious, hungry, and dusty. The only thing that differentiated Mexican deportees and Central Americans were the shiny jeans. Still, they all looked like exhausted migrants to me. When I came into the chapel with the volunteer to give them toiletries and to let them use a free phone, they were staring vacantly into the space in front of them and the mood felt gloomy. I felt that I should respect their need for rest and their unwillingness to talk. Therefore, I sat quietly in one of the empty chairs and waited with everyone else. However, as they got bored, they started to chat. I heard a young Honduran man ask a Mexican with a prominent mustache if he had attempted to cross the desert. “Yeah, this is the third time they catch me,” he replied. “See, all these scars are from running from the Migra among the cacti. The

98

Chapter 4

terrain is very uneven and there are only cacti; you fall, you stand up, you grab a cactus. And then they caught me anyway.” As the Mexican spoke, the Honduran became more interested—­he was going to do that, perhaps tomorrow. I could see him imagining the heat, the desert, and the running. He asked more questions and the Mexican man answered them as well as he could. Then the Mexican man asked, “So, are you from Central America? We are really bad to you, right?” The Central American told him, yes, he had had a horrible journey; the train had been hard, he had been robbed, and the Mexicans were not very nice—­“but it isn’t your fault, you are a migrante like me, we want the same thing.” The mustachioed Mexican thought for a little while and replied, “I am! You are right that we are all migrants in here! Even though this is Mexico, in Nogales I am like you.” In the borderlands, deported Mexican migrants and would-­be migrants share the same precarious conditions: they do not have valid IDs, they do not have money or support, and they are not wanted by a part of the local population. In the U.S.-­Mexico borderlands the migrante community includes those Mexicans hoping to get to the United States. In Nogales, being from Mexico did not confer any advantage on men and women who had no ties, no help, no money, but still wished to cross the U.S.-­Mexico border. Having family ties in the United States and being able to afford a smuggler is what made the difference in Nogales, not a person’s nationality. The Honduran and the Mexican, who probably lacked the support I described above, self-­ categorized as migrants who wanted to get to the United States and had been through similar experiences of violence and fear. They were externally categorized as migrants both by those who targeted them (cartels, corrupt officials) and by those who helped them (myself, the Twelve Apostles shelter personnel). Finally, they were choosing to strategically define themselves as migrants in order to get their dinner and a good night’s sleep at the Twelve Apostles shelter. In this section I discuss how a new migrant identity is created along the migrant trail through (1) self-­categorization, (2) strategic categorization, and (3) external categorization by other actors. This identity allows those who consider themselves migrants to regain their sense of value, and of personhood, and gives them the emotional strength to keep moving. The migrant identity also leads to increased cooperation and exchange, even among people who never fully trust each other. These exchanges can help migrants to

A Pueblo That Walks Together

99

navigate both the route and the time they spend waiting at the U.S.-­Mexico border. The perception of an external threat that can affect anyone in the group (Drury, Cocking, and Reicher 2009), and a similar sense of oppression (Portes and Sensenbrenner 1993) can transform individuals into a psychologically unified group. Those in transit through Mexico categorize themselves as migrantes because they face the same violence and share a similar sense of oppression while trying to achieve their goal of reaching the United States. This category does not include all foreigners in Mexico, encompassing only those who are trying to get to the United States via the country. This is clear from the way transit migrants talk about themselves. Robin, who migrated from Guatemala with his brothers, told me in Tenosique, “We are all immigrants; we all want to arrive at the north. We are not criminals, we are just trying to survive.” According to this classification, he is not talking about other types of foreigners in Mexico; he is only including those who share his predicament, as migrants crossing from Central America face a unique threat level in comparison to other foreigners in Mexico. Migrants are very aware of this distinction. One Monday morning I visited the main church in Palenque. I knew that the priest sometimes allowed migrants and families to sleep in some of the service rooms next to the church, and I wanted to see why they did not want to go to the migrant house. As I approached, I saw what looked like eight or nine migrants sharing food on the church steps. To their right I saw a tent pitched on a grassy patch. I was surprised because I had never seen a transit migrant carrying camping gear and did not understand why a tourist would pitch a tent there. I bought an ice cream and loitered around the area until the owner of the tent emerged. He was a young man with olive skin and a hippy-­backpacker look. I could not place him. Was he migrating? Was he a backpacker? Was he from Mexico? He was folding his tent as I approached and we started chatting. He told me his name was Alex and that he was from Guatemala. He did not have a visa or official permission, but he was backpacking through Mexico all the way to the U.S.-­Mexico border. I still did not understand, so I asked, “So, you are migrating through Mexico in order to reach the United States?” He laughed and said, “I am backpacking through Mexico and will eventually get to the United States; it’s not the same thing.” This was true. Those around him did not consider him a migrant: “Just look at him, he’s just a kid trying to have an adventure. He doesn’t need to move, he will go back as soon as there’s

100

Chapter 4

an issue.” Alex was not a migrant because he did not share their goals and their fears. This anecdote also shows how I had started categorizing migrants during my fieldwork. When I saw the young man, I immediately suspected that he did not belong to the group of people I was learning about. I saw someone with a different appearance, with a tent, and a different attitude, and I categorized him as a backpacker. I realized I had been socialized into defining transit migrants in the same way that migrants and shelter workers did. The incident with the backpacker shows how migrants self-­categorize themselves as migrantes in contrast to other foreigners in Mexico. Self-­ categorization is internal to the group; people see themselves as forming part of a group and articulate why someone else does not belong. To the migrants, Alex was a foreigner but not a migrant, as he did not share their goals and their suffering. His nationality and the fact that he did not have permission to be in Mexico did not in itself make him part of the migrante community. In addition to the self-­categorization that happens almost unwittingly, migrants also use strategic categorization to identify themselves as transit migrants in order to get help from advocacy institutions, researchers, and concerned citizens. When migrants use strategic categorization, they prime the characteristics that they believe make them look more like a migrant would be expected to look. In supportive towns or cities, migrants choose to become more visible in order to ask for help. They stand at traffic lights or outside food markets to ask for money or other assistance. They know that their plight might make them sympathetic to locals so they stress the characteristics that identify them as migrants. They wear their backpacks and show their national ID, for example. Some carry currency from El Salvador or Guatemala to show they are not from Mexico. Similarly, deported Mexicans in border towns show their deportation papers in order to access help. Often pedestrians and drivers will probe further to make sure they are really helping people in transit or deportees and not Mexicans pretending to need help. Migrants know they might have to tell their story, answer questions about Honduras, or show their wounds in order to prove that they are genuine. This is also the case with regard to migrant houses or shelters. In order to get help, they need to make it apparent that they are migrants. By emphasizing those characteristics that people expect migrants to have, migrants show an understanding of the social and political dynamics that operate in Mexico and their role in the clandestine migration ecosystem.

A Pueblo That Walks Together

101

Additionally, Central American transit migrants are also categorized externally as a distinct group by institutions—­in this case, the Mexican government and the advocacy groups. The Mexican government focuses most of its anti-­migration enforcement energy on capturing and returning Central American migrants (Casillas and Córdova Alcaraz 2018). The agents of the National Migration Institute usually look for people who seem to come from these countries, using a mix of bias and experience to detect them. Jorge, the officer who was famous for catching migrants and whom I described in earlier chapters, describes them as follows: “They are dusty, sometimes dirty, they do not look you in the eye, the shoes are worn, they use old backpacks; also, you can smell the fear.” As he spoke, a couple of his colleagues nodded knowingly. They agreed that one can “sense” it. At the same time, the south of Mexico, where most migrants are apprehended, is a very poor area with a high proportion of indigenous Mexican people. The agents frequently mistake Mexicans who are members of indigenous groups for undocumented migrants and sometimes deport them without listening to their claims of nationality. Still, although their instinct is sometimes wrong, migrants feel that agents are usually very good at detecting them. The role of the migrant houses in creating and reproducing a migrante identity is very important, too. Most of the migrant houses have a song, a prayer, or a speech that is sung or read before every meal. In Palenque, as I showed in the introduction to this chapter, they reinforce the notion that all migrants are a town, a pueblo that walks together, and that they should help each other. In Coahuila (northern border), volunteers tell migrants that their behavior affects those who come after them, which in my observation particularly resonates with the migrants and makes them think about how their actions affect other migrantes. The volunteers have also learned to detect who is a migrant by relying on perceptions similar to those of migratory agents and migrants themselves. A nun who volunteered at the Coahuila Migrant House told me that she knew who was a migrant and who was not by the way they stood, by how dirty they looked, and by looking at their faces, burned from walking in the sun for weeks on end. Interestingly, migrants and actors who work with them described the migrantes in a similar way. Juan, a nineteen-­year-­old migrant, described himself and the others as follows: “We are all dirty, well, dusty; we have unkempt hair; we also have pain on our shoulders—­it is easy to see . . . also, look at the shoes and the

102

Chapter 4

backpacks.” As we can see, migrants, volunteers, and state agents all have a similar “shortcut” for detecting a migrant. Both the transit through Mexico and crossing the U.S.-­Mexico border involve a continual threat to the lives and the integrity of the migrants that sometimes culminates in actual violence. My observations have shown that the shift from “me” to “we” that the migrants experience lasts for at least as long as they are attempting to get to the United States. I have also observed that this “we” includes everyone who is sharing the experience, including people from Central America and deported Mexicans. This migrante identity gives migrants a much-­needed sense of value and personhood. When they cross Mexico, they often feel devalued and less human, as Gordo explained: “The police beat you, the Migra calls you dog, they call the vans where they put us ‘dog houses,’ we are treated like we are not humans anymore, like we are animalitos, little animals, sometimes scary animals. You cannot know from seeing me right now, but I am a respectable person in Tegucigalpa. If you could see me there, I’m a person in Honduras.” Forming a group identity with everyone around them restores their sense of worth and encourages them to keep moving. Juan, a young migrant from Guatemala, expressed it as follows: I look around and I see that there is someone who looks me in the eye and shares a sip of coffee with me and then drinks from the same cup and he is not disgusted by me. And I know he is like me because we are both migrantes and because we understand each other. Frankly, it’s one of the nicest things about crossing, finding so many people like me because before I thought that we were Guatemalans and Salvadorians and Hondurans and that was different, but it really isn’t. And learning that has helped me be strong and keep moving and pick myself up because I’m walking alongside my people.

Crossing Mexico is not only physically hard—­it also takes a lot of mental energy to keep moving when one experiences discrimination, violence, fear, hunger, and uncertainty every day. However, as the interviews I conducted show, knowing that others are moving forward alongside them helps migrants to keep putting one foot in front of the other. The clandestine migration process becomes somewhat social. The creation of a migrante identity has had other wider political impacts that have only just started to become evident. In 2016 Abby C. Wheatley

A Pueblo That Walks Together

103

and Ruth Gomberg-­Muñoz suggested that some of the bonds that migrants formed to withstand state repression could be sustained and turned into organized resistance. They observed this happening in the United States. This seems to have started happening in the transit from Central America through Mexico, an environment in which forming a collective identity that leads to political activism seemed impossible just a couple of years ago. The formation of the migrant caravans in 2018 and the continuous protests (2018–­21) outside the detention centers in the southern border region of Mexico show that, despite separating migrants from their traditional networks, the deterrence policies and increased violence in Mexico are forcing them to form new social arrangements. This increased awareness of a common fate and struggle could lead to further migrant organization and perhaps to new strategies designed to overcome the deterrence policies that migrants face.

Increased Cooperation and Exchange of Resources One sunny morning I arrived at the Juan Pedro Shelter, only to find it empty. “Everyone is at the train tracks waiting for the train to leave, run and you’ll catch up,” a friend told me. I ran the three blocks to the railway tracks expecting to see a flurry of activity and the train moving swiftly, but instead I was confronted with around fifty men waiting while the train moved slowly back and forth. Some of the youngest migrants were already on top of the train looking anxiously around them. “They’re connecting the train cars; it’ll be at least an hour before the train really leaves. The new ones don’t know anything, that’s why they climbed on top of the train so quickly,” an older migrant told me. Indeed, we waited and waited. Soon, some people started to take out food and eat it. Others bought the “last Cokes” before boarding the train. Gradually, things took on the atmosphere of a tense picnic. People were sitting down sharing food and drink. Some were joking. We were all looking at the train, but we were also sharing food and gossip: “Do you know that at the next stop there is a big lake where you can swim and fish? Yeah, my pal told me that, I swear.” Or, “No, the Migra is not doing roadblocks today because it’s Sunday.” At the same time, though, everyone was being vigilant about their backpacks and whispering more sensitive information to their friends. No one wanted to be too explicit about what their plans were and how much money they had. It all felt important but superficial at the same time.

104

Chapter 4

In the case of the transient community of migrants, this type of generalized exchange of food and information is common and indispensable. The food, resources, and information that migrants get through these exchanges are valuable and often help them to adjust their plans as necessary and keep going. However, the exchanges between them are still cautious. They rarely allow for the creation of stronger bonds or trust between strangers, in contrast to what scholars have observed in other cases of generalized cooperation. Most studies on generalized exchange and trust focus on strangers living in low-­risk situations in limited geographical areas (Lévi-­Strauss 1969; Sahlins 1965; Molm, Collett, and Schaefer 2007). The migrant trail is a huge open social structure where people are surrounded by violence and scarcity and move around continuously. In this context, there is tension, which is apparent even when migrants try to explain it themselves, between understanding someone and showing them solidarity and trusting them. The types of exchanges I have explored and used as examples generate feelings of solidarity and unity among the group of migrants; however, the migrants are never able to overcome their generalized mistrust, no matter how much help they receive from strangers on the road. Migrants in the transient community self-­categorize as migrantes who face similar challenges and threats, which has emotional consequences: the shift from “me” to “we” results in a greater commitment and loyalty to the group. This, in turn, means acting in the new group’s interests in various ways, even when individual members do not know each other personally (Drury, Cocking, and Reicher 2009; Portes and Sensenbrenner 1993). Like Andabas stated, “What I learned on the road is the solidarity, the companionship among the migrants; I understood we are all migrants and we are going to the same place and we are not competing; we all want everyone to arrive.” Andabas self-­identified as a migrante, understood the shared threat, and became part of the “we.” Consequently, he understood what his peers were going through and sometimes helped them. In fact, although migrants usually state that there is no trust on the road and that they do not rely on anyone else, most described the benefits they also gained from numerous occurrences of help and cooperation while in Mexico. Those who have benefited from help along the road believe that carrying on would have been harder if they had been completely isolated. For example, Sebas was on the verge of giving up when the transient community saved him:

A Pueblo That Walks Together

105

I hadn’t eaten in two days. I had drunk water, but it was dirty water, from puddles and faucets. I had been paying attention, but I couldn’t even find an apple on the ground. I thought I might have to steal some food or hunt an algarrobo [a lizard]. I had begged but no one had helped me. I was alone. I have a sister in the United States but, how will she help me? Anyway . . . I arrived at the train tracks; you know, in Palenque, and then I saw like thirty migrants like me on the tracks and in the shade waiting for the train. And I was still shy but hungry so I sat next to a group and would you believe that they offered me a taco? It was the most delicious taco I’ve ever had. And they didn’t really talk a lot but one of them told me, “You look hungry, I bet el camino has been rough to you,” before he fed me.

For Mario, the help he received came in the form of a blanket. He was crossing with his fourteen-­year-­old son, a first-­time migrant. They were on the train and it started to get very cold. Mario remembered fondly how a man sitting next to them on the train journey gave him a blanket for his son: “And that meant he was not cold, and he was able to sleep for four hours, while we crossed the country. He didn’t even wake up when the malandros came and robbed us. I will never forget the man with the blanket.” Mario and Sebas, and all the others who received help, later “passed it on” by helping others. Sebas said he taught someone how to climb aboard a train. He also remembers how hungry he had been and consequently tries to share his food with those who look as if they are about to faint. He remembers to be cautious but admits, “Even if I don’t trust them or if they look dodgy, if I see the hunger in their eyes, I cannot control myself. I was them before and I understand.” Although the advantages of the community are obvious, migrants told me that they did not participate strategically in the solidarity exchanges. I believed them: because migrants do not trust those around them, they could never be certain that when they shared something, it would be reciprocated. They did it because they saw themselves in the others. When a large number of migrants act like that, solidarity becomes generalized within the group. Even after experiencing the advantages of exchange, migrants will not extend their trust outside of their immediate circle (e.g., their family). This comradeship in transit is relatively easy for them because it does not involve any risk. They do not need to trust someone to share food with them. They will share a sip of water or a bite of torta because they can spare them, but

106

Chapter 4

they never take out their money or buy extra food for everyone. They give others information about the road because it is easy and, frankly, because it would be rude not to reply if someone asks—­but they never volunteer personal information or strategies. The transitory community does not produce trust, but it helps the migrants to survive and adapt.

