We are facing “la tragedia del retorno” (the tragedy of return). Or at least that is how Lic Omar de la Torre de la Mora framed the current situation in Mexico in his opening remarks before a day of discussion on Mexican migration policy. With two particularly emotional interviews fresh in my mind, the words resonated with me. I imagine that the brother and sister I interviewed would heartily agree with his words. They both returned to Mexico when their mother died, with the hope of returning to the US after the funeral, but the brother served jail time when caught in the crossing attempt and the sister wasn’t able to cross because no one could pay the coyote. I could certainly see tragedy in the brother’s desperation, anxiety and depression, in the sister’s fear of organized crime, and in their shared yet largely impossible desire to return to the Norte.
And yet. I was surprised by Omar de la Torre’s remarks because it would be impossible to paint all of the people that I have met and interviewed here with the broad brush of tragedy. I can’t agree with the comment because other cases come to mind, such as one man who was deported 6 years ago and in spite of the fact that he makes barely enough to live he is quite happy back in his pueblo, where life is more his pace. Or I think of a former gang member who was a leader in his gang in LA and deeply involved in that life but his deportation and a series of events in Mexico have led him away from the life of drugs and into nursing classes and music contracts. (His story will fill its own blog post so for now I will leave it at that.)
I don’t point out this subtlety as any kind of endorsement of the current brokenness of US immigration system. Deportation is painful, shocking, and heartbreaking. Yet in the face of that reality, life has to go on. I have met people who have overcome, persevered, continued, and most of all appreciated aspects of life here in Mexico. Here, they say, they feel at liberty, whereas there (in the US) they constantly felt locked up by the pressures of work and the fear of migration officials. Besides, as many people have pointed out to me, the food is much better here in Mexico. Residents of San Gabriel constantly illustrate that fact to me when they walk to their plots of land to harvest corn, chile, guava, pomegranate, or many other fruits and vegetables for dinner.
Life is no fairytale here. It is difficult for migrants to return to the same poverty that they left behind and, as I pointed out in my last post, even more insecurity. Yet it is unfair to the people I have met to call return a tragedy. Suffering is real, but it doesn’t define life and it doesn’t hide the beauty and joy that is here too.