Since I had never before been a tourist in the country, I have spent most of my time in the dark corners of Mexico. First, on the border with violence and drug gangs. Where I worked with people thousands of miles away from their families and communities in southern Mexico. Later with Central Americans and the violence, extortion and poverty that they suffer on their journey through Mexico. People who are easily identifiable as migrants on the streets and because of that are highly vulnerable to abuse by authorities and criminals.
While some think of Mexico as the beaches of Cancun, I have always lived in it as a place of abuse and violence. Until recently. Part of the inspiration for going further south was to see a small piece of the country that many migrants speak about with fondness. When I was in Nogales, I constantly heard about la mujer dormida, the volcano, and other landmarks that shape migrants’ homelands.
Last week, I was lucky enough to see the breathtaking beauty of central Mexico. As I was on the bus from Tierra Blanca to Puebla I drank in the gorgeous countryside and the impressive peaks of Orizaba. Later, my friend introduced me to the precious colonial downtown of Puebla that looks just like a European city (but even better because it is in Mexico). I saw the waterfall of Zacatlán and the sites that make that town a pueblo magíco. Even more than just seeing places, I spent a few days with my friend’s loving, hilarious family eating Puebla’s specialty cuisine and enjoying the rhythm of life.
Every day, I asked myself over and over again “how can people ever leave this gorgeous place?” How can people leave their families, their communities, their fiestas, their breathtaking views, or even their chalupas or chiles en nogada?
But even as I had my tourist adventure, I could identify signs of why the area is a primary source of migrants. As the bus drove through the peaks of Orizaba, we passed Mexican army trucks full of soldiers and weapons – reminders of the drug war that racks the country. In the gorgeous countryside, I saw people hard at work in the fields – but using horse-drawn plows that have no chance of competing with agricultural imports from the US. As we walked around the precious downtown of Puebla, my friend explained to me income inequalities dating from colonialism that still divide the city today.
Many Mexicans are deeply proud of their country for excellent reasons. But some of those same people find themselves in the US out of necessity. I often say that I am a migration specialist who wants to be put out of a job. I wish that Mexico and Central America offered economic opportunities, education, and a political system that allowed people to stay in the country. But they don’t. So how do we receive migrants in a just and compassionate manner? But also, how do we create opportunities for people to stay home?