Informal Rules and Transmission of Information Another thing that migrants were doing on that sunny day at the railway tracks was showing the younger ones how to climb on top of the train. While trying to convince me to give it a go, Germán told me, “Here you can practice because the train stops and then starts again, so it takes it a while to gain speed. The new ones can learn how to hold onto the stairs and hoist themselves up.” Many of them were jumping up and down as the older migrants screamed, “Do not put your foot in the wheel, if it were moving you would have lost it already,” or, “Now that you’re up there, find a space on top of the wagon where you can lie down and hold yourself. You don’t want to fall off and lose an arm.” Later in the day, after the train had left with around fifty migrants on top of it, I sat down to have lunch in the almost empty migrant house with Maycol, a thirty-­five-­year-­old Salvadorian who had decided to wait another week before taking the train. This was Maycol’s fourth attempt in three years. He had been taken to the United States when he was three and had spent his whole life from then on in Maryland, including getting married and having two children. After he was deported to a country he did not remember for drunk driving, he immediately tried to go back. So far he had been unsuccessful. “I saw you teaching the young ’uns how to climb the train and tie themselves. What else do you teach them?” I asked. “Not much. If I see a young migrant who seems lost I maybe draw a map for him—­I’ve done that a couple of times—­or I tell them that it’s better to ask for money outside of a church and to ask middle-­aged women. Yesterday I told a boy that if he needed new shoes he needed to talk to the sister after her coffee, when she is in a good mood. You know, things that I know and that someone else told me when I was new.” The transient community can socialize new migrants into the “rules of the game” and can provide them with valuable information that they need to survive. This help is essential in navigating the often confusing and ever-­ changing migrant trail. In other contexts of clandestine migration, it is close

A Pueblo That Walks Together

107

family and friends who teach new clandestine migrants where to go and how to behave and thus help to decrease the costs involved in moving (Singer and Massey 1998). However, in Mexico migrants are separated from their strong ties and are faced with an unpredictable road. The checkpoints move; the trains stop and start at unpredictable times; the map of cartel and gang violence evolves as new criminal groups move into towns; and migrant houses open and close. Since all of these “rules of the game” change so frequently, even the advice and help of their families is not enough to enable migrants to cross Mexico. In this context the transient community of migrantes—­ imperfectly—­replaces the help that family or friends with experience could have provided. Migrants learn by observing those around them and by being taught by generous people along the way. Those who are unwilling to engage with a group and who cannot ask directly for help still participate in the transient community and can observe its rules and behaviors and replicate them without interacting with anyone. Jesús (twenty-­five years old) explained how he learned what to do during his first migration: “When I first crossed, I just observed how others acted; I followed a coyote and his pollos [the people he was smuggling] and paid attention.” The rules of the community inform the behavior of the migrants in adopting the strategies that are currently useful. The existing members socialize the new members into the rules. The systems and behaviors are updated as the road changes. Ronaldo (forty-­seven years old from Guatemala), a seven-­time migrant who I met in Saltillo, told me, “I show the new migrants how to behave and how to get on the train and how to treat the people from the migrant house. They are so young, they do not know. I can tell them.” Some people also told me how experienced migrants had drawn a map for them and told them about the migrant houses while they waited for a train or a bus. The transient community is also a repository of valuable information and gossip. Migrants who choose to engage with its members can learn about recent changes in the layout of the arterial route and new obstacles. In 2014, when the Mexican government increased the number of checkpoints and made the train run faster to deter irregular migration (Redacción 2014), the community adapted quickly and formed a new artery. Migrants learned that as soon as they arrived in Tenosique they would need to spend the next three days walking to Palenque in order to avoid the roadblocks and catch the train when it stopped. When I was doing fieldwork, two women were murdered

108

Chapter 4

by gangs close to Palenque. Everyone, even those in a church some distance away from the place where it happened, knew what was going on. Many decided to avoid the spot for a couple of days. It does not matter whether migrants choose to travel by themselves or in a group; drawing on the help that the migrant community can provide increases the chance of success.

The Transient Community as an Adaptation Strategy The transient community mitigates the unpredictable nature of the violence and the dangers of the migrant trail by supplying migrants with resources that their kin are unable to provide. This is an imagined community of migrantes because most of the people I talked to felt that they had been through the same thing, even when their experiences varied. This transitory migrante community exists because all the members believe they are part of the same journey, with the same memories and the same goals. Migrants do not create the community strategically; it exists because most migrants participate in the generalized exchanges due to the fact that they see themselves in others and understand what they are going through. Often, they do not expect immediate reciprocation. This transitory community does not merely exist to facilitate the journey or to transmit information (although it may help with these things as well); it is created by migrants moving through Mexico who feel they are part of something bigger—­it gives them a sense of belonging. It has an existence independent of each migrant, and it continues when they leave the community, which is formed by countless individual and uncoordinated actions. By sharing a blanket or a map with strangers whom they consider to be migrantes like them, they are both building the transient community and benefiting from it. As I show in this book, migrants in transit form various types of social arrangements. Some take to the road with their families, while some do so by themselves, and others find friends along the way. Nonetheless all migrants form part of the transient community, even families. For example, when families follow a group or eavesdrop in a conversation, they are using the transient community. When women exchange information in their rooms, they are participating too. Some migrants choose to tap into it more frequently, while the families I observed only participated sporadically, to their peril.

A Pueblo That Walks Together

109

While the specific type of arrangement known as the “road family” is important for migrants (as we will see in the next chapter), the value of the transient community lies in the fact that it provides resources that are hard to access as an individual or as part of a small group. In times of crisis, especially when fleeing, information from people outside the core social network is essential in order to make smart decisions. Strangers and weak ties can provide different information precisely because they are not close to the individual’s social network. This diverse information is often what makes the difference between a safer migration process and a more fraught one (Berg Harpviken 2009). The same is true in regard to food or money. Some migrants might have access to different resources that are unavailable to others. For example, women tend to get more than men when they beg for money or food, which they can redistribute among the community. In this way, the transient community links all those who are crossing by small acts of generalized exchange without forcing them to form a strong bond with others and to relinquish valuable information.

Figure 5  The border wall in Tijuana, Mexico. In these border towns, the migrante community often extends to deportees and people in transit.

110

Chapter 4

The strengthening of this transient community is an outcome of the deterrence policies that Mexico has implemented during the past two decades. Before 2001, migrants crossed the country in a couple of days and were rarely robbed. They could stay in contact with their family members while they were migrating, and they could receive wire transfers if needed. Now, there are more obstacles to overcome and both state and criminal violence have increased. Migrants cannot rely on their families anymore and few can afford to pay a good smuggler to take them through Mexico. As a consequence of this isolation from their networks “from outside,” migrants have started to cautiously look “inward” toward those walking alongside them for help and support. In general, social capital theories have only focused on the value of strong/ bonding ties (to get by) and on weak/bridging ties (to get ahead) (Granovetter 1983; Putnam 2000). According to such theories, these ties are the ones that promote trust and cooperation and that help individuals succeed. However, when migrating through Mexico, one of the essential associations for most migrants are the loose links between strangers that a transient community creates. These contacts replace family ties in providing information and help along the difficult and stressful journey. It is important to point out that some migrants manage to use their strong ties to form new friendships on the road. These social networks can help to make their journey slightly easier by providing them with more resources. However, even those who have help find the transient community useful in other ways. This community can be an important substitute for social networks in times of violence and social breakdown. In the following chapter, we will see how migrants can form even stronger ties with a few people to overcome the challenges they face along the road.

CHAPTER 5

Familias del Camino: Road Families

The following is the story of Nahu and Juan, a two-­person road family. Their journey, from when they met on the southern border of Mexico, to where I interviewed them, in Nogales on the U.S.-­Mexico border, illustrates the type of emotional help and the resources that a group provides throughout the migrant trail. Nahu and Juan met early in their journey, and they stuck together. When I met them, they were both staying at one of the migrant houses in Nogales, where transit migrants and deported Mexicans mix. Like many of the Central Americans and Mexicans on the U.S.-­Mexico border, they were stuck. They wanted to cross the border but did not have enough money to pay a smuggler. They had to decide whether to try to cross by themselves or to try to find work so they could pay someone to help them. Nahu, a very young man from Honduras, was sitting in a corner of a chapel where migrants wait before dinnertime. I had given everyone soap and toiletries and had chatted with some of those present. He kept looking toward me and shyly making eye contact. When I approached him, he seemed happy; he wanted someone to record his story and his voice in case he got lost or died. In this case, I also became a witness to his presence on the road. We went to a room with trundle beds where the men slept and, as we sat on the floor, he told me about his journey. Nahu had left Honduras a couple of months earlier. He was nineteen and his wife was pregnant for the second time. He had tried to work as a mechanic and as a bus fare collector, but his family could not make ends meet.

112

Chapter 5

He decided to leave after being laid off from one of his jobs. He sold his motorcycle and took out a couple of loans to fund the journey. He hid the money well and sneaked out of his house one night. He knew that if he told his wife, Flor, he was leaving, she would beg him to stay. On the road, he contacted his family to let them know he was doing OK. The family sometimes managed to scrape together some money to wire to him. After crossing the Mexico-­Guatemala border he arrived at the Open Borders Migrant House in Tenosique, where he rested and met Juan, a thirty-­ six-­year-­old Salvadorian who was also migrating by himself. They hit it off and decided to travel together. Soon, Nahu realized that Juan did not have any money or support. Juan was also shy and reluctant to beg for money or to ask for scraps of food: “But I already loved Juan as if he were my brother. I wasn’t going to dump him just because he couldn’t help me.” Nahu spent his money on Juan as well as himself and often went hungry because there was not enough food for them both. He was happy that they made the journey together, though: “For me, the most beautiful part of crossing your country [Mexico] was talking to Juan and getting to know each other and joking. We had adventures and we overcame serious things like that encounter with the Migra, for example.” Nahu was convinced that Juan’s friendship and company is what kept him going. The cold nights seemed shorter and the strenuous walks were sometimes enjoyable. They also felt more secure because they took care of each other’s possessions while the other one showered or rested. He told me that Juan was a miracle who had been sent to him by God. I call these groups, where strangers meet on the migrant journey and form quick and strong bonds, “road families.” Road families make the trip more bearable because they give migrants a sense of personhood and remind them that they are not merely surviving on the road. Instead, these groups reinforce the sense that they have stories and lives and that people are interested in them. The members of the group can also pool together their money and knowledge in order to take safer routes and make better decisions. Although this does not make them infallible, most of the people that I met on the U.S.-­Mexico border who had migrated with new friends were extremely grateful for them (if they had not been swindled by one of their new brothers). Migrating became a journey filled with stories, which contained boring, scary, fun, caring, and exciting moments along the way.

Familias del Camino: Road Families

113

Crossing Mexico with their hermanos (brothers) is less daunting and—­they believe—­easier than it would have been otherwise. While I met several two-­people road families, I most commonly observed groups formed of four to five people. Toward the beginning of my fieldwork, I interviewed a group of five men in a small shack next to the train tracks on the southern border of Mexico. They were in an upbeat mood, and we talked for three hours while eating roast chicken and drinking Coke with ranchera music playing in the distance. I liked them immediately. Although they were waiting to catch the freight train to Veracruz, they seemed relaxed and willing to talk. They made sure everyone had enough to eat and drink, they included each other in the conversation, and they laughed at each other’s jokes. For a while, I assumed they were all members of the same family or acquaintances from Honduras, since they seemed comfortable with each other and talked openly about where they had hidden phone numbers or money. For example, a couple of them showed me that they had sewn contact details into the inside seam of their pants. I had learned that this was private information that should only be shared with the people one trusts the most. But then, an answer they gave to a question I asked surprised me. Alejandra: And where did you meet? Santiago: Well, we just met on the way. In the capital of Honduras, Tegucigalpa. Yes . . . and well, we are on our way to see if we can arrive at the United States where you can have a better life, to even get here is very hard but we’ll keep pushing forward. And here we come making a family. Alejandra: Making a family? Are you a family? Santiago: Yes, because since we left we come together. Juan: Brothered. Alejandra: How long have you known each other? Santiago: Five days. They had only known each other for five days and yet they already considered themselves brothers. They were not just saying it for my benefit. The love and care they felt for each other was clear. I was taken aback, and although I believed them, I wondered if the trust and deep connections they had with each other was an aberration on what I had been told was a dan-

114

Chapter 5

gerous road filled with people who could betray you instantly. Can people form kin-­like ties with strangers so quickly? And how kin-­like were their ties? From then on, I asked everyone about whom they had met while in Mexico. The answers I got were surprising. Most migrants had tried—­and many had succeeded—­in forming kin-­like ties along the road and traveling together. This was true for both the southern and the northern border. Many of them described the groups they had formed as close friendships or families. As I have shown in previous chapters, many migrants in Mexico have limited social networks and social capital that they can use while crossing the country. Although some people rely to a limited extent on transnational social networks via telephone or the internet, the help that they can provide is not enough. This means that they have to navigate the ever-­changing road without the help that a friend or family member would have given them. They are often unable to call family or friends for more money if they are robbed and they cannot get reliable advice as they progress. Some do not get emotional support either, as they do not want to worry their friends and family: “What is the point of telling my mom that I was beaten, eh? She cannot help me and she’ll only get worried. I’ll call her from el norte.” This is what Josué told me as we were having breakfast and I inquired about the last time he had called his mother or his siblings. True, as seen in the previous chapter, migrants can rely on the solidarity and limited help that the transient community of migrantes provides. And yet, many of those making the crossing, regardless of age, nationality, and experience, feel compelled to form smaller and stronger groups that could help them to reach the northern border. The men who create these groups, like Santiago and his “brothers,” quickly establish deep trust and start working together in the interests of everyone. I call these groups road families, or familias del camino, because the concept captures the tension between the rapid and intense emotional bonds they form—­that lead to cooperation and trust—­and the limited nature of the association. Other scholars have observed that often people form intense ties with others in precarious situations, such as homelessness (Tyler and Melander 2011), evictions (Desmond 2012), or even transit migration (Vogt 2018; Schmidt and Buechler 2017; Wheatley and Gomberg-­Muñoz 2016). However, in these ethnographies, the links were ad hoc and broken as soon as they were no longer useful to one or all of the parties involved. Road families are different. Although the links “expire” at the U.S.-­Mexico border, members usually stay together through

Familias del Camino: Road Families

115

thick and thin while they are “on the road,” even when it is no longer convenient for them, just like families. We saw that Nahu and Juan, for example, stayed together even when they did not have enough money for both of them to buy food to eat. As the stories in this chapter illustrate, this decreases the emotional costs of migrating and facilitates the clandestine crossing as well. In this chapter, I show how these road families are formed and how their members help each other while crossing Mexico. I start in the southern border area of Mexico, in Palenque, by describing how the migrants find and choose each other among all the others around them. I ask what makes them want to share their journey with someone and outline the origins of these relationships, how groups are formed, and how trust is maintained and encouraged. Subsequently, I discuss how road families cooperate to gather resources and information during their journey through Mexico and how most disband at the U.S.-­Mexico border. I also explore some instances of betrayal and of groups that do not function as expected.

At the Southern Border: The Need for Road Families Other researchers have described how vulnerable migrants who face aggressive policing and dangerous situations in Mexico come up with creative social strategies to survive. Abby C. Wheatley and Ruth Gomberg-­Muñoz have portrayed the opportunistic and fleeting social communities that migrants create along the migrant trail. They observe that these connections “were formed and dropped by migrants during travel to address immediate needs” (2016, 402). Wendy Vogt (2018) describes the “protective pairings” that migrants form to increase their safety while traveling. Although these pairings are also strategic, they seem to last longer and to create a sense of solidarity between each pair. And as mentioned earlier, women migrants in transit use the strategy of joining other women, or even couples, to survive (Schmidt and Buechler 2017). Similarly, Jason de León (2015) has described a very strong friendship between two men who met each other in Mexico and who crossed the Sonoran desert together. The road families that I frequently encountered on the migrant trail have similarities with the type of friendship that de León describes. Still, while he only talked about two amigos del camino, I discuss a wider variety of associations. The road families I describe are groups formed by between two

116

Chapter 5

and six people who did not know each other before they migrated and who developed strong friendships that led to the rapid formation of solidarity and trust. Although the groups are partially strategic, as Wheatley and Gomberg-­ Muñoz (2016) observed, through in-depth interviews and time spent with the groups I also learned that there are emotional reasons for bonding with strangers. I noticed that the road families stay together for as long as they can, too; some members remain even when it is not convenient for them to do so, which shows how important these bonds become. After I started asking around and listening and observing, it became clear that a lot of people in transit understood the value of joining others while migrating. Pedro and his niece Reyna, from Honduras, told me that you can leave your house by yourself but on certain parts of the way you can start meeting people and once you arrive in Mexico they [the migrants] already come in groups of four or five . . . People that left alone and people that left with acquaintances usually join more migrants before arriving in Mexico or very soon after they cross the Guatemala-­Mexico border. We the Central American migrants always try to go together in a group. Even if we are Hondurans, even if we are Guatemalans, we are always in a group. Even if there are only four or five of us, we are in a group. It is unusual to see someone going with only two or with one.

This is exactly what happened to Roberto, a twenty-­one-­year-­old father of two from Honduras. He decided to leave his country by himself. He did not want to ask for any favors and could not afford to pay a smuggler; he asked around but none of his friends were leaving at the same time so he decided to go alone. He took the bus from Honduras to Guatemala and crossed from El Ceibo to Tabasco, alone. Two days after crossing the Guatemala-­Mexico border he met a group of men around his own age while having breakfast in a migrant house, and they decided to migrate together. Although these friendships make sense for the migrants and those helping them, it is still unusual for people to form such intense ties within hours of meeting. People are usually born into their social groups—­families and communities—­or meet people through mutual acquaintances or their occupations. In safe settings, there are also instances of friendship groups being formed between strangers. For example, we meet people with whom we instantly “click” in settings such as conferences or while vacationing, and

Familias del Camino: Road Families

117

we spend several hours or days with them. Although our new friends would probably help us if we got mugged or needed to go to hospital, I believe that the emotional connection and the solidarity we feel with them don’t rise to the intensity experienced by road families. As the violence of life on the road raises the stakes and poses greater risks, so the ties and the solidarity become stronger. A new acquaintance might give you some money if you had been robbed, but he would be unlikely to pay for your flight back home or wait a week for your credit cards to be reissued. By contrast, a member of your road family would probably stay with you for a month until your broken ankle healed and would share his food with you even if that meant you were both half-­starving. It is important to study friendship and camaraderie formation outside of the relatively peaceful setting of modern Western societies, as people act differently under stressful conditions. Through my fieldwork, I observed that two main reasons initially drive migrants to feel that they need other people while on the migrant trail: (1) the devaluation associated with life as undocumented migrants and (2) the social isolation they experience. In the following, I explain why not feeling valued and being alone in transit makes migrants crave company, not only because this would give them access to material resources but because it would remind them that they are still human beings worthy of care. Migrants realize they are extremely vulnerable as soon as they cross the southern border of Mexico and become victims of or witnesses to extortion, robbery, violence, and murder. This is when they come to understand that they have been stripped of their rights, their value as humans, and their dignity. Gordo, the twenty-­three-­year-­old, first-­time Honduran migrant I met in Saltillo, told me, “As soon as you cross to Guatemala they make you less of a human and by the time you arrive at Tenosique you do not recognize yourself, the mistreatments, the humiliation, the . . . the way they treat us is if like we were not humans. . . . If you could see me the way I am back home, a person.” As early as the southern border crossing, migrants realize that almost no one cares about them, that they have no value in Mexico, and that their disappearance or death will mean nothing. They see other people being deported or beaten and no one seems to care. They understand instinctively that while they are crossing Mexico they are, as Judith Butler (2009) described, simply lives that do not matter and that are not grievable. Finding amigos del camino, friends of the road, as Jason de León (2015) calls them,

