In the Migrant Journey

The following prayer was written by Saulo Padilla, Director of the Office on Immigration Education for MCC U.S. Saulo came to Canada as a political refugee from Guatemala in the 1980s and is now a U.S. immigrant. He wrote this prayer as he participated in The Migrant Trail, a 75-mile walk along the U.S. /Mexico borderlands, intended to bear witness to those who have died along the trail in search of a better life in the U.S. We offer Saulo’s prayer in light of the tragic deaths of migrants in San Antonio this week.

I walk with my brothers and sisters in desolation.
Are you here God?
Please don’t be far.
I am afraid and my soul is trembling.
You cried in Gethsemane, come cry with me.

Walking on the highway with border patrol.
Many hunt for us and we are accused of breaking the law;
You have been persecuted,
come be our witness,
defend our cause.

Make known the roots of our suffering and the causes of our journey.
Make public that our intentions are in accord to your law.

Intercede for those who walk with us in this path.
Make their rights be known,
and their voices be heard.

Migrant shoes
Guide the feet of those who get lost.
You know the darkness.
Hold our hands.
In the dim night shine your light and direct our path.

Restore the lands of our ancestors.
Bring justice to our people.
Pour rain on their crops,
and give them peace to harvest their fruit.

Anxiety and fear are our companions in our journey;
replace them with peace and hope.

Nurture our spirits while we are far from home.
Be with our loved ones.
Do not let time erase the way back home,
so that we may not live in exile forever.

Crossing into Sesabe, Mexico and having a prayer service at a church there.
The desert is arid and thirst awaits us.
You know the desert.
You’ve been exiled.
Come walk with us,
and bring a fountain of justice into our lives.

Sow seeds of peace and justice in the hearts and minds of those who resist our journey.
Let us be seeds of peace and hope in our new home, this land of our exile. Amen.

Mango chutney with a side of radical kindness

By Anna Vogt, Context Analyst and Advocacy Support worker for MCC Latin America Caribbean (LACA). This post is part of LACA’s ongoing series on migration and was originally published on Anna’s personal blog. 

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Pedro Cano from Centro Bono. Photo/Anna Vogt

I could hardly eat lunch as I frantically scribbled notes. Pedro Cano from Centro Bono, a Jesuit organization on the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, has the most numbers in his head of anyone I have ever met. He rattled them off so quickly I was glad of the Spanish to English interpretation, just for the extra seconds to catch up. The numbers added up to a pretty depressing story of xenophobia based migration policies in the Dominican Republic. From January to the end of May of this year, over 3000 Haitians have been deported a month from official border crossing, violating all sorts of international standards. Given the number of unofficial crossings and the number of people who have choose to voluntarily leave, the numbers are probably much higher. (You can meet some of the children and youth now living in limbo here.)

For Pedro, these policies serve as a smoke screen to blame rising inequality and lack of public services on Haitians, not on corruption or government mismanagement of funds. In the van ride back to Port au Prince, our group reflected on how pervasive the narrative of hatred against individuals and groups seems across the Americas, not only in the DR.  Blaming a person is always easier than dealing with structural issues; generating hatred out of fear, however, only contributes to an escalating crisis that leads to spiralling rates of migration.

At the end our of meal in Haiti, Pedro gestured at the table, a mess of fish bones and leftover bowls of broth. “Maybe in the DR people serve the hot sauce on the side instead of directly in the soup, but the food is basically the same. That’s what we have to remember, when we talk about bringing people together, is that we are already sharing life together. Cross the border and it is not even obvious who is from where. Rather, there are mixed families, there are kids that play together, and economies and cultures are already woven together.”

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Photo/Anna Vogt

Last week, I ate squash blossom quesadillas in Mexico City and attended more meetings around migration. I sat in a circle with three partner organizations, Frontera de Cristo, Casa de los Amigos and Voces Mesoamericanas, who work and advocate around migration on the northern border, the centre, and the southern border with Guatemala. As we brainstormed how to better work together, we discussed the idea of alternative documentation, not simply of victimization and of violence, but also of radical hospitality, welcome, and the good that migration can bring.

