A Georgetown professor asked me this week what has been most surprising about my time in Mexico. My response? How normal it all is.
When I dry dishes with the migrants we sometimes talk about journeys across the desert or their plans for the future. But we also just talk about soccer or how clumsy I am or ancient Mexican cultures (there is a well-educated man who is teaching me a subject on Mexico every meal). On Thursday we even watched a movie together while eating popcorn and drinking Coca Cola. Once while I was peeling potatoes with a 17 year old I stopped for a moment and set up the potato peels in the shape of a face. We laugh, we chat, and we pretend for a few minutes that our lives really are that simple. In fact, I may laugh more here than I ever do at Georgetown.
El comedor is a refuge for these kinds of activities. Are they moments of escapism? Perhaps. But I would argue that they are more moments of recognition that there is more to the reality of a migrant’s life than the story of migration. They are humans first and migrants second. And el comedor is a place where they can be simply humans in a strange sense of normalcy.
I say strange normalcy because, underneath our conversations, the reality persists. And sometimes weighs heavily on me at the end of the day when I simply can’t let go. Such as the 17 year old (that I was peeling potatoes with) who I accompanied to the doctor to get a prescription for an IV drip. He just finished high school and would like to study medicine. But there is no money for his studies or livelihood so his father came back from Seattle to cross the desert with him. Every time I am with the two of them I am overwhelmed by how much the father loves his son and how hard both of them work. I don’t want them to try to cross. They have already tried once and failed. I am afraid of the dangers of the desert. And I would like more than anything for the boy to go to college and study medicine – because I am confident he would pour himself into his studies and be an excellent doctor. How frustrating that he cannot.
That is life here in el comedor. Moments where I can give a 17 year old a chance to simply be 17. And other moments where I have to recognize that in some ways he is much older and more mature than me as he confronts the obstacles and limitations of his life.