LISTEN // SPEAK OUT (Lessons from the Caravan of Mothers)

We spent so many hours of planning for the reception of the Caravan of Mothers that when they finally trudged through the door of the Casa last Monday I wasn’t prepared for the rush of emotion that would accompany their arrival. All of a sudden there were over sixty mothers and press and Caravan volunteers squished into the tiny reception and dining room of the Casa. There were young and old and radiant and fragile old ladies lugging backpacks and duffel bags. There were injured Mothers, smiling Mothers, exhausted Mothers, totally silent Mothers. For those of us who hadn’t experienced their company in years prior, their presence took away our words and left us to run around them in circles, doing everything in our power to make them comfortable and to prepare a good meal for them.

Later that night during the dinner, one of these Mothers would be reunited with her daughter after 13 years right in the Casa’s reception (see photo below). Another had been reunited with her son after 10 years a few days earlier along the Caravan’s route. There was an sense of symbolic importance in the Casa as well, as their arrival to the Casa marked their reception in Mexico City and the start of three days of press conferences, visits to the Senate and demonstrations in various parts of the city.

Madre se reencuentra con su hija en el DF después de 13 años. Foto: Antonio Cruz, SinEmbargo

Mother is reunited with her daughter in Mexico City after 13 years. Photo: Antonio Cruz, SinEmbargo

The second night the Caravan was in Mexico City they made an appearance at Amnesty International’s Celebration of International Human Rights Day. Some of the Casa volunteers (myself included) had the honor and privilege of being swept into the full momentum of the Madre’s march when we accompanied them to a presentation at the grandiose hall of the Universidad del Claustro de Sor Juana. Interrupting a presentation with their cries for justice, the Mothers and fathers entered chanting, “The Mothers are united! We can’t be defeated!”with the photos of their missing loved ones around their necks. Riding in the press entourage and walking alongside the Motheres gave us a glimpse of the energy and intensity of accompaniment along their incredibly poignant journey.

The next day, at the Zocalo, the demonstrations took on new visibility and symbolism as a model train of La Bestia with photos of missing migrants was led in circles around the historic plaza. The Mother’s refrain echoed that of the days before, “¿Dónde están, dónde están, nuestros hijos dónde están?” [Where are they, where are they, where are our children?] chorused the mothers and fathers from the Caravan. They were making a plea for justice to be brought to the cases of their missing family members, that the Mexican government would begin to recognize the great scale of tragedy and violence that is being incurred against Central American migrants and their families. These few words were enough to make some of their voices raspy with weariness and tears. Some wore expressions so serious and so solemn and so tired that I was left feeling paralyzed, in disbelief of their strength. I learned later that during an event at the National Book Fair in Guadalajara, complete strangers were moved to hug and cry with the Mothers, embracing them and pleading for understanding from officials that threatened to remove them from the crowd. (Below: The Caravan of Mothers marches around the plaza at the Zocalo, carrying a model of the cargo train that carries many Central American migrants through Mexico, and with the images of their missing children around their necks.)

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The Mothers left Mexico City on Thursday morning, with a shower of thanks for the Casa team that gave our best effort to accommodate and accompany them through the last few days. Having them here was a powerful testament to human perseverance. For almost all of them this journey will not be over on December 18th. Some of the women have been on the Caravan repeated times, and will never stop looking for their children. This years Caravan was done in homage of a Mother and human rights activist, Emeteria Martínez, who found her child in Mexico after 20 years of looking, and who continued to participate in the Caravan in subsequent years with the images of other people’s missing children around her neck. They are a visceral message about the violence occurring in Mexico and the actions of a few strong-willed people dedicated to changing those conditions.

After spending just three days hosting the group and attending some of their events I got a dose–however small–of how exhausting and intense these last weeks have been for them and the hundreds of people impacted by their presence all over Mexico.

I wish that I had had the chance to sit down and talk more with some of the Mothers or to listen to their individual testimonies; their cause reminded me so much of the tremendous struggle of the Mothers of the Fallen after the Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua with whom I’ve had the amazing experience of working with in past research. Still, it was equally as powerful to hear the mothers yell in unison, to hear the chorus of their voices silence a crowd of professional human rights workers, and their shuffling steps recounting the thousands of kilometers they have traversed in the hope that they may learn of the whereabouts of their loved ones.

Through my experiences at the Casa and friendships and encounters with those effected by or working in the area of migration in Mexico, shadows are cast all about the country. Veracruz, Coahuila, Michoacán, Jalisco, Tamaulipas, Sinaloa, etc. have been stained with horrific stories of violence. These images mount up and meanwhile the Mothers walk right into it, fearlessly, with their heads up, soulders back. My job is to listen and listen and listen although there may be so many experiences that remain unheard and so much emotion left to be transmitted. The act of be present to these types of experiences has this piling-up effect in which images and emotions float around my consciousness in a semi-state of realness that has to find its way out into something concrete. The final step, to process, truly process, and thus act, is to give this reality the weight in the world that it needs to be altered. Or else there’s no hope that the thousands of “invisible people” migrating through Mexico will ever be found.

The Caravan of Central American Mothers Looking for their Disappeared Migrant Children “Emeteria Martinez” and Other Work

There is a flurry of excitement, anticipation, and work happening in the Casa while we gear up for what is undoubtedly the busiest month of the year. The combination of winter holidays and events such as the annual Caroling party hosted by the Quaker monthly meeting, the Christmas Posadas, preparations for two college delegation field studies in January, and the arrival of the Caravan of Mothers looking for their disappeared children in Mexico, we certainly have our hands full. In the midst of all of these ongoing projects, the team is also doing workshops to sharpen our interpreting skills, continuing to develop collaborations with partner organizations such as Casa Refugiados and working to expand the reach of our Economic Justice and Migration projects as part of the Casa’s Peace Programs.

The Caravan is going to be one of the most intense parts of the next couple of weeks. 48 parents (predominately mothers, but there have typically been several fathers as well) from Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador have traveled to Mexico to look for their missing children and denounce the human rights abuses of migrants in Mexico. On this trip, some of the mothers and fathers will be reunited with family members they have not seen in decades. This is due in large part to the work of organizations such as Movimiento Migrante Mezoamericano, an organization that dedicates itself to protect the human rights of migrants in Mexico and Central America. They have led investigations in search of missing migrants, some of whom have been located and will be reunited with their family members during the Caravan.

The response of Mexican society has a huge range–from weariness and empathy to complete disinformation and ignorance about the topic. Responses such as, “Why didn’t they just call?” reveal the extreme lack of understanding about the types of dangers and obstacles migrants face in Mexico. If only it were that easy.

The three days when the mothers will be in Mexico City are from December 9 to 12. Here at the Casa we will be preparing a huge dinner to serve the Mothers and to share space and time with them while they will be staying in the Casa for three nights. During their time in Mexico City they will be hosting press conferences (we are also facing a storm of journalists at our doorstep), and doing a pilgrimage to the Basílica de la Virgen Guadalupe.

It is an incredible opportunity to have the Caravan of Mothers staying with us, and we are so looking forward to participating in their events for the first half of next week. Our ability to offer hospitality to this group is symbolic of our solidarity with such families that have lost children, spouses, siblings, etc. to the violence that is plaguing this country and transformed migration into a gruesome phenomenon of kidnapping, extortion, and murder (in large part for economic ends). The ripple effects for countries all over Latin America has been extreme, and these Mothers have come to Mexico, despite enormous odds, to do something about it. Stay tuned for updates about their visit to Mexico City next week.