From Douglas Arizona, Agua Prieta, Sonora, Mexico City, and the border state of Chiapas, people and organizations open up homes and hearts to those passing through, recognizing that because they are human, they also belong. Together, we reflected on how our local realities often cross borders and countries, despite narratives that demand we remain separate. We are all interdependent upon each other. How can we reflect on all the ways that our lives already go far beyond borders?

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The most damaging structures are the ones that rob us of our natural impulse for kindness. These are the systems that cause us to feel helpless and isolated, in the midst of events swirling beyond our control. While we continue to advocate for changes in policies and systems, sometimes the most radical acts we can engage in are kindness and welcome. When we recognize the humanity of those around us and do not allow smoke screen policies to dictate who is worthy, we are participating in a long human tradition of movement and acceptance that has already shaped our world.

Later that evening, Jocabed of Frontera de Cristo and I sat in Coyoacan, sipping on Mexican coffee and sharing stories at the end of a long day of meetings. She told me about a campesino from Chiapas who visited to the northern  border through Frontera’s work with Cafe Justo, for the opening celebration of a coffee shop. Cafe Justo sells fair trade coffee from Chiapas with the premise that when farmers are paid a fair price for their labour, they often don’t migrate. In fact, families are starting to return from the US to Chiapas, because of the  opportunities fair trade coffee provides.  At the border, the farmer stuck his hand out through the bars of the wall, just to feel the air on the other side. Later he shared about how he may not be able to cross, but his coffee, and therefore a part of himself, is constantly making that journey.

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Jocabed also told me a parallel story of a man in the US who cuts out the picture of the farmer on each bag of his Cafe Justo coffee and strings them together like a rosary, in order to remember each person as he sips his drink every morning. While I don’t think increased consumption is a solution to global problems, fair prices and the recognition that we are all already connected through the products we consume is an important step that should cause us to demand trade and border justice, and also open our homes.

There is power when we meet face to face, person to person, community to community.

Instead of focusing on what divides us, let’s celebrate what brings us together and the radical acts of welcome that connect us across countries, regions and the globe. In the book, Undoing Border Imperialism, Harsha Walia writes, “Undoing the physical and conceptual orderings of border imperialism requires a fundamental reorientation of ourselves, our movement, and our communities to think and act with intentionality, creativity, militancy, humility, and above all, a deep sense of responsibility and reciprocity.”

As part of a celebration of the trans-local, of cultures and communities that cross borders, I want to share this recipe for mango chutney with you. I learnt it in Haiti, from a Canadian women who worked in Sudan and now runs a lovely Airbnb on the Haitian seaside. The recipe is from the MCC cookbook Extending the Table, comes from Botswana and originally calls for peaches instead of mangos. In both Haiti and Colombia, mangos are much more common than peaches. Adjust accordingly for your local and serve with curry or simply on toast.

Ingredients:

1 onion, grated

1 small apple, grated

1 tps caynee pepper or a minced hot chili

4 large Tommy mangos, peeled and chopped

⅔ cup of sugar

¾ cup of raisins

¾ cup of vinegar

1 tsp salt

3 tsp curry powder

Combine everything together in a heavy saucepan, bring to a boil and then simmer for up to 2 hours, until the consistency of jam. Stir often as mixture tends to stick and savour the wonderful smell filling your home. Eat and enjoy!

Haiti is passionate

The international press offers a single narrative of Haiti – one of political instability, malnutrition, disease and devastation. “The poorest country in the Western hemisphere” – this is how Haiti is too often described, ignoring the many layers that comprise Haitian culture and customs and make Haiti one of the most fascinating yet least understood countries in the region.

In late May, four staff from MCC’s North American advocacy offices and the Colombia-based regional policy analyst visited Haiti for one week to engage with MCC Haiti partners with the goal of strengthening MCC’s Haiti advocacy work among its New York, Ottawa, Washington, Colombia and Port-au-Prince offices. During this time they got to encounter Haiti as it is, not as the sensationalist press so often describes it. What follows is Rebekah Sears’ description of Haiti as she experienced it. It originally was published on the MCC Haiti blog

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Members of CCODMIR and the Dominican human rights organization Centro Bono with the MCC team in Malpasse.  Photo/Ted Owald.