118

Chapter 5

helps them feel important and valued, and restores their sense of personhood. During the interviews I conducted it was noticeable that they called each other hermanos, brothers. Forming these strong bonds provides visibility for migrants, even if their new friends are only witnesses to grief and death. Often, knowing that their new friends might be witness to the worst (or final) moments of their lives reassures migrants in transit. They will be remembered. Someone will tell their story. Gordo reflected on the familia del camino he had formed, as follows: “I’ve learned to value people for who they are. I’ve learned that you should never be jealous of someone. When I see one of my comrades falling, I give him my hand and lift him and give him hope. . . . On this road, you learn to appreciate the people you love and the people that love you.” For his part, Nelson (nineteen), from San Pedro Sula in Honduras, believed that the experiences the specific group he was traveling with shared and the care and concern its members had for each other made them a family. He felt as if the ties have existed forever, like in a family. He told me, “So yeah, when you are on the road and share experiences. . . . you feel trust, you feel as if you were related. You look around and you see your new friends but you feel you have known them forever. I think it is because we have a common goal and we wish each other the best, we want all of us to arrive together.” Migrants start forming into groups after they have been in Mexico for two or three days, when they feel vulnerable and exposed. Nelson, who was migrating for the second time, said that the one recommendation he would give to a potential migrant is to find a familia del camino. The first time he migrated he attempted to complete the crossing by himself but after a week he got himself deported because he could not stand the loneliness. Indeed, the need to be recognized as someone who is valued and to be part of a community of peers, coupled with the strategic advantage that groups seem to provide, encourages many migrants to form groups early on in their journey. After all, many had already tried to undertake the first legs of el camino by themselves and failed. Toña (thirty-­one years old from Honduras), for example, chose to migrate from Honduras to the United States alone. She decided that she would rather be by herself than with a stranger (whom she envisaged as male) who would take advantage of her. While she was walking toward Tenosique, after crossing the border from Guatemala, she heard a gunshot and ran and hid under a bridge. Paralyzed with fear, she stayed in hiding for two or three days until hunger finally outweighed her anxiety and she forced

Familias del Camino: Road Families

119

herself to start walking again. She kept wondering who would have told her mother if she had died under a bridge in Mexico. She also believed that if she had been accompanied, she probably would have been braver and would not have stayed in hiding for so long. When I talked to her in Tenosique she had decided that she was not going to leave until she found a familia del camino to walk with. In this situation, Toña wanted someone to bear witness to her death and tell her family what had happened to her. The need to be recognized and remembered made her change her views toward traveling alone. Migrants quickly realize that the social isolation is also a problem. Thus, personal interests and strategy play an important role in the formation of groups. Very early on in their journey, they become aware that their lack of knowledge or money poses problems and that they need to find a way to overcome these challenges. Migrants are usually poorly prepared when they go to Mexico, as they often do not have social networks that will help them with what is to come. They have to survive on what they have brought with them and what they find along the way. Many also realize that they dislike the loneliness and the boredom they encounter. Sor Rita, who runs the Juan Pedro Shelter, told me that when migrants travel from Tenosique to Palenque either by train or on foot, they realize that the journey is emotionally and physically challenging and that they might not be able to complete it by themselves. As a result of these vulnerabilities, according to her, the enganchadores (people who convince the migrants to go with them and then kidnap them) and the coyotes wait in Palenque to prey on scared and vulnerable migrants. However, often the migrants are able to avoid potential entrapments because their initial lonely days in Mexico enable them to realize that forming friendships might allow them to share resources, information, and help.

No Con Cualquiera: Choosing Traveling Companions When I asked Roque why he had chosen to migrate with Raul instead of anyone else, he looked up from his breakfast chilaquiles and stared at me for a very long time. He had never considered the question and did not know how to answer it. He said that Raul was a nice guy and that he was humble, like himself. The pocket Bibles that they both carried sealed the deal because it showed that they were both religious. Migrants do not travel with just

120

Chapter 5

anyone (no con cualquiera); indeed, they tend to make careful decisions in this respect. It is difficult to observe group formation while it is happening due to its amorphous nature. However, through my research I discovered that (1) physical proximity, (2) urgency, (3) self-­disclosure, (4) perception by others, and (5) a leap of faith are the key factors that configure how groups are formed in transit migration. In the case of transit migrants, I did not observe that sharing a nationality affected group formation. The minimum requirements for group formation are physical proximity (Tyler and Melander 2011) and “material and symbolic exchanges” between people (Bourdieu 2011, 86). In order for these minimum requirements to function, people usually need to feel safe and to have time to talk and get to know each other through repeated interactions. In transit, there are no secure and quiet spaces that offer migrants the time and opportunity to talk and assess each other carefully. They are usually out in the open or surrounded by people when they are inside shelters. At most, they have a day or two to get to know each other and decide whether those around them seem trustworthy. Often, they cannot stop for long in the same place, so the groups form quickly. They can only stay for a limited time in the migrant houses and shelters. Many want to continue the journey as soon as possible and become restless if they have to stay for longer, even if they are allowed to do so. When migrants congregate outside of “safe” spaces, they cannot stay there for long or they risk being deported or mistreated. They simply do not have time to find out if they have social and economic proximity with someone. What they disclose is important too. They must try to achieve an almost impossible balance between talking—­but not too much and not about anything too important—­and listening, but not too intently, nor sneakily, and not for very long. It is common knowledge that talking too much is dangerous because you could unwittingly provide someone with information about yourself that they could use against you. Jesús, whom we met earlier when he was describing his migration strategies, expressed the general feeling among the migrants: “You cannot just go around talking about yourself and your family and your life to others; if someone who wants to hurt you hears you, he will kidnap you or do something to hurt you.” Listening too much is dangerous as well: people might think you are an enganchador seeking new prey. I observed how, often in the middle of

Familias del Camino: Road Families

121

a conversation, migrants would suddenly fall silent, look suspiciously at someone, and then change seats with their eyes firmly fixed on the floor. On several occasions, I was told “not to trust that guy” or “don’t interview this guy” because they are “bad” people; they listen too much and ask too many questions. Migrants believe that how they present themselves and how others interpret them is very important. Migrants cannot seem too eager to get to know someone and neither can they ask anyone to vouch for them. Most of them are strangers to each other; they have no contacts in common and no way of knowing if what they have been told is true. The impression they make on others depends as much on how they try to behave as on what others notice (see Díaz de León 2021 for a more detailed analysis). When I asked them “why did you go with them and not with another person?” their answers were vague. Luis, a first-­time migrant from Guatemala, said he looks for people with kind eyes who do not look threatening. Dionisio (twenty-­nine), a first-­time migrant from Honduras, looks for people who seem to be working class, like himself. He also described his companions as humble. Toña wanted to join someone who seemed hardworking and who had a “legitimate reason for going to the United States,” not just to have fun and drink. Roque chose Raul because Raul was carrying a pocket Bible and reading from it. When I probed further and tried to elicit more reflexive answers, they were unable to provide them. For them it was a “gut feeling” or an instinct: they had “found” the right person. The five “brothers” we met in Palenque at the beginning of the chapter explained how they met and decided to stick together as follows: Santiago: So yeah. . . . Juan: So when you meet the person. . . . Lucio: You know about the person. Santiago: You can more or less see how the person is and then . . . Lucio: And then you just get together, we just got together. Santiago: We have been traveling together for a long time [five days]. We met in Guatemala. Juan: And he [Santiago], he gave us food . . . he gave us a taco and we shared all amongst ourselves, he gave us a glass of water and we all drank from the same glass, and yeah . . . we keep going. . . .

122

Chapter 5

For Christopher (thirty-­nine years old from El Salvador), the instinct comes from the heart: Alejandra: And when you met him, did you know you could trust him? Christopher: Mmmmm, I didn’t know I could, I didn’t know I could trust him but in my heart . . . he looked like a humble man, we had been suffering, so we both supported each other, we had a small jug of water, I had water and he had bread and . . . and both things matched. [ . . . ] and we matched as if we were brothers and we decided, he left his group and he came . . . I was still alone. Gordo, who previously thought he could not trust anyone, described the mutual identification he experienced as divine intervention. He and his group went all the way to Saltillo together. His narrative also shows that he was looking for a group due to practical and emotional reasons: I don’t know since I saw them through . . . I was alone, right? I had to join a group . . . or someone alone, because I couldn’t come alone, alone, alone, by myself; to start with, I didn’t know Mexico and didn’t know anything and, how can I tell you, I didn’t know anything, right? I couldn’t tell if I had to go this way or the other way, no? But I don’t know how . . . God probably put them on my way, they were. . . . they, at least one of them knew more or less, or all knew more or less, they had crossed already, and then I “stuck” with them and we came together, suffering, enduring the cold, the hunger, and everything. Until we arrived here.

In short, migrants try to use the information they have to decide whom to go with. The decision is largely based on a type of “love-­at-­first-­sight” feeling that they cannot articulate. This intuition appears to come from observations and instincts that they cannot express when asked. The demand for “love,” and for recognition, awakens the migrants to the need to be “seen” as a person, to be rescued from the nonperson identity that the degrading environment of Mexico imposes on them; to know that if they die, someone will cry for them. They want peers and witnesses. The gut feeling that leads them to identify with someone is impossible to explain and it frustrates them to be pressed for more details. On some instinctive level,

Familias del Camino: Road Families

123

on the train tracks, in the church, or while riding the bus, some migrants sense that they have found a kindred spirit. They identify as parts of a whole again; they are no longer stripped of all the things that make them grievable, and they have some support to draw on again. They cannot explain why they chose someone but they can feel it. This is the final step in group formation along the migrant trail—­a leap of faith.

Gender, Age, Nationality, and Road Families It is mostly young and middle-­aged men who comprise members of these groups. Although other researchers (Wheatley and Gomberg-­Muñoz 2016) have observed that migrants gravitate together by nationality, when I did my fieldwork this did not seem to be the case. Some women joined these familias del camino, as some of my examples show; however, the particular migration patterns of women and families kept them separated from the male migrants (Schmidt and Buechler 2017). Many women hire smugglers who take them through less visible routes or travel with male relatives or their husbands, as described in the previous chapter. Although 2018 saw an increase in families deciding to migrate, in 2015 and 2016 most of those crossing were lone men (Colef 2016). The road families I describe here are mostly formed of men. The age of the group members ranges from teenagers (sixteen to seventeen) to middle-­ aged people (the oldest migrant I talked to was younger than sixty). The groups have members of varying ages, although it is more common for those at the upper end of the scale to be alone. As many of the migrants are between sixteen and twenty-­five years old (Colef 2016), most groups tended to include young people. Age is not a factor when choosing traveling companions: many of them are at the same stage of their lives; they are family men who want to work in the United States. When I asked migrants about their reasons for associating with someone, they never mentioned that nationality was an important factor in their decision making. All the people I interviewed on the arterial border were from Central America, and most were not indigenous or black people. The few indigenous people I talked to had gotten together with nonindigenous migrants to form road families. The black people I met, mostly from Honduras and a couple from Haiti, usually traveled together. I cannot say, however, how race affected the way people

124

Chapter 5

decided to associate because there was very little variation in group composition. Since geographical proximity is one of the primary reasons for group formation (Tyler and Melander 2011), the groups tend to be of a variety of nationalities and ages, albeit male. Some groups consist only of strangers, like Santiago’s group, the five referred to earlier who became friends from the outset: Alejandra: And did you come together, or did you meet here? Santiago: We met here, while we were migrating, in Tegucigalpa in Honduras. In some cases, two or three friends who set out together find other people that they want or need to join. In Saltillo, Robin explained the composition of his group: “With the black one yes [he knew him before] because we are like brothers, we are friends from the same neighborhood, but with the other boy no, we didn’t meet him until Coatzacoalcos [Veracruz].” Finally, sometimes people run into someone from their village or their neighborhood and decide to travel together. In this case, they will have a family member or a friend in common. Having this weak social tie to someone makes it easier to choose to go north with them. In this case, social networks and social capital aid the migrant in deciding how to form a group. Oscar and Franco, first-­time migrants who had left Honduras together, ran into Oscar’s cousin who was smuggling three more Hondurans. “And well yeah, my cousin told us to come with him because he was taking those people anyway and we didn’t know what we were doing,” they shared. “And he took care of us. I’m glad, because we honestly didn’t know what we were doing or where to go!” Rino (twenty-­one years old, from Honduras) is an experienced migrant who receives help from his social networks in the United States; however, in seven attempts he has never managed to reach the United States due to the “bad luck” he has suffered. He related how, on one of his trips, he met people he had known in Honduras. He did not want them to join him but the fact that they knew each other meant that he had to help them. He knew that if he refused, someone in the village would find out and scold him for it. In this case, the influence of the social capital they shared in Honduras is clear. Rino had obligations derived from the ties between his family and the families of the other migrants:

Familias del Camino: Road Families

125

Rino: And yeah, I ran into two boys who were from back there, from my neighborhood. From my place. I was going through the house in Tabasco, the migrant house in Tabasco, I arrived to shower, because, because I was on my way and didn’t want to stay there, so I was, I was only going to shower, and a boy came and talked to me and it was him. Alejandra: Ah! You already knew him from back home! Rino: Yeah, I already knew him, they were from my neighborhood, and then they asked me if I was coming here [Saltillo], and I said yes, because. . . . I don’t like to be selfish, because I could come alone, much better, because you are alone in the world, and it is easier, with oneself it is easier than with more. Alejandra: Yeah? Rino: Yeah, but then I told them they could come and we arrived all the way here [Coahuila]. Regardless of the composition of the group, once the familias del camino are formed, all the members rapidly start acting as if they had known each other for years. In the next section I discuss how they show that trust has been built, how it is maintained, and what happens when it is broken.

Trust and Road Families Members of road families repeatedly told me that they had complete faith in each other and that they trusted their new friends with their belongings and their lives. Although these declarations might have been exaggerated, it is true that they trusted those in their familia more than other migrants. This was clear to me because they shared the most valuable things they possessed with each other: their personal information and their money and resources. This type of exchange produces “mutual knowledge and recognition” (Bourdieu 2011, 87) and strengthens the group as it generates social capital. Telling people about your family and about yourself makes you more vulnerable to kidnapping and abuse, as many migrants know. If someone reveals that he has a family member abroad who could send money if they were captured, they could become a target. Therefore, if someone asks about your family, you always say you are traveling alone and have no one. When you become willing to share details about your family with someone in el camino,

126

Chapter 5

it shows that you trust them with your life (or at least with your freedom). When migrants are with their road family, the barriers come down, as I soon learned by talking to the five brothers: Alejandra: How do you keep yourselves entertained? What do you do? Luis: We talk. Alejandra: What do you talk about? Luis: We joke, we tell jokes. Felipe: We keep each other in a good mood to forget what we are suffering, all the sleep that we miss, to keep each other awake. Alejandra: You must know each other’s lives by heart now, I’m guessing. Luis: We tell each other our lives little by little because the journey is long and then not a word will remain. Alejandra: You haven’t finished. Felipe: We never finish talking. They not only talked about their families but also divulged that they have their families’ phone numbers and that they could contact them if necessary. This is something that no migrant would ever do in front of someone they did not trust. During the interview, several of them showed me how they had sewn the phone numbers into the inside of their pants or how they had written them in code inside a Bible. I also let them use my phone to call and text their family members in front of the rest of the group. They also shared the fact that they have money with the other group members: Juan: And when we came here to the border of Guatemala, almost at the last checkpoint, I almost didn’t have any money and they took all I had left. Santiago: And from then on, we have been helping him. They leave their possessions (including valuables) with one person when they shower (in the migrant house or the river), when they go to beg for money or food, or when they make a phone call. It would be very easy for the person who is left in charge of the possessions to simply abscond and disappear in five minutes if they wanted to. There are instances where this has happened: Christopher, whom we met earlier in the chapter, had his bag

Familias del Camino: Road Families

127

stolen by someone while he went to buy tacos in Palenque. Similarly, any member of the familia could steal the other members’ possessions and no one would be able to find him. It is remarkable that people living in a violent and uncertain context are prepared to make themselves vulnerable with people who are practically strangers to them, especially with few control mechanisms to prevent abuse. There are no formal institutions that operate to prevent or punish maltreatment. Migrants do not report crimes and Mexican officials rarely investigate and prosecute crimes. Researchers have noted how the authorities frequently collude with criminals or are simply indifferent and/or incompetent. Yet those working in migrant houses and the migrants themselves use their knowledge and senses to decide who is trustworthy and who is not. It is difficult to establish a reputation on the migrant trail. The route is long and diverse, and thus migrants rarely see each other again unless they travel together or plan to meet up somewhere (and sometimes not even then). This makes it relatively easy for those who want to take advantage of their “friends” to get away with it and move on. However, there are some methods of informal control. Firstly, if the swindler becomes known to volunteers in the area, they will not be allowed inside migrant spaces and migrants will be warned about them. Secondly, and more interestingly, after having traveled for a week together, people in the newly formed groups tend to refuse to interact closely with people they do not know. At this point, they close their road family and avoid “adopting” any new members. When I asked why they were not open to accepting new people who might need them and potentially enrich the group, the response was often along the lines of “if he is by himself now it means no one wanted to go with him, or he tricked his group.” It is likely that migrants who want to remain in their groups will toe the line and cooperate with each other to avoid being left behind. Through this behavior, migrants discriminate not only against potential criminals but also against legitimate migrants who for one reason or another are not (yet) part of a group. They believe that the risk has become too high. I do not intend to romanticize the trust that migrants have in each other. Many migrants take a risk and it works out for them. For some it does not, and they end up being worse off. Christian, a young hairdresser from Tela, Honduras, migrated because he felt his family would not understand that he liked men and often dressed as a woman. One night he took a little bag containing his hairdressing implements and a larger suitcase with his clothes.

128

Chapter 5

He met a nice man on the Mexico-­Guatemala border who told him that he was on his way to Chicago. They hit it off and continued along the trail together. After riding a couple of combis they stopped at Palenque. The man gave Christian some money and asked him if he could buy tacos for both of them while he took care of their possessions: “When I came back he had taken everything, my clothes, my scissors . . . I was left with nothing. I couldn’t even work because my tools are with him. It hurts me that I was stupid but then I think I wasn’t because I really thought we were starting to become friends, you know? Is it bad to trust?” Christian eventually ended up going back home. I met him on his second attempt to migrate. This time he had decided to travel by himself. However, I still observed him trying to help others and engaging with them. Manuel, a twenty-­eight-­year-­old migrant from Guatemala, had spent three weeks with a man he met and had shared the fact that he had family members in the United States. When he was almost at the end of his journey, his hermano sold him to the Cartel del Golfo: And that day we arrived at the bus station in Reynosa, Tamaulipas. And we were sleeping there, at night, with some friends who were from Honduras [he is from Guatemala] and [when they had met on the southern border] one of my friends told me he had already been to the United States three or four times and he had actually come in through this entrance, so I decided to cross with him. So, we were at the bus station in Reynosa and the people at the bus station told us that it was too hot [dangerous] to stay in the bus station to sleep while it was dark. So we did that and very early in the morning my pal woke me up and told me, “It’s now or never.” He stood up, stopped a taxi and told the taxi driver to take us to the migrant house that was close to the Rio Bravo, in Reynosa. And then the taxi drove us to a house and my friend handed me to the Cartel del Golfo.

