When they hear about my work, people from the US often ask me “but why do they come?” “What makes someone want to leave their family and risk the perils of the journey as well as the pressure of illegal status?” “Are they really better off in the US than in Mexico?”
For the past month or so I have been helping Kino with a survey of all incoming migrants in which we ask them “Porque quiso migrar?” (Why did you want to migrate?)
As would be expected, the answers are largely economic. Many migrants simply say “para ir a trabajar” (to go to work) or “la necesidad” (the necessity). And some responses are more detailed. “Porque tuvimos hambre – no había que comer” (because we were hungry – there was nothing to eat) said two brothers who were 18 and 20 years old. Or one woman whose 5 year old son was autistic and she could not afford treatment. And another woman whose 10 year old had epilepsy and she hoped to buy the needed medicine in the US.
But in the end, some simply say that they come to “salir adelante.” They come for a better life and for a better future. And not just out of personal ambition. The idea is that in the US they could gain a little bit more to pay for their kids’ education or build a house or put food on the table.
Of course, by the time they arrive in el comedor there is not always the same hope of forward progress. Deportation is a step backwards. A moment in which they ask “now what?” and try to decide where their money might come from and whether they should try to cross to the US again or return to their homelands in Mexico.
And yet in the midst of the hopelessness that often comes with deportation, there are the rare migrants who see it as just a step in the journey. One 22 year old woman told me that she was returning to her home in Chiapas. But she was not going back – she was going adelante to Chiapas. Ahead to another period of fighting for survival and for the family. And then there is the 19 year old girl who had spent 18 and a half years in the US but was deported after being incarcerated for drug possession. She is one of the few who, through the tears, said that it is probably for the best that she was deported because it gives her a chance to restart her life here in Mexico.
Days in the comedor can be full of despair. Few respond to deportation in the way that these women do – with hope for a future in Mexico. Because how could they? They are always fighting the stark reality of the Mexican economy: there are insufficient jobs that pay enough to live and help their families to a better future. But every week I do meet people of incredible courage and determination with profound, even unreasonable, hope in the future. That they will salir adelante. Be that in the US or, for the very hopeful, in Mexico.
If they can have hope in their futures, what right do I have to be hopeless?