Haiti and the Dominican Republic (D.R.) are facing a migration crisis. For much of their history, tensions have been high between the two nations, most recently due to D.R. policies that discriminate against Dominicans of Haitian descent and Haitian migrants. In 2013, a new law stripped tens of thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent of their citizenship and, along with Haitian migrants, were made victim to sporadic and sometimes violent deportations to Haiti.

These policies and actions in the D.R. can be understood as a further attempt by the D.R. government to blame the country’s social and economic ills on Haitian migrants or Dominicans of Haitian descent, essentially scapegoating an entire group of people.

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When one person’s human rights are violated, everyone’s rights are violated.” — Pierre Garot Nere, Coordinator of CODDEMIR in Malpasse, Haiti. Photo/Anna Vogt.

During our journey in Haiti we spent time at the border, visiting those working on the front lines of this crisis. We met with members of a coalition of 15 Haitian groups, collectively known as CODDEMIR. For the past seven years, CODDEMIR (in English, the Collective of Organizations working for the Defence of Human Rights for Migrants and the Repatriated) has been pooling financial and human resources for one common goal of standing with the displaced from the D.R.

CODDEMIR engages in national and international advocacy on their behalf, through press releases, reporting, emergency assistance and education. Their passion and dedication spoke volumes to me; I felt hopeful creating a sense of hope as they shared their desire to protect  those who face difficult and divisive situations

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Stripped palms on Lake Peligre, in the border area of Malpasse. Photo/Anna Vogt.

The influx of people crossing the border since June 2015 has caused resentment in some Haitian communities. CODDEMIR has come alongside these communities to educate them about returnees’ needs. As a result, when CODDEMIR’s welcoming center is overcrowded, more local families and communities take displaced people into their homes.

Human rights groups, including CODDEMIR, are calling for significant action; action inside the D.R. to reverse laws discriminating against Haitians and those of Haitian descent, and action by the Haitian national government to come alongside migrants and also invest more in Haitian communities so people don’t feel they have to leave. They are also calling on the international community to pressure both governments to respond justly to the situation.

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In 2015 Michana (R) was living in the D.R. with her infant son. They were deported spontaneously and had no relations to help them on the Haiti side of the border. Miatrice (L) saw her crying on the side of the road and convinced her parents, who already had 8 people living in their home, to take them in. Terre Froide. Photo/Ted Barlow, Operation Blessing.

At the core, these organizations are calling for the recognition of our common humanity, encouraging all of us to welcome others, support each other, and stand together. In this, we can say that Haiti is passionate about welcoming and caring for others.

Rebekah Sears is a policy analyst with MCC’s Ottawa Office. 

More than a single story: Migration in the Americas

This week’s guest writer is Anna Vogt, policy analyst and advocacy support for MCC Latin America Caribbean (LACA), based in Bogota, Colombia. This reflection was first posted on the Latin America Advocacy blog and is the first of a special series of articles on migration.

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Stories of people on the move dominated headlines throughout 2015: refugees from Syria; deportations and raids of Central Americans living in the United States; the journey of unaccompanied minors north through Mexico and many other stories. So far, analysis for 2016 predict more of the same: people continue to move throughout our globalised world at the highest rate since World War Two.

It is easy, however, to read headlines and come away with a stereotyped idea of migration. How well do we really understand the complexities of this theme, especially from a Latin American and Caribbean perspective, where this blog is based? How does our understanding influence public policy and how we treat our neighbours?

In the book Advocacy in Conflict, Casey Hogel emphasis that, “The power to define a campaign or movement’s narratives- and the amount of diversity and nuance that is allowed within narratives- has huge ramifications for the level of solidarity that activism espouses.” A complex understanding of migration, from migrants themselves, is vital if we want to realistically advocate with people on the move, not simply assume we understand their situation.

