Tijuana- Immigration Stories
I have been coming to Tijuana ever since I could remember. As a kid I remember my mom would gather everything we were no longer using, clothes, shoes, dishes, etc. We would see so many people in need, especially during the long hours at the border crossing. This is where we would distribute what we could, especially to the women and children. I have come to TJ many times as an adult and I’ve always done as my mother taught me. It wasn’t until several weeks ago, when I moved out of my apartment and I had bags and bags of stuff I was going to get rid of that I decided to use the internet and look up a women’s shelter.
The first time I came my friend and I brought a car full of things, we dropped it off and spoke to a lawyer who volunteers every weekend. She told us about the women who stayed at the shelter. I had a bag of movies and books that I wasn’t sure if they would need given that they were in English, but she said they would take them because often times they have women that have been deported and they have their children with them, and some of the children speak English. This broke my heart, immediately I asked myself why I didn’t do this more often. How many times had I come to TJ just to eat some good tacos or go to Rosarito? Also, how many times had I gone to Goodwill to donate stuff, when they could be put to better use in México. With everything that I often give away or just have laying around I have now made a commitment to stop and share what I have with those who really need it.
After leaving I was determined to come again. The second time I wanted to make an effort to spend time with some of the women. We met Laura, a volunteer who said she was deported 4 years ago and this was the first place she came. Laura had been living in the US for decades but like many Latino parents she was undocumented. Even with US born children, she was still deported, all because of some minor infractions an open container law that jeopardized her ability to stay in the US. Something as simple as that- how many times had I sat in a car pre-gaming before going out to the club? It amazes me how America is not willing to accept the humanity of our immigrants.
After walking around the shelter we spoke to Ana, a 25 year old single mother of two from Michoacán. Her story was of particular interest to me because she is from where my parents are from. She had travelled with her two kids from Michoacán in an attempt to get to the US and seek asylum. She talked about the state of Michoacán and how her town of Apatzingan had gotten so bad with the violence from the cartels and gangs. She had moved to Morelia, the capital, for more opportunity and a safer place. She lived with her mom and her two kids and ran a small shop for the neighborhood. One day she was approached by some men in suits and they told her in a month’s time they would be back to collect her “quota” for the month, it's common knowledge that often times these quotas are just a form of extortion to keep a business running. It wasn’t even 12 days later that a different group of men showed up for the money. She didn’t have the money given that she expected them to come later, so they robbed her and they threatened her in an attempt to keep her quiet. Regardless, she went to the authorities in an attempt to file a claim. When she told them her story they asked “Well, who are you going to file your claim against? Do you have a name? Because if you don’t we can’t file anything”. She left empty handed without help from the government.
Not too long from that first event another group of men came in asking for a quota again $5,000 pesos, about $280 US dollars. This time she didn’t have any money to give. So they grabbed her, her mom, and her children and locked them in the bathroom as they ravaged her home and took anything of value. She said that a man with a gun stood by the bathroom door and kept telling them to be quiet and she kept begging her children to stop crying, but she herself couldn’t stop the tears from her own eyes. She was terrified that after they took all of her valuables that they would come back for the kids. Not too long ago she had heard the news that they found the bodies of three children in a refrigerator in Morelia and she was scared for the life of her children. Thankfully the men left with only the material possessions. They remained locked in the bathroom until the next day. The homes in her neighborhood are pretty far removed and it wasn’t until a neighbor came to check why she hadn’t opened the store that they managed to break in the house and release them from the bathroom.
This time around she demanded a claim be filed even if she didn’t know who to file it against. She came across similar issues from the government asking redundant questions. They even asked her why she didn’t take any pictures of the robbery, she had to remind them that all of her valuables had been stolen including her phone. She was in that office from early in the afternoon until late in the evening, telling and re-telling the story of what happened to her, even being interviewed by a therapist to make sure she wasn’t lying. At the end of it, all she wanted was documentation that the claim had actually been filed. However, she was told that there was no way they could provide a copy for her, so once again she left empty handed. This time recognizing that they might have put her through the ringer just to make her feel that they were doing something, when in reality a claim might not even have even been filed.
After this incident she decided to borrow money and head to Tijuana. She was hesitant to head north because she had heard how children were being separated from their parents at the border, but an immigration lawyer assured her that it was not happening in California. She considered moving to another city, Guanajuato, México City, but the only relatives she has are in Chicago so she decided that the best route was to seek asylum at the US border. She had just arrived the night before we met her and she was so grateful for the shelter and the people who continuously give to keep the place running. After the bus fare for her and her children she arrived to the shelter with only $5 pesos in her pocket. Even though she doesn’t have the comfort of a home she is grateful of having a safe place to sleep, even though just outside the doors of the shelter there's rampid drug use. She remains hopeful for a better future for her and her children on the other side of the border, but still broken hearted that she had to leave her mother behind in Michoacán.
Her story touched me, we thanked her for sharing it with us and we left after giving her a long embrace of care and support, from woman to woman as we all had tears in our eyes. Her story made me reconsider how long my stay in México should be. It is one thing watching the news being reported online, it’s something differrent hearing it from someone who has actually been through it. But even then, I’m deciding not to let fear hold me back. I understand the dangers, but thankfully the location in Michoacán that I’m going to is not as affected with violence as the other parts of the state. However, this did ignite a desire to know more about what is going on and do more research to really understand what I’m walking into. Not just for my benefit, but to give a voice to those experiencing such atrocities on the other side of the border. My intent is not to highlight all the violence, to the contrary, I am spending time in México to re-learn and appreciate all the aspect of my culture that make it so special, but in that I also can’t turn a blind eye and ignore everything going on. With that said, my hope for this experience that I leave every part of México I touch a little bit better than how I found it, even if it’s just reigniting a glimmer of hope in the people I come across by a simple conversation I am able to offer them.