Manuel was held captive for twenty days and fed only bread and Coca Cola. He refused to admit he had a family because he knew they could not pay the ransom and did not want to worry them. Luckily, he and eighty other migrants were subsequently rescued by the Mexican police and deported immediately (being deported was not so lucky). For many people, though, familias del camino work well. Trust between group members is established quickly and they show it by sharing secrets

Familias del Camino: Road Families

129

and information. In the next section I discuss how the members of the familias del camino help each other to find emotional support and solidarity and resources that make their journey easier. I also discuss the longevity of the groups and what happens when they get to the northern border.

Emotional Support and Solidarity Migrants need emotional support to keep moving as much as they need food or comfortable shoes. I interviewed people who had decided to turn back because they could not deal with the loneliness, the stress, or the fear, even when they were still physically strong enough to keep going. Road families keep migrants sane by making the journey less tedious and lonely; by showing support when someone gets hurt or needs to slow down; by helping the “road brothers” to deal with their shared trauma; and by providing symbolic solidarity. In this sense, migrants react to the precarity of migrant life by filling it with friends and stories. This makes the difference between merely surviving and actually living. Walking for hours through the jungle, waiting in migrant houses or on the train tracks, and riding the train for long stretches of time is sometimes stressful but mostly just terribly boring. Migrants have a lot of downtime during which waiting is their main activity. Before I went to Palenque, I expected migrants to be on edge all the time. However, over the months that I spent with them I realized that there are countless dull moments. Juan, who when we met him was so sad about being alone that he almost allowed himself to be deported, told me that the first time he migrated he almost went crazy because he had no one to talk to. He even handed himself over to the Migra in desperation. Gordo, the migrant referred to earlier who felt a religious connection with his group, did not understand how people can take to the road without feeling the need to talk about something that is not el camino and how scared they are about encountering the gang members along the road and the cartels in the north. Groups provide a safe space to chat. Being too talkative, too quiet, or too attentive with your brothers is not regarded as suspicious behavior, as it would be in other migrant configurations. When I asked Santiago’s group, the hermanos, what they did to keep each other occupied, they told me that they joke and talk to each other. Pedro and his friends, who decided to leave Honduras after a soccer game, carried a

130

Chapter 5

soccer ball with them and tried to play with the ball while they were walking and when they stopped in towns. When they eventually lost the ball, they threw rocks or water bottles around instead. Gordo and his group composed rap songs and sang them to each other. Rosita, whom I had already introduced as a woman fleeing an abusive husband in Honduras, told me that, for long stretches of the road, she and her friends prayed together and kept each other’s spirits high by praising God. As they advance toward the north and get to know each other better, the group members start to form strong bonds and solidarity that can withstand even the harshest of trials. Often, people delay their journey for weeks or months to wait for a friend’s injury to heal. Some even choose to go back or to be deported so that they can remain with the person who is hurt or dead. Knowing that your family will know what happened to you and that you will not be alone if you are in trouble allows those in transit to keep going. Laura and Karina met during Laura’s second migration. Laura had already lost a foot in a train accident two years earlier. She describes how she met Karina in Huehuetoca: “We became friends because we talked and we liked each other and we were two women migrating alone and we decided to go together. And we got together on the train and it derailed! And we were there for hours, and then the Red Cross came and she was lucky because when I lost my foot I had to hop and then crawl for hours to the nearest town but she had time so they saved her.” In that accident, Karina lost her left leg below the knee. Her leg was crushed under the train for hours until the rescuers saved her. Laura would not move from her side even if it meant she might be deported when they found them. They called the consulate and the consul came for them and brought them to the Coahuila Migrant House. “And now well . . . now we are waiting for Karina to get better and then we’ll go up north, obviously.” I clumsily asked how they were going to cross the desert with Karina in a wheelchair, to which Laura responded, “I don’t have a foot and I can dance, I rode the train and I came all the way up to Saltillo. Karina will cross the desert with me on her own foot or I’ll push her to Tucson but we are crossing and we are crossing together.” Members of road families are very supportive of each other. They make each other feel as if they matter. Through their actions, they show that if something happened to a member of the group they would take care of them. After an illegal raid by the Mexican authorities when she was riding the train, Martha came to understand how valuable her familia was to her:

Familias del Camino: Road Families

131

So, we were riding the train at night and suddenly it stops and the Migra appears. We all scattered. They got some but they didn’t get me. I hid in the bushes for a long time. When dawn broke many of us got out and started looking for our friends. We couldn’t find my brother-­in-­law but we found the rest of the group. We went up the hill to wait for him to find us but he never came. We decided to take a train back and see if he had returned to the last place where we were. We had actually decided that we were going to meet in San Luis [ahead] if one of us got lost and we were going to wait for that person but we were scared he was in trouble, maybe he had been kidnapped, so we decided to go back and find him and rescue him if necessary. But we couldn’t find him. So, we rode the train to San Luis and on the train, we saw him! He had been waiting for us and looking for us and he was scared we had been kidnapped so that is why he stayed where we had gotten off. And then I knew someone had my back and he knew we had his back.

In the Fray Bartolo comedor in Nogales, a volunteer told me about five Garífuna migrants from Honduras who had had a particularly difficult time getting to the north. Garífunas are Afro-­descendants and regarded as racial “other” in Mexico, a country with few black inhabitants. Most Garífunas do not make it to northern Mexico. However, this group had advanced a long way through Mexico when one of them died. Instead of leaving the dead body there, where his family would have been unlikely to find him, the other four handed themselves over to the National Migration Institute and made sure that the family of the dead man was informed and that the body was repatriated. Similarly, a volunteer for the Samaritans in Tucson told me a story in 2015 about a group of migrants who were crossing the desert together when a woman they had only met a couple of days earlier died. They carried the body for a whole day in the blistering Arizona heat to a highway where they sat and waited for a car to pass. They too chose to be deported instead of leaving the woman’s body where she had died. Although I cannot tell how widespread these solidarity practices are, Roberto Llave, the Arizona Samaritan I introduced early on in this book, told me that migrants frequently help each other even when doing so means they will die or get deported themselves. This extreme solidarity is what I believe separates road families from more ad hoc and convenient types of socialities that people form when in distress. These people stay with the other family members even when it is not convenient or safe for them to do so.

132

Chapter 5

Even after a beating, or after having been chased by the Migra, groups tend to stick together. Road families can survive very traumatic and stressful situations. Gilberto, Jaime, and Lucho, from Honduras, were kidnapped before they arrived in Tapachula. A man had offered to take them to Tapachula and let them stay at his house. They had accepted help and lodgings on two previous occasions and nothing untoward had happened to them. They were first-­time migrants with little experience, and they accepted the lift. When they got to the house he tied them up and locked them in the house. He fed them, then went out and did not come back for three days. After two weeks of captivity, they managed to escape. The experience brought them closer together. Having experienced the kidnapping together also allowed them to talk openly about how it had affected them. By talking about it and knowing that the others understood what they had been through, they felt that they had been able to overcome the trauma. They decided to stay together and share a flat in the United States when they arrived. Gilberto was the only one who made it as of this writing, but he keeps in touch with the others and is waiting for them in the United States. People feel safer when they are walking in a small group, as evident in this anecdote that Toni, a migrant I briefly met in the church in Palenque, related to me: We walk always in groups, we have to walk in groups because if they see that you are alone, they come and grab you! And then that’s it . . . Like this man, he was with his group and then someone came and gave him a five hundred pesos bill and asked him to buy a jug of water in the grocery store, close to where we were [the church], and then three mareros, gang members, I think, or well, three malandros appeared behind him and pointed a gun at him and took him. He was taken because he was alone. That’s why the man came and gave him five hundred pesos. No one gives you five hundred pesos to buy a fifty-­pesos jug of water. They wanted him alone . . . and they took him.

Migrants find strength in numbers. They believe they will be less likely to get kidnapped or robbed if they are with their friends. They walk together. They sleep together; sometimes one stays awake and looks out for the others while they sleep. They even ask for money together. They feel that they would be able to protect each other if a dangerous situation arose. I have not been able to ascertain whether it is in fact the case that groups of migrants are

Familias del Camino: Road Families

133

less vulnerable than migrants who are traveling alone. Their belief that there is safety in numbers is probably true in the case of petty criminals but not necessarily with regard to the gang members who jump aboard the trains pointing their guns at everyone. As I have mentioned earlier, cartel members have been known to kidnap seventy people at gunpoint.

Finding Resources By cooperating and coordinating with each other to gather resources for survival (namely, information, food, and money), the familias del camino can compensate for the help that families or friends are unable to provide. The road family, much like traditional kin-­like families in migration studies, reduces the costs of migrating and teaches the rules of the game to new generations. Indeed, information is very valuable along el camino. Checkpoints move and criminals adapt. The strategies that were useful last year might not work this year. People are continually surprised by the new obstacles they face. They are simply not prepared for them. Felipe, a thirty-­five-­year-­old migrant from Honduras who felt that he was “stuck” in Palenque told me how before, he was able to jump on the train and just ride it to the U.S.-Mexico border. However, when I interviewed him, he was overwhelmed by all the new challenges, “You have to pay a quota, they kidnap you . . . they kill you . . . If you don’t pay a quota they throw you off the train and you fall . . . The Beta group deceives . . .” It is hard to be sure if the checkpoint is indeed where you were told it was, if there is a migrant house in a particular town, or if walking is better than taking the train. Anyone who has a scrap of information or contact with someone who knows what they are doing becomes very important. Oscar and Franco ran into a cousin early on in their journey so they got together with him and followed him unquestioningly; after all, he knew what he was doing. Another Honduran migrant I met in Saltillo, Robin, explained that, to begin with, he simply followed the guy he had just met because he had no idea what he was doing: Alejandra: Did you know about Mexico before you crossed? How dangerous it was? Robin. No!

134

Chapter 5

Alejandra: Really? Nothing? Robin: Tsss, I didn’t even know, I hadn’t even seen a train, just to tell you that when I did see the train. . . . Well . . . I got goosebumps; I won’t deny it. When migrants are in a group, they can all compare the versions of the route that they have in their minds. If they are lucky and a member of their road family has migrated before, they can teach them some of the “rules of the game.” After interviewing Santiago’s group, I followed them to a stationary train that had stopped near where we were sitting. One of the more experienced men started to show three first-­time migrants and me how to ride the train when it is moving and how to avoid losing a limb. He told me he had been teaching them all sorts of things: how to ask for money; what to pack and what to leave behind; how to keep hydrated; when to follow the highway and when to avoid it. The migrants who leave their homes with cash usually spend it and/or lose it to criminals during the early stages of the journey. Agents from the National Migration Institute extort migrants or rob them if they do not detain them. Many criminal groups charge passage fees to take the train or to cross particular places. Jesús, whom we met earlier when he explained his strategy for following the coyotes on the road, told me about one occasion when he was riding the train and encountered criminals of this type: “And yeah three crooks climbed into the train and asked me, ‘Where are you going?’ and I tell them, ‘Dude, I’m going to the other side’ and he says, ‘Did you pay the train?’ and I tell him, ‘Well, who the fuck is supposed to pay for the train if the train is owned by the fucking government? How am I going to pay?’ ‘Fuck off, we are the bosses and we rule and we own the train,’ ‘Don’t cross me,’ I said, and they gave me a beating.” Early on in the journey, almost everyone needs to find ways of obtaining food or money to buy food and secure lodgings. With a familia, there are more people working toward getting food or willing to share their money. Marlo, the eldest of a group of four teenagers migrating for the first time from Honduras, explained how they all work together to share the food they get. “We walked from Honduras,” he told me. “Since Guatemala, we shined shoes and decorated roofs, we earn some cash and we could eat. And that is how I was able to provide for them and for that one and with only my money and that is how I helped some of them. And well, we shared food and ate.”

Familias del Camino: Road Families

135

Pedro and his friends begged for money or food, or sometimes “took food that no one was watching over just when we walked next to a house.” I previously discussed how Santiago’s group supported someone who had run out of money just after crossing Guatemala. Martha is another example I have mentioned in another chapter: she went to beg for money to support the shyer or “prouder” members of her group who refused to do it themselves. She then bought food for everyone. Laura’s story shows how she helped the group she had joined without ever expecting them to be able to repay her. She even became slightly offended when I suggested that they were not contributing anything to the group: Alejandra: And you, when you travel with people, do you share food and stuff or to each his own? Laura: We share, of course. We share food. Alejandra: And with your money, you bought for them. . . . Laura: Yes! Alejandra: Did they have anything to contribute? Laura: It’s not like that! I wanted to give it to them. If they said, “Look, we don’t have any money and we cannot buy,” I would tell them, “We are going there to buy,” and they said, “But we don’t have any money.” “No!” I told them, “don’t worry, I will buy a kilo of tortillas, avocado, and beans,” and there we ate. And we shared all the time. All of these examples show that, often, familias del camino can make up for some of the help that traditionally social networks would provide to those who are migrating. By finding people whom they love and trust, migrants who started the journey by themselves become part of a group that gives them meaning and useful resources. Sometimes, though, a few more fortunate migrants who have the help of their kin families join a road family and they can then pool resources to the benefit of all their new brothers. When this happens, migrants receive good quality information and money. Usually, the family members send them money through wire transfers at different points along the journey. They do this because they know that the migrant will need a constant influx of money to have a better chance of reaching the United States. Migrants cannot carry all their cash with them because they will eventually get robbed. Despite having the money, though, they decide to form groups and share what they have with some of the others. They do it be-

136

Chapter 5

cause they know that the road is easier in a group and because they feel that doing a good deed will increase their likelihood of arriving safely at the north. Rino receives generous and regular wire transfers from his family. Nonetheless, he always joins a group when making the crossing. He likes the company, he wants to help new migrants, and he knows that he will be safer with them. Once he joins a group, he shares his money with them; his money becomes the group’s money: Rino: I begged for money for them because they didn’t have money. Alejandra: Ah! So, you didn’t share your money with them? Rino: No, how can I explain this? Since we took the bus I spent all my money, right? So, we needed to beg to eat. Juan, whom we encountered at the beginning of the chapter, also receives a modest amount of money regularly. He met his traveling companion, Nahu, in Tenosique; his account of how he knew they were brothers shows how close they grew when they migrated together: If I have money it’s as if the others had money. Here another compañero of mine went ahead. He took the train, he came ahead, and I took the bus and was stranded and alone in Irapuato and didn’t have any money. I didn’t have any money and went on the internet and communicated with my uncle but I didn’t even have money to pay for the internet. An hour for ten pesos and I didn’t have any money and this boy who is with me. . . . I was left without money there but since he [the friend he met on the way] had [money] he told, he told me, “If I have money it is as if you had money and I’m here for everything you need.”

Juan benefited from the money Nahu gave him. In turn, Nahu stayed with him and helped him, even when he received his own money in Iraputo and his new friend had none. I met them in Nogales when they were getting ready to travel north. At this point, Juan had all the money and could have left Nahu by himself. They had arrived in the north so there would have been no consequences for Nahu if he had just disappeared one day. However, he stuck with Juan because they were family now: “And to tell you the truth he doesn’t have anyone to send him money and they send me money and it weighs on me because I cannot eat without feeding him too. I think of myself

Familias del Camino: Road Families

137

as a good person and it is not like I want to eat when he is not looking. When I go to eat, I tell him ‘let’s go’ and if I don’t have for both of us . . . we don’t eat.” Thus, the presence of weak ties (family and other social networks) can strengthen the benefits of traveling with a familia del camino. For example, Rino and Roberto’s networks supported not only their own journey but their larger group’s transit too. Migrants who have access to some money but not enough to pay for a pollero, a smuggler, sometimes choose to go hungry or not stay in hotels in order to help the people they meet along the way. They are prepared to put their own safety and health at risk, but they gain a new familia del camino that provides company and emotional support. Some also feel they are fulfilling their duty as good people or good Christians. From the examples of Rino and Roberto and of Juan and Nahu, we can see that families and social networks are useful if and when they are willing to help family members who are migrating. What is even more relevant is that when social ties come through, they have much more potential than previously thought. In the case of the migrants in Mexico who received help, their social ties benefited not one but approximately four migrants. Usually, the relatives in the United States do not know they are helping multiple people to survive. It is remarkable that the strong social network formed by the migrant in Mexico enables them to receive help from people who do not know them and did not intend to help them. A future area of research could examine whether this is the case with transnational networks in destination and origin countries. Is the money that migrants who made it to their destination country send just helping their own family directly or is the family distributing it to members of its networks who are worse off than they are?

Longevity of the Road Family It is impossible to generalize about what happens to ad hoc road families when they reach the U.S.-­Mexico border. The process of crossing to the United States is different for each one and is becoming increasingly difficult. Most migrants try to find a smuggler to guide them through it. Often, road families stick together for a couple of days while they decide what to do. After that, a member will often move on either because he wants to keep moving or gets enough money to pay a smuggler, or decides to stay in the northern Mexican city. The groups are rarely able to stick together while crossing the

138

Chapter 5

U.S.-­Mexico border. People often separate amicably and some try to stay in touch. The strong bonds that these groups form sometimes persist after the members have gone their separate ways. A year after the first stage of my fieldwork, I contacted the migrants who had added me on Facebook and were willing to talk about their experiences while migrating. Many of them had been deported back to Honduras while crossing Mexico or the Sonoran Desert in the United States. Some of them had died or disappeared (as I learned from their Facebook pages where friends and family had written grieving messages); few had arrived in the United States. I asked the ones that I could talk or chat to if they were still in contact with the hermanos they had made on the road. It is important to remember that the migrants did not come from the same region originally and do not necessarily want to reach the same destinations in the United States, so they rarely end up in the same place after they get deported or reach the United States. Caballero, who is currently living in Saltillo while deciding whether to cross the desert alone, told me, “I don’t talk to them because they left the migrant house and we didn’t exchange contact details.” He was concerned about them but he had not made any effort to find out what had happened to them. Gilberto, who lives in Austin, Texas, kept in touch through Facebook with his friends, who had been deported. He intends to help them settle if they ever get to the United States. Saul, who was deported along with his entire group when the Migra found them near Veracruz, keeps in touch with the other members: “We talk all the time.” The last time I spoke to him he was planning to try to make the crossing again with some of them. Thus, these groups can last for longer than just the time they are useful, but migrants do not always have contact addresses for their companions or the time and will to maintain these relationships. Although many of these road families disintegrate when they arrive at the U.S.-­Mexico border, I believe that describing them merely as ad hoc social formations is too superficial. From what I have learned and observed in the border regions, the road families are instrumental but also deeply emotional arrangements for those migrants who belong to them. They join others in the southern border region to decrease the costs of migrating and to gather essential resources more effectively. However, from the outset, there is an emotional pull that often rapidly becomes stronger and more complex as they spend time together. Sometimes, even when remaining with a road fam-

Familias del Camino: Road Families

139

ily is not convenient or in a person’s best interests—­for example, if someone gets hurt—­people stick with their friends while they are still on the trail. Although road families only seem to exist as a strong association when on the road, their importance for the migrants is enormous.