As Hogel mentions, that complex understanding starts with asking who is defining the narratives around migration: those who are experiencing the pressure to migrate and the migrants themselves or others?  Yet the majority of the time, migrant experiences are not present in public coverage of the theme. In a recent report, researchers found that migrants were referenced in only 15% of British newspaper articles on migration and that 85% of British articles on the topic did not even include a migrant perspective.

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The report goes on to state that “46% of stories represented migrants as a threat or a danger to the economy and to society, while 38% represented them as victims. Furthermore, migrants’ voices were mostly absent from the coverage of migration.” Given similar news coverage in Canada and the United States, this is a problem of perception that impacts and reflects on policy decisions and debates.

In fact, readers only heard the voices of migrants when the articles included in the studied portrayed the migrant as a victim. While allowing migrants to share their experiences is a good thing, telling a story of only simplified trauma in a portrayal that presents people only as victims, does not allow the nuances, complexities and contributions of migrants or their agency to shine through. Complex narratives demand more than simply an emotional reaction. They include the facts about who migrants are, where they have come from and why, in order to contribute in a meaningful and realistic way to advocacy.

Migration is a normal part of life and society, both in the north and the south, yet migration is “still framed as extraordinary and involving extraordinary individuals and stories…. As with most of us, the majority of migrants lead lives which are fairly normal and not particularly newsworthy. Their migration experience may not be a key or significant feature of their identity. Or it might just be seen as another characteristic to be shared, but not shown off or emphasised, with their neighbours.”

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A complex understanding also examines the variety of forms of migration that take place throughout the region. Did you know that many migrants move from one Latin American country to another, instead of heading north?  That more Mexicans have left the US to return home than have left Mexico to move north in 2009-2014? That the amount of migrants coming from Africa to Latin America has dramatically increased over the last five years?  That 15,000 migrants from the United States live in Colombia?  (Check out thiscool app for a global perspective of migration!)

During orientation at MCC, participants watch Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Ted Talk on the danger of a single story. How we talk and write about people and issues matters because our beliefs either perpetuate stereotypes or challenge them and the structures that hold them in place.

We are excited, therefore, to present a new blog series on migration in LACA, where we want to tell more than simply a single story about migration, portraying migrants as neither simply victims nor villains, but ordinary people, seeking to live ordinary lives. Throughout the course of the series over the next few months, we will cover topics ranging from south-south migration, migration and climate change, urbanization, reintegration, armed conflict and migration, those who choose not to migrate, migration and gender, and much much more.

We invite you to participate and to pay attention to the diversity of meanings included with the theme of migration throughout our series and in the people around you.

To read subsequent posts on migration, visit Latin America Advocacy Blog.

Migrant vs. immigrant vs. refugee: Why names matter

This week’s blog post is written by Esther Isaac, advocacy research intern in the Ottawa Office.  Esther recently completed an undergraduate degree in Political Science and Global Studies at the University of Ottawa.

A Facebook page called Humans of New York includes the story of a man who has recently come to the USA as a refugee from Syria. In Syria he was a father, an inventor and an architect. In his words: “I want to be a person again. I don’t want to world to think I’m over. I’m still here.” His comment shows how the title of refugee can overshadow a person’s humanity.

Conflicts in Syria and Iraq have prompted a large number of individuals to flee the region. To escape from violence in their home countries, many people from Syria and Iraq move into neighboring countries, including Lebanon and Jordan. Recently, many are seeking to leave Lebanon and Jordan because the areas have become over-burdened due to the increased numbers of people fleeing conflict. This wave of people has, in recent months generated a lot of attention from the international community, particularly once an increasing number of people began to arrive in Europe both by land and by sea.

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Sam Gibbons, Zoe Ford-Muzychka, and Eve Dewing at the Calgary airport to welcome the Al Saeid family, refugees arriving from Syria.  Photo/Hand over Hand.

The terms used for the people displaced within the region and who are moving out of the region due to the conflict have not been consistent. This has had a significant impact on how those reading about this mass movement of individuals are seen, and indeed how the individuals who are themselves fleeing the conflict see themselves.

