This week the notorious cargo train that carries migrants symbolically rerouted itself right into Mexico City’s center–and the national spotlight. Over a thousand hungry, exhausted (mostly) Hondurans in need of international aid (and with a list of human rights demands) arrived at Mexico’s political doorstep, and knocked hard. Then they kept moving. Because their needs weren’t going to be met if they weren’t met in that moment. The purpose of the caravan being not solely to visibilize their realities, but to survive. The Migrant Viacrucis Caravan’s stop in Mexico City was not just a demand for justice; it was part of a longer, need-driven journey for a better life. The message being at once political and humanitarian.
Venturing down to the march from Los Pinos late on Wednesday afternoon, Arturo and I didn’t really know what we were getting into. Later I realized that I hadn’t been ready for what we found. By the time we reached the march, most participants had stopped and were resting–looking weary. They hadn’t eaten since early that morning. The invisibility of this population which passes daily from Central America and across Mexico had never been made so visible in Mexico City, the center of Mexican government, international institutions and a general Mexican population who rarely have contact with Central American migrants in transit.
There at the march, Arturo and I met up with several Casa Refugiados volunteers, who made it clear that more help would be needed later to assist in the reception of this massive caravan at CAFEMIN, the largest (but not big enough) of the migrant shelters in Mexico City. So with a renewed sense of urgency and purpose, we headed back to the Casa to collect clothes and food donations and then went directly to the shelter.
I don’t think any of us were prepared for what we experienced next.
Arriving to CAFEMIN with a taxi full of donations, we piled out and got ready to help in any way possible. The caravan had arrived just before us, in need of food, water, medical attention, bathrooms, clothes/shoes and rest. This was a huge task for a shelter that is used to accommodating less than 50 migrants/refugees/asylum seekers (and receiving even less) at a time.
Stepping into CAFEMIN, this is what we saw.
At this point, almost all of the migrants had been able to eat and rest. Next we volunteered ourselves in the clothing donations room, sorting clothes while an interminable line of migrants peered through the windows as they waited for a change of clothes and maybe socks if they were lucky. The people waiting to be let in were shut out, watching as donations dwindled and as time passed we had to rush people through to get everyone back on the buses on time. The men would not be sleeping at CAFEMIN, space and resources were too scarce. The Mexico City government would transport them to a gymnasium nearby for everyone to sleep. Later, a truck of mattress pads and blankets would arrive for the women and children who stayed behind. There were even children that appeared to be unaccompanied by any adult. Before closing for the night, everyone made a line and registered themselves in a roll-call type procedure. Below, the frenzy brought upon for a change of clothes.
Every once in a while, a transcendent collision with humanity knocks us off our feet. We are left with a primordial sense of coexistence, codependence, with the billions of other human beings who inhabit this earth. Most often when this happens it occurs suddenly; in a rapid manifestation of kindness or appreciation, a lightning bolt of unexpected love or affection. Although these manifestations are available to us constantly, they tend to go unnoticed, and so when for whatever reason we are hit with the reality of our collective existence, it is felt all the more intensely.
In this case, it took the forced displacement of people, in the form of massive migration–to unite the many realities into one of great need, and great suffering. This transnational crisis forces us to bare witness to the vulnerability of others on this earth, and though it may be an impossible challenge, we have to attempt to process it.