Conclusion In this chapter, I introduced road families, familias del camino, as constituting one of the strongest bonds that many male and female migrants in transit form when they are crossing not only Mexico itself but also the U.S.-­Mexico border into the United States. Joining these road families improves the migrants’ journey because the support and solidarity they provide allows the migrants to feel like people who matter and who are grievable; it also gives them security, company, and often other resources such as information or even money. Migrants form road families at the beginning of their journey, usually after experiencing or witnessing the dehumanization and violence associated with life on the road. This is when they realize how lonely and unprepared they are. After interacting with others, some migrants decide to take a leap of faith and voluntarily join a group of people. As road families, these men and women form strong bonds, share stories, games, fears, and even details about their families. They start acting like an established and long-­lasting social network would do. Many of the people I interviewed in the north credit their survival and their sanity to having made those friends when they started out. Analyzing the social processes involved in these families shows how migrants in transit are doing more than merely surviving when they are crossing the arterial border. They are meeting new people, forming new bonds, and helping each other. These groups show that migrants who did not previously know each other can form strong, long-­lasting networks that survive precarity, violence, hunger, and trauma for an extended period of time. The way that migrants help each other in a very personal sense illustrates the importance of social networks throughout the journey, even when they are not composed of family and friends in their countries of origin or their destination. These families, and the way they care for each other and give each other meaning also show that, during a long-­term crisis, solidarity among strangers can thrive.

Is There an End to the Journey?

After hiking for about ten miles and climbing to a high point in the Sonoran Desert on the U.S. side in 2015, Roberto and I took a rest and enjoyed the breeze. While he unwrapped his peanut butter and jam sandwich and drank from his water bottle, we took in the stunning view. The only thing you could see for miles were the ochre colors of the Sonoran Desert punctuated by the green of sahuaro, the white of cholla, and the red of blooming ocotillo. The Sonoran Desert is not at all how I pictured it. It is not flat and bare; it has low hills cut through with ravines that stay dry for most of the year. It is difficult terrain to hike; you need to pay attention to avoid slipping. Many of the bodies of migrants that volunteers find, Roberto told me, had sprained or broken their ankles. The desert is filled with cacti, small trees, rocks, and animals, most of which go unseen. It smells delicious, like dry grass, honey, and sun. It has always felt incongruous to me that such a beautiful place is also so deadly. Roberto pointed toward a point on the horizon and told me that there—­ far away—­was a small town. He told me that we were standing about a day’s walk from that area; he added that migrants who had made it this far in their journey were most likely going to make it all the way. If they got to see this daunting vista it meant that they were almost there. I took a picture (figure 6) and marveled at the view, at Roberto’s knowledge and empathy, and at the stamina that it would take for someone to walk for around four days to get to this point from the border. I drank from my water bottle and, as I enjoyed the cool drink, I realized I had never been really thirsty. I thought of all the

Is There an End to the Journey?

141

Figure 6  The view from the Sonoran Desert.

migrants who were walking, running, hiding, feeling the heat of the sun, and drinking their last drops of water. I hoped that migrants had found some of the water bottles we had left below a mesquite tree. My visits to both sides of the U.S.-­Mexico border, in Tijuana-­San Diego and Nogales-­Tucson, were motivated by a desire to picture what came next for the people I had met and interviewed, as was this hike. I felt that my knowledge of the challenges that migrants faced after successfully navigating the northward migrant routes in Mexico would be incomplete if I did not visit the U.S.-­Mexico border—­the last obstacle, and what I considered to be “the end of the migrant journey.” I wanted to understand when migrants told me that they had been caught in the desert and that they felt hot and cold, hungry, and thirsty. I wanted to visit the spot where Roque, one of the people I interviewed, had died and been found under the shade of a tree. I had brought a small candle to put beneath the tree. I came to see this notion of a neat “end” to the journey as misguided, upon realizing that, for most migrants, the U.S.-­Mexico border is not some kind of finishing line that they have to cross. When they overcome one obstacle—­

142

Is There an End to the Journey?

the hostile desert terrain, the strict surveillance and control of organized crime and the U.S. and Mexican governments, the restrictive immigration laws in both countries—­another presents itself immediately. The famous wall is not the only barrier migrants encounter in the desert. There is a whole system of border fortification in place, even when the desert looks empty. There are pole-­mounted cameras, klieg lights, towers with heat and motion sensors, seismic sensors, aerostatic blimps, pilotless drones and motion detectors. There are also Border Patrol agents on quads, SUVs, and horseback patrolling the desert (Boyce 2016; Chambers et al. 2021). Once, Roberto and I were cut off on our walk by a Border Patrol squad. We were told that we had triggered a motion sensor somewhere in the desert and that they were “checking it out.” It amazed me to find out that, even there, we were being observed and controlled by the deterrence state. It made me feel a bit paranoid, and I spent the rest of the walk looking for signs of hidden technology that was surveilling the desert (I found nothing). Even after overcoming all these obstacles and arriving at the point where Roberto and I were now standing in the Sonoran Desert and walking for another day, undocumented migrants still have many obstacles to overcome. Inside the United States, the “border”—­in what is colloquially known as the “Constitution Free Zone,” where people can be stopped without probable cause and checked by Border Patrol agents—­extends for one hundred miles inside the United States (Castañeda 2019). Along the main highways leading from the border there are semipermanent checkpoints where Border Patrol officers can stop anyone, ask them questions, and examine their documents. This thick border continues to expand, to Mexico, and beyond that, to the border communities (Macías-­Rojas 2018; Rosas 2006). So, once inside U.S. territory, migrants have to avoid the checkpoints that the Border Patrol has established on all the major highways if they want to advance further inside the country. When traveling north on U.S. Interstate-­19 or Interstate-­5 to visit Tucson or San Diego, I always nervously carried my passport with me and made sure I had a white or white-­passing friend driving the car in order to avoid being stopped. The daunting checkpoints and the Border Patrol vans reminded me constantly of my origins and my skin color. For migrants without documents, of course, the stakes for crossing these checkpoints are infinitely higher. There are whole populations stuck inside these thick border areas who do not want to risk being caught at the checkpoints (Castañeda 2019). Many undocumented migrants remain

Is There an End to the Journey?

143

within this hundred-­mile buffer zone for most of their lives, always staying in areas that are familiar, always on alert. Those who want to move forward have to find a way to get past the checkpoints. Some people attempt to walk around them but doing so increases their risk of death or injury. In Texas and Arizona especially, many migrants die trying to avoid the checkpoints, as they have to walk through the dry, rugged desert for a couple of days (Soto and Martínez 2018). Even for those who make it past the checkpoints, there are multiple legal, social, and cultural obstacles that must be overcome (see, for example, Menjívar 2016, Abrego 2014, and Hondagneu-­Sotelo 1994). For example, migrants have to create new social ties, often while hiding their undocumented status. They need to find jobs and houses, adapt to living in a new country, and stay away from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency in order to avoid being picked up and deported. The constant state of alertness, uncertainty, and stress reminds me of what I learned in my first days of fieldwork on the southern border of Mexico when, after a raid, I “discovered” that migrants always have to be alert—­always “on.” This feeling never goes away, it seems. A stark reminder of the fact that a migrant journey has no real ending is the city of Nogales, Mexico. I spent many hours there chatting with middle-­ aged or older Mexican migrants who had lived for decades in the United States without documents. While they ate lunch or waited in line for help, they told me about themselves. They had built new lives, they had bought trucks, and they had dogs and gardens. Some were in Nogales because they had been picked up and deported while merely going about their everyday lives. Some had chosen to come back—­for a couple of weeks, they said—­to say goodbye to their elderly parents. To see them one more time. Few of them were surprised to find out how challenging it was going to be to make the crossing again. It is difficult to know how the extreme vulnerabilities associated with the U.S.-­Mexico borderlands region influence the road families that form in transit through Mexico. Most of the solidarity groups that I came to know in Mexico seemed to dissolve amicably around Mexico’s northern border, as members went their separate ways and followed their own plans to cross to the United States. Some, as we know, had families that had promised to help them if they arrived at the border. Many migrants hire smugglers to help them cross. It is likely that groups that cross with a smuggler develop other

144

Is There an End to the Journey?

dynamics that I was not able to observe. One particular anecdote sticks with me, though. On one of our hikes through the Sonoran Desert, Roberto was showing me where he or other volunteers had found remains, or backpacks, or people in need of help. Suddenly, we stopped at the side of a dirt road. “Here,” he told me, “is where some volunteers found a type of gurney made from palo verde sticks, bra straps, and twine. It seems that a person got injured on the road and, instead of leaving them there, they carried him to the side of the road and flagged a vehicle for help.” He could not remember if the rest of the group had been deported with the injured person, but the show of solidarity sounded very similar to what I had witnessed on the route through Mexico, where sometimes a group waited for months for someone’s broken ankle to mend rather than leaving the injured person behind.

Violence and Deterrence in Mexico and the United States, an Update Mexico As I have shown in this book, Mexico is working with the United States to create an obstacle course designed to stop, push back, and deter undocumented migrants. I carried out the bulk of my research during the presidency of Enrique Peña Nieto, of PRI, the political party that had ruled Mexico for over seventy years before the transition to democracy in 2000. During his presidency (2012–­18), the war on drugs became increasingly violent and the disappearances of migrants and Mexican citizens skyrocketed. The violence that migrants faced, as I showed in chapter 2 and throughout this book, was unprecedented and unpredictable, but targeted. As I write this, the presidential administration of Andrés Manuel López Obrador—­AMLO, a president from the leftist party Morena—­continues. AMLO became president in 2018 and touted a progressive human rights agenda and the stated goal to protect the poor. However, during his presidency, Mexico has continued to militarize immigration control, brokered deals with the United States that have involved blockading the border, and continued to generate a climate of violence and uncertainty for migrants. In June 2019 AMLO agreed with the United States to step up the migration controls on the Mexico-­Guatemala border; in exchange the United States would drop the tariffs it had threatened to impose on Mexico. The

Is There an End to the Journey?

145

country implemented the Plan Migrante Norte y Sur with the explicit objective to stop migrants in Mexico. With the Plan Migrante, the country sent fifteen thousand troops to the southern states and increased the roadblocks and raids in towns where migrants gather. Immediately after its creation in 2019, twenty thousand troops from the National Guard—­a military-­style police force—­started blockading the southern states of Mexico and detaining immigrants (El Debate 2019; Arista 2019). This militarized organization, which had been created to detain criminals, was being let loose on people trying to cross the country, many of them families. The National Guard, wearing anti-­riot gear, white and grey camouflage, and carrying guns, had blockaded the bridges that allow migrants to cross from Guatemala to Mexico. Since then, they have continued to play an important role in controlling migration in Mexico. In 2020 dramatic pictures and videos revealed how lines upon lines comprised of thousands of National Guard troops formed a human grey wall that prevented a migrant caravan that had originated in Honduras from entering Mexico (Arista 2019). The criminalization of migrants and the violence with which they are repelled is all too apparent in these images. Mexico continues to use a strategy designed to blockade the southern states and prevent migrants from moving north through Mexico. The belts of migration control start at the Guatemala-­Mexico border and extend all the way to the narrow, southern Mexican Istmo. The rings are formed by the military, police, and National Guard checkpoints on the highways and the train tracks. These belts include at least seven Mexican Navy checkpoints that have been set up to prevent Central American and Caribbean migrants from using the sea routes. This blockade is complemented by at least seven migration detention centers that are managed by the INM. Migrants are still taking secluded routes, getting lost in the monte and getting injured, disappeared, and killed. This is still a very dangerous country to cross.

The United States President Donald Trump (2016–­20) made it a political priority to demonize immigrants and, moreover, signed an array of executive orders and oversaw a concerted effort by his administration to restrict both documented and undocumented immigration. Although his policies made what was already a difficult road even harder, the strategy was rooted in a long line of “border

146

Is There an End to the Journey?

security” and “deterrence policies” that started with Operation Gatekeeper in 1994. During Trump’s presidency, the U.S. government started constructing another border wall on the U.S.-­Mexico border. At the same time, the U.S. decreased the admissions cap for refugees and the processing of refugee applications has been slowed down significantly. The Covid-­19 pandemic has resulted in asylum seekers often being sent back without even having the opportunity to put forward their claims (Parra 2020). Since 2016 (under the Obama administration), the U.S. government has implemented a “metering” system for asylum seekers. Instead of allowing anyone who arrives at the border to talk to a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agent at the crossing points and ask for asylum, the United States and Mexico physically prevent asylum seekers from ever coming into contact with a CBP officer. I have seen in Tijuana how INM agents on the Mexican side observe who is coming through the port of entry in San Ysidro toward the U.S. side, where there is a passport control. If those crossing look like asylum seekers (poor, dusty, tired, and carrying a lot of luggage, according to an agent with whom I had a conversation), they stop them and return them to Mexico. A further obstacle is a police officer on the U.S. side who asks to see a person’s passport before letting them into the actual area where they have to stand in line to show their visa to the CBP officer. This is completely irregular, and it shows how the two countries are working together to stop asylum seekers from exercising their right to ask for asylum. Instead, asylum seekers have to sign up on an unofficial list (on the Mexican side of the border) that allows them to wait, often for weeks or months, for a turn to merely speak with a CBP officer and ask that they be considered for asylum—­a lengthy and rigorous legal process that, for the majority of petitioners, ends in denial. While they wait for their turn on the list, they have to find a way to survive in the dangerous border towns. When I visited Tijuana in 2019, I got to see the list: a volunteer who was also an asylum seeker wrote down names in a ruled notebook while the Grupos Beta stood around. I was told that on some days the CBP called the number of twenty people, and yet on others they did not call anyone. It was a waiting game—­one that can last up to two years. To further delay the asylum process, the U.S. government implemented the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) in January 2019. The MPPs allowed most asylum seekers to be returned to Mexico (a “safe third country”) while they await court hearings in the United States. At the time of writing, the Biden administration had not repealed Title 42,

Is There an End to the Journey?

147

a public health order meant to stop the spread of Covid-­19 that allowed authorities to expel migrants from land borders. This meant that people who wanted to apply for asylum were unable to do so, creating a huge population of migrants in the border towns, some of the most dangerous cities in Mexico. Many asylum seekers and migrants go missing, are kidnapped, decide to drop out and return home, or try to cross the desert (Bova 2019).

Migrants, Cohesion, and Cooperation In this book I have examined and conceptualized solidarity, cooperation, trust, and bonding between Central American migrants who did not know each other previously but who had shared experiences of the migrant trail and similar goals. I have shown how, in contrast to what is normally expected, forming new ties with strangers often provides a better source of information and help than sticking within a closed family unit. Sometimes, even in the most dangerous and uncertain situations, people are open and willing to form new ties with strangers (like the road families), especially when they need help and when they need to be validated as people who matter. I have shown how facing extremely difficult and uncertain situations with a group of people who care about you and whom you trust–­like your family or your road family—­mitigates some of the loneliness and the fear associated with the road. Road families—­familias del camino—­provide a space where laughter, pain, and vulnerability can be shared; where your hermanos look at you and see a human being who is complex and important. Forming strong ties helps people to feel that they are supported when they are confronting precarity and physical and emotional stress. However, I also showed that the help and solidarity that these groups provide have limits in the face of the violent migration policies that Mexico has implemented. Even though socialities like the ones I have described are important and essential when migrants are crossing clandestinely, they are not enough to overcome the full force of a deterrent state. Moving beyond smaller, tight-­knit groups, in this book I also described how I had observed a new, loose type of “transient community” of migrantes being formed. This community, this pueblo, comprised all those taking the migrant route through Mexico at the same time. It provided migrants on the road with a minimal amount of information, help, and identity, which proved to be valuable and important for many of them.

148

Is There an End to the Journey?

Although I suggest that that the transient community can expand to include deported Mexicans on the U.S.-­Mexico border, I did not stay in Mexico long enough to observe how that initial recognition of a common struggle played out. When I conducted most of my fieldwork, there were certainly people stuck on the border, but not in the same quantities as there have been during the last few years. People did not have to stay there for very long periods, either. Now, migrants who are stuck at the border have been there for up to two years. They interact with the same people repeatedly and they acquire reputations. This enforced wait will lead to changes in group dynamics, cohesion, and solidarity, probably similar to those observed in Calais or Morocco (Stock 2019). Through conversations with activists and researchers who have visited the border more recently than I have (2019–­20), I have learned that some migrants (in transit, deported, displaced, and asylum seekers) are starting to organize themselves to demand some rights. Roberto, my hiking friend, told me that every month in Nogales, a group of migrants gets together and goes to the garita (a federal inspection station, or checkpoint, operated by the Mexican government) on the border to protest about a specific right that they are currently denied (Kino Border Initiative/Iniciativa Kino para la Frontera 2021). One month they demand sanitation, another safety, and another a space to rest. In Tijuana, the #DefendAsylum campaign was formed by migrants and organizations from the border region. They regularly organize protests and meetings. As Abby Wheatley and Ruth Gomberg-­ Muñoz (2016) suggested, this migrante identity seems to be transforming into a nascent political identity that is being channeled toward the demand for rights. Forged as a response to closed borders that constrain, injure, and kill migrants and that attempt to negate their humanity and grievability, the transnational migrante identity is a way to get organized, too. Although this book focuses on building trust and links between people, I have tried to avoid romanticizing the migrant trail through Mexico. As I have shown, actors with fluid identities (including police, military, local population, and other migrants) often take advantage of those attempting to cross Mexico. There is a generalized air of mistrust and rampant violence. There is also sexism. Often, migrants who do not look mestizo, unlike most of the Central American people in transit, are excluded from joining smaller groups (Díaz de León 2021). Nuncio, the Guatemalan farmer mentioned at the beginning of the book, is a good example. Likewise, Garífuna people are

Is There an End to the Journey?

