All You Have to Do is Ask

One of my assignments this week for the Casa’s Migration Committee was to make a poster advertising about the need for a truck to transport furniture donated to migrants.

The text that accompanied the poster on Facebook went like this:

“Ironía: Dos amigos migrantes recibieron un colchón cada uno y algunos otros muebles, pero… ¡No tienen cómo llevarlos a sus casas!

¿Tienes una camioneta o conoces alguien con una? ¡Colabora con nosotr*s! ¡Llámanos! 5705-0521.

Irony: Two migrant friends each received a donated mattress and other furniture, but.. they don’t have any way to get them to their homes!

Do you have a truck or do you know anyone with one? Collaborate with us! Reach us at 5707-0521. ”

Not five minutes later, reception gets a call from a friend of the Casa has a truck they’d be willing to use to help us, as long as the Casa could reimburse the use of gas.

Incredible! This is huge! All you have to do is ask. (And social media once again proves to be a significant tool for our organization.)

“My Country is at War”

The CPGC-Casa Migration Field Study closed on a solemn note, one motivated by a moment of deep reflection. The gunshots of the auto-defensas and the Michoacan cartels battled in the background of our Quaker-inspired silence. The pleas of Central American migrants to bring aid reverberated in our over-saturated hearts. Still, we ended with hope that the coming months would bring engagement and action, and not simply the feeling that nothing can be done to mitigate the levels of violence Mexico currently endures.

With the murder toll of 2013 in Mexico at 17,000, I turned cold at the thought of what the coming years may bring for Mexico, for Mexico City, for the Central American migrants in route to the U.S. At the idea of the ever-expanding cartel influence shaping the country and running it ragged. And meanwhile my thoughts turned to my own country, which sends more and more guns and military to Mexico and then says, “Stay away,” and “Don’t go there.”

As the cartel violence in Michoacan started flaring up in the New Year, I stayed waiting for news of the cartel vs. civilian militia group violence to make the pages of international newspapers and television. After six years of the so-called “War on Drugs,” though, it takes more than some cartel scuffles to call the global media’s attention. This outbreak of violence is the first time since I’ve been in Mexico that I really feel that I’m living in a country at war, that the tenseness and closeness of the violence is actively rooting itself in my conscious. It is a national trauma actively in the making, one that is unlikely to find peace or resolution in the near future.

Nor is there anything simple about it. About taking sides, forming an opinion, articulating some kind of hope. The basic explanation is that the people of Michoacan are done letting the police and military protect the cartels. And so they rose up to rid themselves of the Templarios. When the police tried to stop them, they targeted the corrupt authorities and arrested them. When the federal forces came to make the civilians give up their weapons, they refused, denouncing the police’s collaboration and protection of the cartels and saying, “No way.” Complicating factors are the instability with which power is held and with which civilians can act on their own, non-cartel related interests. The Michoacan Family, once a part of the Zetas, were once elite trained paramilitary group which later turned its efforts to drug-trafficking and other illegal exports.

Similarly, “The Knights Templar, reportedly led by a man named Servando Gomez Martinez, aka “La Tuta”, emerged in 2010 after a split within a paramilitary defense group-turned-organised crime syndicate known as The Michoacan Family. The group participates in dozens of illicit activities from drug trafficking to illegal mining. The state has been gripped by armed conflict and a military presence ever since. Nearly 1,000 people were murdered in Michoacan in 2013.” (The Independent, 16 de enero, 2014)

It is this group the self-defense militias have converged to disband. In protest of the corruption and cartel involvement of local police forces, many citizens have received the self-defense militias favorably, going as far as to label them heroes, who are taking the protection of their communities into their own hands. One the ground this looks like a community-based military option, where police and cartel members are arrested and detained by self-defense groups who are just fed up.

Taking sides. I’ve never lived in a country at war with itself. I’ve never lived in a so-called “failing-state.” And so when I see citizens take up arms as a last resort, it’s hard not to have a little bit of hope that through local, civilian action things could get better in cartel-ridden areas. The amount of popular and activist support for this movement has been indicative of how much people are suffering under the current conditions. At the same time, the cartels are so powerful that it’s hard to tell if the auto-defensas can stand up not just to cartels such as the Templarios, but the whole range of competing cartels in the region:

“Some speculate whether the self-defense alliance in Michoacan has been infiltrated by the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, a rival of The Knights Templar.”

The questions of stability and rule of law are on our mind. So is the safety of our relatively unscathed capital city which has so much to do with all that is going around us and yet we’re in a dream-world bubble where you’re okay as long as you don’t leave.

Meanwhile, migrants are tangled into the middle of this power-struggle which stems back to militarization and economic injustice, bad governments and brutal inequality. If there is a lesson to be learned from the self-defense militias, it is that the way forward can only be made in numbers, with people shouting at the top of their lungs, “No More.” As a foreigner and a new-learner on this topic there is still a ton I don’t understand. But I see the people rising up and can only think that the U.S. has had a major hand in creating this situation of violence. It’s also time to step up and try to defend the lives of those put in the crossfire, not just looking at whose shooting the guns, but who put the guns in their hands, and what the steps toward peace might look like.

