When did I stop believing in el sueño americano (the American Dream)?
Perhaps when I met too many boys propelled by it. My first day here, a 15 year old and his 18 year old cousin were in the shelter. The 15 year old had badly injured his shoulder from hopping the train. But all he wanted to talk about was el sueño and how he still wanted to continue on to the US. A 19 year old told me a few days ago that he was going to el Norte because that is what youth in Honduras do. Day after day, teenagers pass through with reckless hope.
Or perhaps I became disillusioned when I saw the lengths that migrants go to and the suffering they endure in pursuit of el sueño. On Monday, a train arrived carrying only a few Central Americans. The 7 who came to our shelter said that it was so empty because the cartel had kidnapped 50 migrants off of the train just days before. And this is only the beginning. When migrants tell me they plan to cross the border via the Arizona desert all I can think of is just how many die there each year.
Or maybe my pessimism arises I looked around in the United States and ask myself, is this it? Is this life worth dreaming about? To live in fear of deportation and with severe limitations on rights and opportunities?
So here I am, in the midst of many migrants who left their homes for el sueño. And I can’t understand why they do it. Many times it is their first attempt and I try to explain to them how difficult their journey will be. Some do change their mind. Yesterday, 12 migrants turned themselves into immigration because they decided that the risk was no longer worth it.
But most continue on. Some do so without a full appreciation of the risks. But for others, it is not their first journey north. They have passed two or three times and know the dangers of the journey. They lived in the US for years and know what awaits them there. And still think it is worth it. And I can’t understand why.
As I try to understand el sueño, even if I can no longer believe in it, I have to appreciate of both parts of the picture. The US, where we take for granted many luxuries and just how much higher an American wage is than what migrants can make in their own country. As one migrant told me, “in Honduras, if I work for a day I can make enough to pay for food just for that day. In the US, I work for a day and can pay for food for a week or more.” And then there is the other side: Central America, where drug and gang violence continues to increase. San Pedro Sula, Honduras is the most violent city in the Western Hemisphere with 159 homicides per 100,000 residents last year. Yes, they are risking death by travelling north. But living in Honduras also means daily risking death. Which is why in the past year our shelter has seen a significant increase in the number of Hondurans who are making their first attempt to enter the US.
Is el sueño worth the journey? I am still not sure I believe in it. But for many migrants the answer seems to be: yes.