149

often excluded from road families. Although my mestizo interviewees said that Garífuna migrants “like to exclude themselves,” it will be important to study the role of racism in forming familias del camino. The flows of migrants through Mexico coming from Cuba, Venezuela, Haiti, and—­in lower quantities—­from countries in Africa such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ghana have increased during recent years. For this book I mostly interviewed mestizo Central American migrants. I was therefore not able to observe what kind of social cohesion exists among people of varying origins and ethnicities, but it is a very important question that must be answered empirically. Can there be a wider migrante identity that includes everyone experiencing similar challenges? I believe that, as the road becomes longer and the waiting time increases, we will come to see how these questions play out.

Uncertainty and Luck Migration, by definition, is always moving and changing; therefore, our knowledge needs to be constantly challenged and updated to keep it current. Countries like Mexico and the United States frequently change their policies and the way they apply them to certain groups of migrants. The only strategy that has remained constant during the last few decades seems to be Mexico’s and the United States’ efforts to repel unwanted migrants beyond their borders. Every time a new policy or strategy is enforced, undocumented migrants have to react and adapt. Every change pushes them into longer, more dangerous, and more secluded routes and increases the risks they face. Throughout all these changes in policy, social ties have been and remain fundamental to navigating and surviving the process of transit migration. Migrants will still need their families back home or in the United States to help them with emotional support, advice, and money. More importantly, people in transit will still rely on the strangers they meet while on the move—­strangers who will have up-­to-­date information and who will really understand what it means to take el camino; to walk for days, to hardly sleep, to get painfully sunburned, and to run from the Migra. In response to stronger border closures, to higher walls, to concertina wire, and to watch towers, people will continue to form road families, transit communities, and ties of solidarity.

150

Is There an End to the Journey?

In this book I have examined ways in which migrants attempt to navigate the ever-­changing “arterial route” (Vogt 2018) and the shifting identities of the actors they encounter along the road by forming new types of social arrangements. Migrants remain complete and complex people who, while trying to survive, still dream, have fun, flirt, and plan for the future. They are people who engage socially while tackling the very dangerous migrant trail. Being undocumented, vulnerable, and on the move does not reduce them to a state of “merely surviving.” I think that it is important for activists and academics to remember this. The migration process does not have to be like this. We have to fight to ensure that people who are migrating are treated like full, complex, human beings who have rights and who deserve to travel in safety and freedom just like the rest of us more fortunate ones. On one occasion, when I was interviewing a twenty-­six-­year-­old migrant on the southern border, he told me, “The only difference between you and me is that you were born three thousand kilometers north of my hometown. If I had been born in your position, I might have been interviewing you right now.” He was right. Where you are

Figure 7  A cross in the Sonoran Desert. Volunteers often mark the sites where they have found bodies with crosses like this.

Is There an End to the Journey?

151

born should not determine whether you can eat a sandwich with a friend and admire the view of the Sonoran Desert or whether you are left to slowly die from heat stroke under the shade of a mesquite tree because you sprained your ankle. We have to create fairer migration regimes in which no one has to suffer in order to move from one country to another. We need to remove the legal restrictions so that people can live with dignity, whether they are on the move or staying in one place.

References

Abrego, Leisy J. 2014. Sacrificing Families: Navigating Laws, Labor, and Love Across Borders. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press. AFP, and Hispanos Press. 2019. “Migrantes toman más riesgos en México en su ruta a EEUU.” Hispanos Press, Los Angeles, August 2, 2019. https://​www​.hispanos​press​ .com​/migrantes​-­­toman​-­­mas​-­­riesgos​-­­en​-­­mexico​-­­en​-s­­ u​-­­ruta​-­­a​-­­eeuu/. Agudo Sanchíz, Alejandro. 2021. “La provisión de bienes y servicios como acción política: Configuración de modos humanitarios y burocráticos de gobernanza en la frontera México-­Estados Unidos.” Periplos: Revista de Investigación Sobre Migración 5: 53–­81. Amnesty International. 2010. “Human Rights on the Margins: Roma in Europe.” http://​www​.amnesty​.org​.uk​/uploads​/docu​ments​/doc​_21165​.pdf. Amnesty International. 2019. “Todo lo que necesitas saber sobre los derechos humanos en Guatemala.” https://​www​.amnesty​.org​/es​/countries​/americas​/guate​mala​ /report​-g­­ uate​mala/. Amnesty International. 2021. “Todo lo que necesitas saber sobre los derechos humanos en El Salvador.” https://​w ww​.amnesty​.org​/es​/location​/americas​/central​ -­­america​-­­and​-t­­ he​-­­caribbean​/el​-s­­ alvador​/report​-­­el​-­­salvador/. Arar, Rawan Mazen. 2016. “How Political Migrants’ Networks Differ from Those of Economic Migrants: ‘Strategic Anonymity’ Among Iraqi Refugees in Jordan.” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 42 (3): 519–­35. Arista, Lidia. 2019. “Guardia Nacional ha desplegado 21,000 elementos para contener la migración a Estados Unidos.” El Economista, July 20, 2019. https://​www​.el​ economista​.com​.mx​/politica​/Guardia​-­­Nacional​-­­ha​-­­desplegado​-­­21000​-­­elementos​ -­­para​-­­contener​-­­la​-­­migracion​-­­a​-­­Estados​-­­Unidos​-2­­ 019​0720-­0018.html. Asakura, Hiroko, and Marta Torres Falcón. 2013. “Migración femenina Centroamericana y violencia de género: Pesadilla sin límites.” Revista del Centro de Estudios Interdisciplinario Sobre Mujeres 21 (22): 75–­86.

154

References

Ávila Morales, Araceli, Laura Díaz de León, and Jorge Andrade. 2017. “En el umbral del dolor: Acceso a los servicios de salud en estaciones migratorias.” Instituto para la Seguridad y la Democracia, Insyde. http://​www​.observatorio​demigracion​.org​.mx​/en​ -­­el​-­­umbral​-­­del​-­­dolor​-­­acceso​-­­a​-­­los​-­­servicios​-­­de​-s­­ alud​-­­en​-­­estaciones​-­­migratorias. Barría, Cecilia. 2020. “Guatemala, el país con el desempleo más bajo de América Latina (y por qué es una paradoja).” El Economista, February 4, 2020. https://​www​ .eleconomista​.net​/actualidad​/Guatemala​-e­­ l​-­­pais​-­­con​-­­el​-­­desempleo​-­­mas​-­­bajo​-­­de​ -­­America​-­­Latina​-­­y​-­­por​-­­que​-­­es​-­­una​-­­paradoja​-­­2020​0204-­0008.html. Basok, Tanya, Danièle Bélanger, Martha Luz Rojas Wiesner, and Guillermo Candiz. 2015. Rethinking Transit Migration: Precarity, Mobility, and Self-­Making in Mexico. London: Palgrave Macmillan. Beiras, Adriano, Leonor M. Cantera Espinosa, and Ana L. Casasanta Garcia. 2017. “La construcción de una metodología feminista cualitativa de enfoque narrativo-­ crítico.” Psicoperspectivas. Individuo y Sociedad 16 (2): 54–­65. Berg Harpviken, Kristian. 2009. Social Networks and Migration in Wartime Afghanistan. Basingstoke, U.K.: Palgrave Macmillan. Bethke Elshtain, Jean. 1974. “Moral Woman and Immoral Man: A Consideration of the Public-­Private Split and Its Political Ramifications.” Politics and Society 4 (4): 453–­73. Blitzer, Jonathan. 2019. “How Climate Change Is Fuelling the U.S. Border Crisis.” New Yorker, April 3, 2019. https://​www​.new​yorker​.com​/news​/dispatch​/how​-­­climate​ -­­change​-­­is​-­­fuelling​-­­the​-­­us​-­­border​-­­crisis. Boehm, Deborah A. 2008. “‘Now I Am a Man and a Woman!’: Gendered Moves and Migrations in a Transnational Mexican Community.” Latin American Perspectives 35 (1): 16–­30. Boehm, Deborah A. 2012. Intimate Migrations. New York: New York University Press. Bourdieu, Pierre. 2011. “The Forms of Capital.” In Cultural Theory: An Anthology, edited by Imre Szeman and Timothy Kaposy, 81–­93. Malden, Mass.: Wiley-­Blackwell. Bova, Gus. 2019. “Migrants at Laredo Tent Court Tell Stories of Kidnappings and Violence While Pleading Not to Be Returned to Mexico.” Texas Observer, September 16, 2019. https://​www​.texas​observer​.org​/migrants​-­­at​-­­laredo​-­­tent​-­­court​-­­tell​-­­stories​-­­of​ -­­kidnappings​-­­and​-v­­ iolence​-­­while​-­­pleading​-­­not​-­­to​-­­be​-­­returned​-­­to​-­­mexico/. Boyce, Geoffrey A. 2016. “The Rugged Border: Surveillance, Policing and the Dynamic Materiality of the US/Mexico Frontier.” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 34 (2): 245–­62. Boyd, Monica. 1989. “Family and Personal Networks in International Migration: Recent Developments and New Agendas.” International Migration Review 23 (3): 638–­70. Brigden, Noelle Kateri. 2014. “Transnational Journeys and the Limits of Hometown Resources: Salvadoran Migration in Uncertain Times.” Migration Studies 3 (2): 241–­59. Brigden, Noelle Kateri. 2018. The Migrant Passage: Clandestine Journeys from Central America. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press. Butler, Judith. 2009. Frames of War: When Is Life Grievable? London: Verso. Candiz, Guillermo, and Danièle Bélanger. 2018. “Del tránsito a la espera: El rol de las casas del migrante en México en las trayectorias de los migrantes Centroameri-

References

155

canos.” Canadian Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Studies / Revue Canadienne des Études Latino-­Américaines et Caraïbes 43 (2): 277–­97. Casillas, Rodolfo. 2002. “El Plan Sur de México y sus efectos sobre la migración internacional (análisis).” Ecuador Debate 56: 199–­210. Casillas, Rodolfo, and Rodolfo Córdova Alcaraz. 2018. “Un vuelco de Timón: Prioridades y estrategias para la migración en tránsito.” Documentos de Política Migratoria, DPM04. Mexico City: CIDE. Castañeda, Heide. 2019. Borders of Belonging: Struggle and Solidarity in Mixed-­ Status Immigrant Families. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press. Castillo, Manuel Ángel. 1999. “Tendencias y determinantes estructurales de la migración internacional en Centroamerica.” In Antología del pensamiento crítico guatemalteco contemporáneo, edited by Ana Silvia Monzón, 187–­209. San José de Costa Rica: CLACSO. http://​ccp​.ucr​.ac​.cr​/seminario​/pdf​/castillo​.pdf. Center for Gender and Refugee Studies. 2017. “Thousands of Girls and Women Are Fleeing Rape, Sexual Violence and Torture in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.” UC Hastings Center for Gender and Refugee Studies. September 5, 2017. https://​cgrs​.uchastings​.edu​/talking​_points​_and​_stories. Chambers, Samuel Norton, Geoffrey Alan Boyce, Sarah Launius, and Alicia Dinsmore. 2021. “Mortality, Surveillance and the Tertiary ‘Funnel Effect’ on the U.S.-­ Mexico Border: A Geospatial Modeling of the Geography of Deterrence.” Journal of Borderlands Studies 36 (3): 443–­68. Colef. 2016. “Encuesta sobre migración en la frontera sur de México: Emif Sur.” Tijuana, Baja California: El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, Segob, SRE, Conapo. Coleman, James S. 2001. “Social Capital in the Creation of Human Capital.” In Social Capital: A Multifaceted Perspective, edited by Ismail Serageldin and Partha Dasgupta, 13–­39. Washington, D.C.: World Bank Publications. Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos. 2015. “Situación de derechos humanos en Honduras.” OEA/Ser.L/V/II. Washington, D.C.: Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos. Coria, Elba, and Patricia Zamudio. 2018. “Inmigrantes y refugiados: ¿Mi casa es tu casa?” Documentos de Política Migratoria, DPM03. Mexico City: CIDE. Dammert, Lucía. 2017. “Gang Violence in Latin America.” In The Wiley Handbook of Violence and Aggression, edited by Peter Sturmey, 1–­12. Chichester, U.K.: John Wiley and Sons. Das, Veena. 2008. “Violence, Gender, and Subjectivity.” Annual Review of Anthropology 37: 283–­99. De León, Jason. 2015. The Land of Open Graves. University of California Press: Oakland. Desmond, Matthew. 2012. “Disposable Ties and the Urban Poor.” American Journal of Sociology 117 (5): 1295–­1335. Díaz de León, Alejandra. 2019. “Jóvenes centroamericanos en México: Estrategias y capital social migratorio.” In Jóvenes y migraciones, edited by Norma Baca Tavira, Andrea Bautista León and Ariel Mojica Madrigal, 89–­112. Mexico City: Gedisa.

156

References

Díaz de León, Alejandra. 2021. “Why Do You Trust Him? The Construction of the Good Migrant in the Mexican Migrant Route.” European Review of Latin American and Caribbean Studies 111: 1–­17. Díaz de León, Alejandra, and Paola Lilí García Alanís. 2019. “Retos de acceso a la justicia para personas Centroamericanas en México.” In Acceso a la justicia penal: El caso de las poblaciones indígenas y migrantes, 61–­88. Mexico City: USAID and Insyde. Drury, John, Chris Cocking, and Steve Reicher. 2009. “The Nature of Collective Resilience: Survivor Reactions to the 2005 London Bombings.” International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters 27 (1): 66–­95. Dunn, Timothy J. 1996. The Militarization of the U.S.-­Mexico Border, 1978–­1992: Low-­ Intensity Conflict Doctrine Comes Home. Austin: University of Texas Press. El Debate. 2019. “Defiende Segob intervención de Guardia Nacional en migración.” Debate, June 13, 2019. https://​www​.debate​.com​.mx​/politica​/Defiende​-­­Segob​-­­inter​ vencion​-­­de​-­­Guardia​-­­Nacional​-­­en​-­­migracion​-­­2019​0613-­0169.html. Erikson, Kai. 1976. Everything in Its Path. New York: Simon and Schuster. Erikson, Kai. 1979. In the Wake of the Flood. London: George Allen and Unwin. Erikson, Kai. 1995. “Notes on Trauma and Community.” In Trauma: Explorations in Memory, edited by Cathy Caruth, 159–­83. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 1999. “Grupos de Expertos Hacen Inventario de Los Daños Producidos Por El Huracán Mitch.” Organización de Las Naciones Unidas Para La Agricultura y La Alimentación (blog). February 9, 1999. http://​www​.fao​.org​/Noticias​/GLOBAL​/gw9901​-­­s​.htm. Femenías, María Luisa. 2011. “Violencias del mundo global: Inscripciones e identidades esencializadas.” Pensamiento Iberoamericano 9: 85–­108. Field, John. 2008. Social Capital. Abingdon, U.K.: Routledge. FitzGerald, David. 2006. “Towards a Theoretical Ethnography of Migration.” Qualitative Sociology 29 (1): 1–­24. FitzGerald, David Scott. 2019. Refuge Beyond Reach: How Rich Democracies Repel Asylum Seekers. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press. Flores, Carlos. 1993. “La Frontera Sur y Las Migraciones Internacionales Ante La Perspectiva Del Tratado de Libre Comercio.” Estudios Demográficos y Urbanos 8 (23): 361–­76. Flores-­Yeffal, Nadia Yamel. 2013. Migration-­Trust Networks: Social Cohesion in Mexican US-­Bound Emigration. College Station: Texas A&M University Press. Flores-­Yeffal, Nadia Yamel, and Maria Aysa-­Lastra. 2011. “Place of Origin, Types of Ties, and Support Networks in Mexico–­U.S. Migration*.” Rural Sociology 76 (4): 481–­510. Forbes. 2020a. “Honduras: Tasa de desempleo abierto se mantiene estable en 5.7%.” Forbes Centroamérica, January 21, 2020. https://​forbes​centro​america​.com​/2020​ /01​/21​/honduras​-t­­ asa​-­­de​-­­desempleo​-­­abierto​-­­se​-­­mantiene​-­­estable​-­­en​-­­5 -­7/. Forbes. 2020b. “El Salvador registra 121 feminicidios en 2020.” Forbes Centroamérica, November 28, 2020. https://​forbes​centro​america​.com​/2020​/11​/28​/el​-­­salvador​ -­­registra​-­­121​-­­feminicidios​-­­en​-­­2020/.

References

157

Gibbons, Judith L., and Sandra E. Luna. 2015. “For Men Life Is Hard, for Women Life Is Harder: Gender Roles in Central America.” In Psychology of Gender Through the Lens of Culture: Theories and Applications, edited by Saba Safdar and Natasza Kosakowska-­Berezecka, 307–­26. Cham, Switzerland: Springer. González Arias, Adriana, and Olga Aikin Araluce. 2015. “Migración de tránsito por la Ruta Del Occidente de México: Actores, riesgos y perfiles de vulnerabilidad.” Migración y Desarrollo 13 (24). González, Emilio. 2015. “Crisis humanitaria, violencia criminal y desplazamiento forzado en el Triángulo Norte de Centroamérica.” Revista de Relaciones Internacionales de la UNAM 141 (May–­December): 91–­132. Granovetter, Mark. 1983. “The Strength of Weak Ties: A Network Theory Revisited.” Sociological Theory 1: 201–­33. Guevara, Yaatsil. 2015. “Migración de tránsito y ayuda humanitaria: Apuntes sobre las casas de migrantes en la ruta migratoria del Pacífico Sur en México.” Forum for Inter-­American Research 8 (1): 63–­83. Haraway, Donna. 1988. “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective.” Feminist Studies 14 (3): 575–­99. Heidbrink, Lauren. 2014. Migrant Youth, Transnational Families, and the State. Migrant Youth, Transnational Families, and the State. Philadephia: University of Pennsylvania Press. Heraldo de México. 2018. “Arrestan a activista Irineo Mujica Arzate durante marcha de migrantes en Chiapas.” El Heraldo de México, October 18, 2018. https://​heraldo​ de​mexico​.com​.mx​/nacional​/2018​/10​/18​/arrestan​-­­activista​-­­irineo​-­­mujica​-­­arzate​ -­­durante​-­­marcha​-­­de​-­­migrantes​-­­en​-­­chiapas​-­­61528​.html. Hondagneu-­Sotelo, Pierette. 1994. “Regulating the Unregulated?: Domestic Workers’ Social Networks.” Social Problems 41: 60–­64. Huang, Xu, Ye Liu, Desheng Xue, Zhigang Li, and Zhilei Shi. 2018. “The Effects of Social Ties on Rural-­Urban Migrants’ Intention to Settle in Cities in China.” Cities 83 (December): 203–­12. Human Rights Watch. 2016. “Closed Doors: Mexico’s Failure to Protect Central American Refugee and Migrant Children.” March 31, 2016. https://​www​.hrw​.org​/report​ /2016​/03​/31​/closed​-­­doors​/mexicos​-­­failure​-­­protect​-­­central​-­­american​-­­refugee​-­­and​ -­­migrant​-­­children. Hurtado, Ronny Viales. 1999. “Desarrollo rural y pobreza en Centroamérica en la década de 1990. Las políticas y algunos límites del modelo ‘neoliberal.’ ” Anuario de Estudios Centroamericanos 25 (2): 139–­57. Izcara Palacios, Simón Pedro. 2016. “Violencia postestructural: Migrantes centro­ americanos y cárteles de la droga en México.” Revista de Estudios Sociales 56 (April): 12–­25. Jaramillo, Velia. 2001. “Mexico’s ‘Southern Plan’: The Facts: Crackdown Underway on Migration from Central America.” World Press Review Online, June 2001. http://​ world​press​.org​/0901​feature22​.htm.