January Field Studies

The urgency of changing the reality of migration has not seemed as pressing in my entire time in Mexico as since the Casa-CPGC Migration Field Study arrived on Sunday, directly from their experiences on the Arizona-Mexico border which included humanitarian hikes in the desert with organizations such as No More Deaths and in ride-alongs with the Border Patrol. They bring with them their knowledge and perspective, newly experienced, of the trends, policies, and catastrophes being lived out day after day along what is now among the most militarized zones in the entire U.S.

This week we have an equal amount of learning in store for these nine students, who have traveled to Mexico to learn about the complexity of migration as a human rights crisis in Mexico which includes transmigration of Central American migrants, Mexico as a country of origin for economic migrants in search of economic survival, Mexico as a destination for asylum, Mexico’s expulsion of refugees due to cartel violence, government corruption and repression, and the phenomenon of internal migration within Mexico.

In the line-up for the week we have the students hearing from Sin Fronteras, Servicio Jesuita a Migrantes Mexico, Casa Tochan, Jornaleros SAFE, Organización Internacional para las Migraciones, and Centro de Atención para Familias de Migrantes in Tlaxcala, among others.

Servicio Jesuita Gives a Presentation to Haverford Students about Central American Transmigration Through Mexico

Servicio Jesuita Gives a Presentation to Haverford Students about Central American Transmigration in Mexico

Last week we were also involved in the coordination and accompaniment of a university group from Redlands, California, which, in addition to a socially-conscious introduction to Mexico, included several events with community organizers, cooperative members and human rights defenders in Mexico City. The group left on Sunday, the same day Haverford Migration Field Study arrived, giving us just enough time in between for a quick breath of air and a moment for reflection about how special this time is for the Casa. It’s our chance to use our resources and connections for the specific purpose of raising awareness and knowledge about the social justice work at the core of the Casa’s mission. We get to do it in Casa style, putting the most of our hospitality and peace work in action.

Redlands Students Visit the Urban Garden "Huerto Romita" in the Roma.

Redlands Students Visit the Urban Garden “Huerto Romita” in the Roma.

Haverford is here until Sunday morning. Stay tuned for more updates on their visit! (Which happens to overlap with the visit of the Haverford Chamber Singers here in Mexico City and Morelia, Michoacan.)

Haverford Chamber Singers Perform in at a Historically Large Pot Luck Dinner at the Casa

Haverford Chamber Singers Perform at a Historically Large Sunday Pot Luck Dinner at the Casa

All in Today’s Work

In the last couple of weeks in the reception, I have either encountered a disproportionate number of difficult situations to face, or, this time of year people’s desperation has tended to be closer and more poignant. Maybe the season of giving has made people unable to give feel more vulnerable, causing them to show up more at the Casa’s doorstep for help or donations. Maybe my own focus on how fortunate and grateful I am has made me emotionally available to those that have very little. The last few shifts I’ve worked in reception have been difficult, and left me feeling gentle and conscientious when handling people off the street.

Today as I was working, we brought a 20-ish year old guest with a baby-face to tears as he received the news that he could no longer stay in the Casa if he is unable to pay. He had already racked up a $1400 peso debt staying in the men’s dormitory for two weeks. This news was reality hitting him like a ton of bricks. I tried to find out a little bit about his situation–who he has for support and what his next steps will be–and all of these questions were met with a shy, bewildered series of “No one,” and “I don’t know.”

I thought maybe asking the right question might reveal an answer for him; I didn’t want to accept the fact that given his situation he’s going to have a really difficult time supporting himself alone. He came to Mexico City from Northern Mexico, with not a soul in the city to stay with, confide in or call upon for help. No friends, no family, nothing. It’s hard to believe that such a well-dressed, well-kempt, handsome young kid was on his way to some of the City’s ugliest public shelters, but there are some indications that he may have a damaged relationship to his family and really has no one left to help him out. After several questions revealed this kid really did not know which way to turn, there was nothing but silence left between us. Having given him three pretty deplorable options–the Salvation Army, a government-run shelter which, according to descriptions from migrants may be worse than staying in the street, and a fifth-rate hotel one colonia over which offers lodging for $40 pesos a night (although you run the risk of robbery or violence), I started running through a list of possibilities in my head of what might happen to this kid in those places or what kind of fear he might be facing in having to leave the Casa and find his way. Even though he has a part-time job, Mexico’s $65 peso a day minimum wage doesn’t offer much to survive off of. It was just hard to send someone so young off to meet the hard face of the world, maybe harder after a week of being pampered and spoiled by my own parents. How incredibly, incredibly lucky I feel.

Just after he left, a group of  students arrived as part of a mountain climbing/life goals course, along with an 84 year-old woman they found crying in the airport because she was unable to find her daughter. After bringing the woman back to the Casa and telling her where she was, it dawned upon her that this was not the first time she had been in the Casa de los Amigos. In the 60′s she had stayed in the Casa with her children, and had not been back since. It turns out her husband dedicated his life to a well-known social justice organization, and it seemed to be fate that she had be brought, by complete coincidence, back through our doors.

It’s an incredibly unique experience to the Casa to receive this type of divine synchronicity, to be demanded so much presence day in and day out.  In the city or out, we learn each day how small and how connected the world is, making our place within it that much more essential.