158

References

Kino Border Initiative/Iniciativa Kino para la Frontera. 2021. Asylum Seekers Urge President Biden to Save Asylum | #NotOneMoreDay. YouTube video, February 23, 2021. https://​www​.youtube​.com​/watch​?v​=​cXNfa​TpmsFA. Lévi-­Strauss, Claude. 1969. The Elementary Structures of Kinship. Boston: Beacon. “Ley de Migración.” 2011. México, Cámara de Diputados del H. Congreso de la Unión. http://​gobernacion​.gob​.mx​/work​/models​/SEGOB​/Resource​/2218​/1​/images​/Ley​ _Migracion​_c​.pdf. Luciano, Dinys, Nidia Hidalgo, Nathyeli Acuña, and Anne-­Marie Urban. 2019. “Femicidio en Honduras.” Inter-­American Development Bank. Macías-­Rojas, Patrisia. 2018. “The Prison and the Border: An Ethnography of Shifting Border Security Logics.” Qualitative Sociology 41 (2): 221–­42. Malkki, Liisa H. 1995. “Refugees and Exile: From ‘Refugee Studies’ to the National Order of Things.” Annual Review of Anthropology 24: 495–­523. Manjoo, Rashida. 2015. “Report of the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, Its Causes and Consequences.” United Nations General Assembly, report number A/HRC/26/38. https://​www​.unwomen​.org​/en​/docs​/2014​/5​/special​-­­rapporteur​-­­on​ -­­violence​-­­against​-­­women​-­­a-​ ­­hrc​-­­26-­38. Marcus, George E. 1995. “Ethnography in/of the World System: The Emergence of Multi-­Sited Ethnography.” Annual Review of Anthropology 24: 95–­117. Markham, Lauren. 2019. “Climate Change Is Pushing Central American Migrants to the US.” Guardian, April 6, 2019, http://​www​.the​guardian​.com​/comment​isfree​ /2019​/apr​/06​/us​-­­mexico​-­­immigration​-­­climate​-­­change​-­­migration. Martínez, Graciela, Salvador David Cobo, and Juan Carlos Narváez. 2015. “Trazando rutas de la migración de tránsito irregular o no documentada por México.” Perfiles Latinoamericanos 23 (45): 127–­55. Martinez, Oscar, and Jon Lee Anderson. 2016. A History of Violence: Living and Dying in Central America. Translated by John B. Washington and Daniela Maria Ugaz. London: Verso. Massey, Douglas S., Rafael Alarcón, Jorge Durand, and Humberto González. 1991. Los ausentes: El proceso social de la migración internacional en el occidente de México. Mexico D.F.: Alianza Editorial. Massey, Douglas S., Joaquín Arango, Hugo Graeme, Ali Kouaouci, Adela Pellegrino, and J. Edward Taylor. 1993. “Theories of International Migration: A Review and Appraisal.” Population and Development Review 19 (3): 431–­65. Massey, Douglas S., and Maria Aysa-­Lastra. 2011. “Social Capital and International Migration from Latin America.” International Journal of Population Research, https://​doi​.org​/doi:​10​.1155​/2011​/834145. Melero Malpica, Daniel. 2008. “Indigenous Mexican Migrants in the City of Los Angeles: Social Networks and Social Capital Among Zapotec Workers.” PhD diss., University of California, Los Angeles. Menjívar, Cecilia. 2000. Fragmented Ties: Salvadoran Immigrant Networks in America. Berkeley: University of California Press.

References

159

Menjívar, Cecilia. 2016. Immigrant Families. Immigration and Society Series. Malden, Mass.: Polity Press. Menjívar, Cecilia, and Shannon Drysdale Walsh. 2019. “Gender-­Based Violence in Central America and Women Asylum Seekers in the United States.” Translational Criminology 16 (Winter): 12–­14. “The Merida Initiative.” 2021. U.S. Embassy and Consulates in Mexico. https://​mx​ .usembassy​.gov​/the​-­­merida​-­­initiative/. Messick, Madeline, and Claire Bergeron. 2014. “Temporary Protected Status in the United States: A Grant of Humanitarian Relief That Is Less Than Permanent.” Migration Policy Institute (blog). July 2, 2014. http://​www​.migration​policy​.org​ /article​/temporary​-­­protected​-s­­ tatus​-­­united​-­­states​-­­grant​-­­humani​tarian​-­­relief​-­­less​ -­­permanent. Molm, Linda D., Jessica L. Collett, and David R. Schaefer. 2007. “Building Solidarity through Generalized Exchange: A Theory of Reciprocity.” American Journal of Sociology 113 (1): 205–­42. Morales Vega, Luisa Gabriela. 2012. “Categorías migratorias en México: Análisis de la ley de migración.” Anuario Mexicano de Derecho Internacional 12: 929–­58. Morawska, Ewa. 1996. “The Immigrants Pictured and Unpictured in the Pittsburg Survey.” In Pittsburgh Surveyed: Social Science and Social Reform in the Early Twentieth Century, edited by Maurine Weiner Greenwald and Margo Anderson, 221–­41. Pittsburgh, Penn.: University of Pittsburgh Press. Narvaz, Martha Giudice, and Sílvia Helena Koller. 2006. “Metodologias feministas e estudos de gênero: Articulando pesquisa, clínica e política.” Psicologia em Estudo 11 (3): 647–­54. Nevins, Joseph. 2010. Operation Gatekeeper and Beyond: The War on “Illegals” and the Remaking of the U.S.-­Mexico Boundary. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge. Ortiz Ahlf, Loretta. 2012. “Acceso a la justicia de los migrantes irregulares en México.” Biblioteca Virtual del Instituto de Investigaciones Jurídicas de La UNAM. https://​ archivos​.juridicas​.unam​.mx​/www​/bjv​/libros​/7​/3169​/5​.pdf Parra, Daniel. 2020. “Trump Administration’s Obsession on Immigration: More Than 400 Policy Changes So Far.” City Limits. August 13, 2020. https://​city​limits​.org​ /2020​/08​/13​/trumps​-­­administrations​-­­obsession​-­­on​-­­immi​gration​-­­more​-­­than​-­­400​ -­­policy​-­­changes​-­­so​-­­far/. Pathirage, Jagath, and Michael Collyer. 2011. “Capitalizing Social Networks: Sri Lankan Migration to Italy.” Ethnography 12 (3): 315–­33. Pérez Monterosas, Mario. 2013. “Tejiendo redes para futuras movilidades: Las interacciones sociales y el capital social en la migración emergente de México a Estados Unidos.” Sociológica 28 (78): 139–­70. Picou, J. Steven, and Cecelia G. Martin. 2007. Long-­Term Community Impacts of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill: Patterns of Social Disruption and Psychological Stress Seventeen Years after the Disaster. Washington, D.C.: National Science Foundation, Office of Polar Research.

160

References

Piette, Candace. 2015. “Violencia contra las mujeres en Guatemala: ‘Nos están matando nuestros padres, hermanos y padrastros.’ ” BBC News Mundo, December 14, 2015. https://​w ww​.bbc​.com​/mundo​/noticias​/2015​/12​/151211​_guatemala​ _violencia​_contra​_mujer​_feminicidio​_mes. Ponce Mendoza, Maria Victoria. 2013. “Contexto de violencia de género en Honduras en el Quinquenio 2008–­2012.” Revista Población y Desarrollo: Argonautas y Caminantes 9: 67–­77. Portes, Alejandro. 1998. “Social Capital: Its Origins and Applications in Modern Sociology.” Annual Review of Sociology 24 (January): 1–­24. Portes, Alejandro, and Patricia Landolt. 2000. “Social Capital: Promise and Pitfalls of Its Role in Development.” Journal of Latin American Studies 32: 529–­47. Portes, Alejandro, and Julia Sensnbrenner. 1993. “Embeddedness and Immigration: Notes on the Social Determinants of Economic Action.” American Journal of Sociology 98 (6): 1320–­50. Price, Joshua M. 2002. “The Apotheosis of Home and the Maintenance of Spaces of Violence.” Hypatia 17 (4): 39–­70. Putnam, Robert D. 2000. Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. New York: Simon and Schuster. Redacción. 2014. “México presenta plan de protección a migrantes en frontera sur—­eldiariony​.com.” El Diario, August 25, 2014. Rodríguez Pizarro, Gabriela. 2002. “Informe presentado por la Relatora Especial, Sra. Gabriela Rodríguez Pizarro, de conformidad con la resolución 2002/62 de la Comisión de Derechos Humanos.” E/CN.4/2003/85/Add.2. Trabajadores Migrantes. United Nations Economic and Social Council. Rosaldo, Michelle Zimbalist. 1974. “Woman, Culture, and Society: A Theoretical Overview.” In Women, Culture, and Society, edited by Michelle Zimbalist Rosaldo, Louise Lamphere, and Joan Bamberger, 17–­42. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press. Rosales, Rocio. 2014. “Stagnant Immigrant Social Networks and Cycles of Exploitation.” Ethnic and Racial Studies 37 (14): 2564–­79. Rosas, Carolina. 2012. “De nuevo bajo el mismo techo: Desaf íos y reconfiguraciones en los procesos de reunificación de parejas migrantes.” Mora (Buenos Aires) 18 (2). http://w ​ ww.​ scielo.​ org.​ ar/​ scielo.​ php?​ script= ​ s​ ci_​ art​text​&p ​ id​=S ​ 1853​-0 ­ 01​X2012​000​ 200​005​&​lng​=​es​&​nrm=iso. Rosas, Gilberto. 2006. “The Thickening Borderlands Diffused Exceptionality and ‘Immigrant’ Social Struggles during the ‘War on Terror.’ ” Cultural Dynamics 18 (3): 335–­49. Rosas, Gilberto. 2012. Barrio Libre: Criminalizing States and Delinquent Refusals of the New Frontier. Durham: Duke University Press. Ryan, Louise, Rosemary Sales, Mary Tilki, and Bernadetta Siara. 2008. “Social Networks, Social Support and Social Capital: The Experiences of Recent Polish Migrants in London.” Sociology 42 (4): 672–­90.

References

161

Sahlins, Marshall D. 1965. “On the Sociology of Primitive Exchange.” In The Relevance of Models for Social Anthropology, edited by Michael Banton, 139–­236. New York: Praeger. Savenije, Wim. 2007. “Las pandillas trasnacionales o ‘Maras’: Violencia urbana en Centroamérica.” Foro Internacional 47 (3): 637–­59. Schmidt, Leigh A., and Stephanie Buechler. 2017. “‘I Risk Everything Because I Have Already Lost Everything’: Central American Female Migrants Speak Out on the Migrant Trail in Oaxaca, Mexico.” Journal of Latin American Geography 16 (1): 139–­64. Seelke, Clare Ribando. 2021. “Mexico: Evolution of the Mérida Initiative, 2007–­2021.” IF I 0578. United States of America: Congressional Research Service. Accessed December 12, 2021. https://​fas​.org​/sgp​/crs​/row​/IF10578​.pdf. Segato, Rita. 2018. La guerra contra las mujeres. 2nd ed. Buenos Aires: Prometeo Libros. Segovia, Alexander. 2004. “Centroamérica después del café: El fin del model agroexportador tradicional y el surgimiento de un nuevo modelo.” Revista Centroamericana de Ciencias Sociales 1 (2): 5–­38. Segura, Edwin. 2019. “El Salvador: Dos millones de personas viven en pobreza.” El Economista, July 2, 2019. https://​www​.eleconomista​.net​/economia​/El​-S ­­ alvador​ -­­dos​-­­millones​-­­de​-­­personas​-­­viven​-­­en​-p ­­ obreza​-­­2019​0702-­0017.html. Sheridan, Lynnaire Maria. 2009. “I Know It’s Dangerous”: Why Mexicans Risk Their Lives to Cross the Border. Tucson: University of Arizona Press. Sin Fronteras. 2005. “México y su Frontera Sur.” https://​sinfronteras​.org​.mx​/wp​ -­­content​/uploads​/2018​/12​/M​%C3​%A9xico​-­­frontera​-­­sur​-­­2005​.pdf. Singer, Audrey, and Douglas S. Massey. 1998. “The Social Process of Undocumented Border Crossing among Mexican Migrants.” International Migration Review 32 (3): 561–­92. Slack, Jeremy. 2016. “Captive Bodies: Migrant Kidnapping and Deportation in Mexico.” Area 48 (3): 271–­77. Slack, Jeremy. 2019. Deported to Death: How Drug Violence Is Changing Migration on the US–­Mexico Border. Berkeley: University of California Press. Slack, Jeremy, and Howard Campbell. 2016. “On Narco-­coyotaje: Illicit Regimes and Their Impacts on the US–­Mexico Border.” Antipode 48 (5): 1380–­99. Soto, Gabriella, and Daniel E. Martínez. 2018. “The Geography of Migrant Death: Implications for Policy and Forensic Science.” In Sociopolitics of Migrant Death and Repatriation: Perspectives from Forensic Science, edited by Krista E. Latham and Alyson O’Daniel (chapter 6). Cham: Springer. Stephen, Lynn. 2019. “Fleeing Rural Violence: Mam Women Seeking Gendered Justice in Guatemala and the U.S.” Journal of Peasant Studies 46 (2): 229–­57. Stock, Inka. 2019. Time, Migration and Forced Immobility: Sub-­Saharan African Migrants in Morocco. Bristol: Bristol University Press. Stone-­Cadena, Victoria. 2016. “Indigenous Ecuadorian Mobility Strategies in the Clandestine Migration Journey.” Geopolitics 21 (2): 345–­65.

162

References

Stoney, Sierra, and Jeanne Batalova. 2013. “Central American Immigrants in the United States.” Migration Policy Institute (blog). March 18, 2013. http://​w ww​ .migration​policy​.org​/article​/central​-­­american​-­­immigrants​-­­united​-­­states​-­­1. Talavera, Victor, Guillermina Gina Núñez-­Mchiri, and Josiah Heyman. 2010. “Deportation in the U.S.-­Mexico Borderlands: Anticipation, Experience, and Memory.” In The Deportation Regime: Sovereignty, Space, and the Freedom of Movement, edited by Nicholas De Genova and Nathalie Peutz, 166–­95. Durham: Duke University Press. Tilly, Charles, and Harold Brown. 1967. “On Uprooting, Kinship, and the Auspices of Migration.” International Journal of Comparative Sociology 8: 139–­64. Tyler, Kimberly A., and Lisa Melander. 2011. “A Qualitative Study of the Formation and Composition of Social Networks Among Homeless Youth.” Journal of Research on Adolescence: The Official Journal of the Society for Research on Adolescence 21 (4): 802. United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean. 1999. “Honduras: Assessment of the Damage Caused by Hurricane Mitch, 1998: Implications for Economic and Social Development and for the Environment.” LC/ MEX/L.367. https://​repositorio​.cepal​.org​/handle​/11362​/25506​?locale​-­­attribute​=e​ n. UNHCR. 2013. “Informe del Grupo de Trabajo sobre la utilización de mercenarios como medio de violar los derechos humanos y obstaculizar el ejercicio del derecho de los pueblos a la libre determinación.” A/HRC/24/45/Add.1. UNDP. 2020a. “La Próxima Frontera: Desarrollo Humano y El Antropoceno (Guatemala).” Guatemala: PNUD. UNDP. 2020b. “La Próxima Frontera: Desarrollo Humano y El Antropoceno (Honduras).” Informe sobre Desarrollo Humano 2020. Honduras: PNUD. Vogt, Wendy A. 2013. “Crossing Mexico: Structural Violence and the Commodification of Undocumented Central American Migrants.” American Ethnologist 40 (4): 764–­80. Vogt, Wendy A. 2018. Lives in Transit. Berkeley: University of California Press. Wheatley, Abby C., and Ruth Gomberg-­Muñoz. 2016. “Keep Moving: Collective Agency along the Migrant Trail.” Citizenship Studies 20 (3–­4): 396–­410. Willers, Susanne. 2016. “Migración y violencia: Las experiencias de mujeres migrantes centroamericanas en tránsito por México.” Sociológica 31 (89): 163–­95. Williams, Allan M., and Vladimir Baláž. 2012. “Migration, Risk, and Uncertainty: Theoretical Perspectives.” Population, Space and Place 18 (2): 167–­80. Wright, Melissa W. 2011. “Necropolis, Narcopolitics, and Femicide: Gendered Violence on the Mexico-­U.S. Border.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 36 (3): 707–­31. Yarris, Kristin. 2017. Care Across Generations: Solidarity and Sacrifice in Transnational Families. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press. Yarris, Kristin, and Heide Castañeda. 2015. “Special Issue Discourses of Displacement and Deservingness: Interrogating Distinctions Between ‘Economic’ and ‘Forced’ Migration.” International Migration 53 (3): 64–­69.

Index

Note: Page numbers in italics represent illustrations. adaptation strategy, transient community as, 108–­10 Alex (a backpacker), 100 Alicia (a migrant from Honduras), 82, 83 Amnesty International, 41 Andabas (a migrant from Guatemala), 84, 92–­93, 96, 104 Arar, Rawan Mazar, 76 Aristotle, 80–­81 arterial border, 6, 10–­11, 19, 47–­48, 107, 123, 150; and family arrangements, 68; fluid identities of actors in, 61, 63; and solidarity, 13; and unpredictability, 56, 84 asylum, and Mexican policy, 54–­55 Biden administration, 146–­47 Boehm, Deborah, 53, 82 Bourdieu, Pierre, 8 Brian (a migrant from Honduras), 86 Brigden, Noelle, 12, 94 Butler, Judith, 117 Caballero (a migrant living in Saltillo), 138 Calderón, Felipe, 51

Camilo (a volunteer at the Coahuila Migrant House), 94–­95 campesinos, 24 cartels, 34, 60–­61, 64; and criminal violence, 59; and isolation, 84; kidnapping by, 62; and migrant identity, 98; spies for, 47; and women, 80. See also gangs Center for U.S.-­Mexican Studies (UC San Diego), 21 checkpoints, 56, 60; military, 63, 145; and unpredictability, 107, 133; in the U. S., 142, 143 Cheryl (a migrant), 85 Christian (a migrant from Honduras), 127–­28 Christopher (a migrant from El Salvador), 122, 126–­27 Chucho (a Salvadoran migrant), 23 climate crisis, 28, 29–­31 Coahuila Migrant House (Palenque), 3, 4, 19, 83, 84, 92, 94, 101, 130 Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz, 60, 124 coffee making, in Coke bottles, 96 Coleman, James S., 8

164

combis, 56 conceptual space, in ethnographic fieldwork, 16–­17 “Constitution Free Zone,” 142 coyotes, 65, 88, 89, 107, 119, 134 Creel, Santiago, 50 criminals and crimes against migrants, 6, 11, 15, 25, 63, 134; gendered, 79; in the jungle, 87; and legal protection for migrants in Mexico, 53, 54; and migrant houses, 46; organized, 41, 42, 47, 51, 65, 142; and Plan Sur, 50; and reasons for emmigrating, 28, 38; reporting, 127; violence, 59–­62, 110 cultural capital, migration-­specific, 97; informal rules and transmission of information, 106–­8 Darwin (a migrant from Honduras), 72–­ 74, 87 David (a migrant from El Salvador), 88 dehumanization, of migrants, 26, 55–­59, 139 De León, Jason, 115, 117–­18 Derecho de piso, 24 Desmond, Matthew, 11 detention centers, 12, 51, 52, 55, 58–­59, 97, 103, 145 deterrence, of migrants, 65–­66 Dionisio (a migrant from Honduras), 59–­60, 121 disaster and disasters, scholars on, 5 disposable ties, 11–­12 Doctors Without Borders, 89 “dogs” (perros) and “doghouses” (perreras), 55–­59 Don Goyo (a fifty-­five year old migrant), 37–­38 economic inequality, 28, 31–­35 education, of migrants, 24 18th Street Gang (M-­18), 36 El camino, 13

Index

El Salvador: interviewees from, 23; murders and murder rate (2016) in, 40, 41 enganchadores, 65, 119, 120–­21 Erikson, Kai, 76 Esteban (a migrant from Honduras), 95 Estrella (a migrant), 45–­46, 78 ethnographic drawing, 20 ethnography, FitzGerald’s definition, 16–­17 external categorization, and migrant identity, 98 Facebook, 138 familias del camino. See road families families, 67–­68; acting strategically to compensate for isolation, 87–­89; consequences of isolation on, 84–­87; and the danger of others, 75–­78; dynamics of, 7; family ties and migration, 9; and the private sphere, 80–­82; reasons for migrating together, 69–­75; and sexual violence, 78–­80; and trust, 68, 70, 71, 72, 75, 76, 77, 78, 87. See also road families Felipe (a migrant from Honduras), 133 female migrants. See women FitzGerald, David, 16 Flor (a migrant from Honduras), 112 Flor, Padre, 89 Franco (a migrant from Honduras), 76, 124, 133 Fray Bartolo comedor (Nogales), 19, 21, 38, 131 gangs (maras) and gang violence, 27, 28, 35–­38, 73, 87, 108; charging fees, 24, 60, 61, 62, 72, 84, 92; and families left behind, 69, 74, 75; and gender-­based violence, 39, 80; and patterns of leaving, 42; and state violence, 41. See also cartels Garífuna migrants, 131, 148–­49

Index

Garita, 148 gender-­based violence, 28, 38–­40; and families, 78–­80; rape, 38, 39, 78, 79, 80, 83 General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), 49 Gerardo (a migrant), 47 Gibbons, Judith L., 79 Gilberto (a migrant from Honduras), 132, 138 Gomberg-­Muñoz, Ruth, 103, 115, 116, 148 Gordo (a migrant from Honduras), 84, 95, 102, 117, 118, 122, 129, 130 Grupos Beta, 50, 61, 146 Guatemala: interviewees from, 23; murders and murder rate (2016) in, 40, 41 Harpviken, Kristian Berg, 86–­87 Heidbrink, Lauren, 53 Heyman, Josiah, 5, 48 Honduras: Human Development Index (HDI), 32; interviewees from, 23; murders and murder rate (2016) in, 40, 41 Hurricane Mitch, 31 identity, social: and migrants, 7, 98–­100 information asymmetry, and social contracts, 16 INM. See National Migration Institute International Coffee Agreement, 32 “invisible homes,” 83 isolation: acting strategically to compensate for isolation, 87–­89; consequences of, 84–­87 Izcara Palacios, Simón, 59 Jaime (a migrant from Honduras), 132 Jarvis (a migrant), 56–­57, 58 Jésus (a migrant), 120–­21, 134 Jonathan (a migrant from El Salvador), 67–­68 Jordan (a migrant from Guatemala), 61

165

Jorge (officer famous for catching migrants), 101 Jose Juan (a migrant from Honduras), 36–­37 Josué (a migrant from El Salvador), 95 Juan (in a family with Cheryl), 85–­86 Juan (a migrant from Honduras), 33–­34, 56–­57, 58 Juan (a migrant in a road family with Nahu), 112, 115, 121, 129, 136–­37 Juan (a migrant in a Saltillo migrant house. partner of Mabel), 81, 101–­2 Juan Pedro shelter (Palenque), 44–­45, 47, 67, 91, 103, 119 Julio (partner of Ramona), 38 Karina (a migrant), 130 kidnapping, 60–­61, 75; and actors with multiple identities, 63; Andabas’s story, 92; and asylum seekers, 147; and cartels, 133; by criminals and criminal organizations, 53, 59; and enganchadores, 119, 120–­21; and families, 77, 88; Felipe’s story, 133; and female migrants, 79; and humanitarian routes, 65; Jésus’s story, 120–­21; Martha’s story, 131; Marvin’s story, 62; and more dangerous routes, 58; Paco’s story, 54; and road families, 132; and trust in road families, 125 kin and kin-­like social ties, 9. See also social networks Laura (a migrant), 130, 135 Lety (a migrant from Honduras), 40, 72 Llave, Roberto, 19, 29, 131, 140, 142, 144, 148 López Obrador, Andrés Manuel (AMLO), 144 love, 12, 40, 76, 113, 118, 122, 135 Lucas (son of Mario), 74–­75 Lucho (a migrant from Honduras), 132 Lucio (a migrant), 121

166

Luis (a migrant from Honduras, father of Pepe), 27, 76–­77, 126 Luna, Sandra E., 79 Lydia (a migrant from Honduras), 75–­76 Mabel (a migrant in a Saltillo migrant house), 81, 95 Malkki, Liisa, 95–­96 Manjoo, Rashida, 39 Mano dura, 41 Manuel (a migrant from Guatemala), 128 Maras. See gangs Mara Salvatrucha (MS-­13), 36, 75, 87 Mario (a migrant in a Saltillo migrant house), 105 Mario (a migrant from Honduras), 74–­75, 82 Marlo (a migrant from Honduras), 35–­36, 134–­35 Martha (a migrant from Honduras), 71–­ 72, 75–­76, 82, 87, 89, 130–­31, 134 Marvin (a migrant from Honduras), 62 Massey, Douglas S., 9–­10 Maycol (a migrant from Honduras), 62, 106 Mayra (a migrant from Honduras), 27–­28 Melander, Lisa, 12 Menjívar, Cecilia, 14 Mérida Initiative, 51 Mexico: and actors with multiple identities, 63; army, 51; Commission for Refugee Assistance (COMAR), 55; criminal violence in, 59–­63; detention centers, 12, 51, 52, 55, 58–­59, 97, 103, 14; deterrence, violence, and mistrust, 65–­66; Grupos Beta, 50, 61, 146; humanitarian routes through, 63–­65; legal protection for migrants in, 52–­55; Migration Law (2011), 59; and Mérida Initiative, 51; murder rate (2016) in, 40–­41; National Action Party (PAN), 51; National Guard, 145; National Migration Law (2011), 53–­54; Plan

Index

Migrante Norte y Sur, 145; Plan Sur, 50–­53; Programa Frontera Sur of 2014, 49, 52–­53; and state violence, 55–­59; violent border control, 49–­50; visa for humanitarian reasons (VRH), 54–­55 Migra. See National Migration Institute (INM) migrante, as a social identity, 7, 98–­100 Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), 146–­47 migration: map of main routes, 18; as a social process, 5–­6 migration ethnography and ethnographers, 12 MS-­13 (Mara Salvatrucha), 36, 75, 87 Mujica, Irineo, 54 Nahu (a migrant from Honduras), 111–­12, 115, 136 National Migration Institute (INM), 4, 69, 84, 101, 131, 134; agents, 17, 45–­46, 47, 54, 55, 59, 146; checkpoints and roadblocks, 4, 52, 56, 60; migration detention centers, 12, 51, 52, 55, 58–­59, 97, 103, 145; and Plan Sur, 51 network perspective, 9. See also social networks Nogales, Mexico, 143, 148; being from elsewhere in Mexico in, 98; Fray Bartolo comedor, 19, 21, 38, 131; interviews in, 17, 19, 23; and Nahu and Juan’s story, 111, 136; and Nuncio’s story, 29; and Ramona’s and Julio’s story, 38, 74; Samaritans, 19, 21, 131; and Tucson, 141; Twelve Apostles shelter, 19, 21, 97, 98 Nuncio (a Guatemalan Mayan farmer), 29–­30, 33, 34, 42, 148–­49 Núñez-­Mchiri, Guillermina Gina, 5, 48 Obama administration, 146 Open Borders Migrant House (Tenosique), 17, 19, 82, 83, 89

167

Index

Operation Streamline, 19 Oscar (a migrant from Honduras), 76–­77, 124, 133 Paco (a migrant from El Salvador), 54–­55 Paco (a migrant from Honduras), 63 Palenque, Mexico, 17, 24, 69, 107, 115, 127; and Christian’s story, 128; coyotes waiting in, 119; and Dionisio’s story, 59; and Felipe’s story; “five brothers” in, 121–­22; gangs close to, 108; INM agents in, 56; interviews in, 19, 129; and Josué’s story, 95; Juan Pedro shelter, 44, 58, 67, 91, 101; Luis in, 27; main church in, 99; and Martha’s story, 75; and Sebas’s story, 105; and Toni’s story, 132; Toño in, 3 Patronas, 92 Pedro (a migrant from Honduras), 73–­74, 116, 129–­30, 135 Pedro (a migrant from El Salvador), 70 Peña Nieto, Enrique, 144 Pepe (a migrant from Honduras, son of Luis), 27 Plan Migrante Norte y Sur, 145 Plan Sur, 50–­53 Polis, the, 80–­81 Prevention through Deterrence (U. S. government policy), 10 PRI, 144 private security guards and forces, 37, 41–­42 private sphere, 80–­82 Programa Frontera Sur of 2014, 49, 52–­53 protective pairings, of female migrants, 12, 94, 115 pueblo that walks together, 91–­94; and ad hoc communities, 94; concept of pueblo, 92; protective pairings, 12, 94, 115; shared identity of migrantes, 97–­ 103; walking together, 94–­97 racism, 149 Ramona (a migrant from Honduras), 38–­ 39, 74, 81–­82, 86, 88, 89; husband, 87

rape, 38, 39, 78, 79, 80, 83 Raul (a migrant), 119–­20, 121 Red Cross, 64, 130 refugee camp, and an “accidental community of memory,” 95–­96 Reno (a migrant from Honduras), 72–­73, 77, 87 resources, access to, 97; cooperation and exchange, 103–­6; and road families, 133–­37 Reyna (a migrant from Honduras), 116 Rino (a migrant from Honduras), 124–­25, 136, 137 Rita, Sor, 119 road families, 7–­8, 109, 111–­15, 147; and age, 123–­25; choosing traveling companions, 119–­23; and emotional support, 129–­33; finding resources, 133–­37; and gender, 123–­25; longevity of, 137–­39; and nationality, 123–­25; need for, 115–­19; solidarity, 129–­33; and the southern border, 115–­19; strength in numbers, 132–­33; and trust, 7, 113, 114, 115, 116, 118, 121, 122–­29, 135 Rober (a migrant from Honduras), 33–­34, 42 Roberto (a migrant from Honduras), 116, 137 Robin (a migrant from Guatemala), 99, 133–­34 Ronaldo (a migrant from Guatemala), 107 Roque (a migrant who died), 119–­20, 141 Rosa (a migrant from Honduras), 73–­74, 81, 82, 88 Rosales, Rocio, 76 Rosita (a migrant from Guatemala), 38, 130 “Rules of the game.” See cultural capital, migration-­specific Rulo (a migrant), 58 safe houses, 16 Salinas de Gortari, Carlos, 49

168

Saltillo, Mexico, 17; and Caballero’s story, 138; and Esteban’s story, 95; and Gordo’s story, 117, 122; interviews in, 17, 19; and Laura’s and Karina’s story, 130; and Mabel’s and Juan’s story, 81; and Martha’s story, 71; and Rino’s story, 125; and Robin’s story, 114, 133; and Ronaldo’s story, 107 Samaritans (Tucson), 19, 21, 131 Santiago (a migrant from Honduras), 113–­ 14, 121, 124, 126, 129–­30, 134 scarcity, and social contracts, 16 Sebas (a migrant in a Saltillo migrant house), 104–­5 self-­categorization, and migrant identity, 98, 100 Selma (a migrant from Honduras), 39 Sicarios, 61, 62, 63 Singer, Audrey, 9–­10 Slack, Jeremy, 12 smugglers, 5, 50, 64, 65, 78, 143; honest, 10; rates charged by, 14; and women, 123 social capital, 9 social contracts, 16 social networks, in migration, 8–­13; ad hoc associations, 12; and disposable ties, 11–­12; and emergent relationships, 13; and family ties, 9; and solidarity, 13; and transit migration, 14. See also families; road families solidarity: between migrants, 13; and road families, 129–­33; without trust, 96 Sonoran Desert, 29, 115, 151; Border Patrol agents in, 142; cross marking sites where body was found, 150; crossing with two gallons of water, 10; fieldwork and hiking in, 17, 19, 140, 141, 142, 144; migrants who were deported while crossing, 138 state violence, 28, 40–­42; legacy of, 31–­35 strategic categorization, and migrant identity, 98, 100

Index

Talavera, Victor, 5, 48 Tatiana (a migrant from Honduras), 81 Temporary Protected Status (TPS), 30–­31 Tenosique, Mexico: distance to Palenque, 112; and Gordo’s story, 117; interviews in, 17, 19; and Juan’s story, 112; and Nahu and Juan’s story, 136; Open Borders Migrant House, 17, 19, 82, 83, 89; and Paco’s story, 54; and Robin’s story, 99; and Rosa’s story, 88; and Toña’s story, 118–­19 Tijuana, Mexico, 19, 21, 141, 148; border wall in, 109; INM agents in, 146; interviews in, 17 Toña (a migrant from Honduras), 118–­19 Toni (a migrant), 132 Toño (migrant from Honduras), 1–­2, 3, 5, 8 trains, 4, 52, 80, 107, 133 transit migration, 13–­16 travel companions, choosing, 119–­23 triggers, to leaving, 35, 42–­43 Trump, Donald J., 145–­46 trust and mistrust, 5, 6, 11, 16, 43, 65–­66, 84, 147, 148; Andabas’s story, 92, 93; children and, 40; and ethnographic method, 22; and families on the road, 68, 70, 71, 72, 75, 76, 77, 78, 87; and Jordan’s story, 61; and maras, 37; and Mexican officers at police stations, 54; in migrant communities, 91, 92, 93, 94, 97, 98–­99, 104, 105, 106, 110; pervasive mistrust on the road, 46, 62; and road families, 7, 113, 114, 115, 116, 118, 121, 122–­29, 135; and solidarity, 8, 96, 116; and state authorities, 41; and strangers, 94; and uncertainty, 25, 26, 48, 49, 56; women and, 40, 83 Tucson, Arizona, 54, 130, 131, 141, 142; interviews in, 17, 19 Twelve Apostles shelter (Nogales), 19, 21, 97, 98 Tyler, Kimberly, 11–­12

169

Index

Undocumented Migration Project, 21 United Nations: Refugee Agency (UNHCR), 64; Special Rapporteur, 39 United States: Border Patrol, 50, 97, 142; Customs and Border Protection (CBP), 146; Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), 143; metering system for asylum seekers, 146; Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), 146–­47; migrants’ relatives in, 137; Temporary Protected Status (TPS), 30–­31 U.S.-­Mexico border, 141–­44

visa for humanitarian reasons (VRH), 54–­55 Vogt, Wendy, 10, 47, 56, 105

vertical border, 10–­11 violence and cycles of violence, 27, 28; interrelated, 42–­43

Yadira (a migrant), 68–­70 Yarris, Kristin, 13 Yuri (a migrant from Honduras), 39

walking, 52, 57, 58, 91, 95, 129, 133, 141 Wheatley, Abby C., 102, 115, 116, 148 Willers, Susanne, 80 women: and cartels, 80; protective pairings of, 12, 94, 115; and smugglers, 123; trust and mistrust, 40, 83. See also families Wright, Melissa W., 82

About the Author

Alejandra Díaz de León is an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at the College of Mexico (Colmex)–­Mexico City and a visiting fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science’s Latin American and Caribbean Centre. Her research focuses on solidarity, trust, and social network formation in dangerous and volatile situations, specifically in the context of transit migration through Mexico. She has done extensive fieldwork in Mexico and the U.S.-­Mexico borderlands.