Those who talk about displaced persons, from politicians to media outlets, use many different words interchangeably, including: refugee, migrant, immigrant, asylum seeker, and internally displaced person. Even reading these terms, one gets a very distinct idea of how the speakers and writers wish people to respond.

Some news writers and politicians use more evocative and discriminatory terms to describe people arriving en masse in Europe, including: swarms, marauders, vagrants, and cockroaches. These terms are inappropriate for many reasons, namely: they foster fear and disgust of the people to whom they are referring, they dehumanize people, and finally, they are far from proper terms, the use of which can help foster an understanding of the situation.

So, let’s take a look at some definitions, and see how the individuals leaving the Syria and Iraq conflict looking for a safer place to live fall within the internationally-recognized definitions.

Refugee: A person who is outside their home country because of fear of persecution due to reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion and are unable to return to their home country or be protected by their home government. Refugees flee into a new country in order to preserve their own lives or freedom; and are given forms of protection by the host country

Migrant: A person who chooses to move not because of a direct threat or persecution or death, but mainly to improve their lives by finding work, or in some cases for education, family reunion, or other reasons.

Immigrant: A person who enters a county of which one is not a native, in order to live in it permanently. Both refugees and migrants can fit under this category, although many refugees and migrants hope one day to return to their country of origin.

Asylum Seeker: A person who claims to be a refugee and seeks international protection but whose claim has yet to be evaluated by the UN High Commission for Refugees.

Internally Displaced Person: A person who has been forced to flee their home, but has not yet crossed an international border to become a refugee.

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Hanan Talabeh’s family arrived as refugees from Syria in 2015. From left: Hanadi, Lara, Nada, Sara and Jaafar. Photo/Hanan Talabeh

Words matter. They influence what people think about others, and what people think about themselves. It is important that we use words that are true. The truth in this matter is that the vast majority of the people fleeing Syria and Iraq are refugees or asylum seekers.

International laws protect refugees. Calling refugees migrants is both inaccurate, and allows states to shirk their responsibilities with regards to laws that protect refugees. So, it is important that the proper terms be used in order that people who are refugees are able to realize their rights.

Not only can incorrect terminology diminish the public and political support available for these refugees, it can also increase the emotional strain on the refugees themselves due to a possible change in how they see their own struggles and their own identity.

The power of words is well documented and therefore it is important that the words we use be chosen carefully. A person’s identity is shaped at least partially through the way in which others see them, speak about them, and treat them. This is particularly pertinent given that 51% of refugees are children. Using the right terminology will help refugees to receive the proper treatment. But we must also remember them as people, and allow their humanity to be their primary identity.

Some words legitimize the struggle of refugees, and others diminish that struggle. Some words spur politicians and citizens into action, and others allow for complacency. Some words help, and others harm.

Let us strive to know and use the right terminology and to understand the impact of our words on the lives of others. Furthermore, let us try to see people not merely as the words we attach to them, be it refugee, migrant, or anything else, but instead to see them as human beings, and get to know them and their story.


 

If you would like to get to know some stories of refugees, and how learn their identity is more than just their immigration status, here is a link to some stories.

If you are interested in learning more about sponsoring or assisting refugees, here is a link to some helpful information.

It’s just coffee and flowers…

This week’s blog is written by Thomas Coldwell, who is currently volunteering with MCC Ottawa, and interning as Associate Pastor with the Village International Mennonite Church. In fall, he will join MCC Alberta as Peace and Community Engagement Coordinator.

This past May, I co-led the MCC Alberta/Saskatchewan Uprooted 2015 delegmonumento-a-la-revolucionation to Guatemala, Mexico, and the United States. We learned about migration.

Many in Mexico and Guatemala (and Canada, too) migrate for economic reasons. They are unable to sustain a decent standard of living due to poverty or a lack of job opportunities.

Some migrants, especially from the rural areas, are small-scale landless subsistence farmers (or campesinos) who are unable to earn a sustainable income from the crops they produce. A lot of these crops—like coffee and flowers—are major exports, destined for countries like Canada.

Other migrating peoples are forced from their homes due to violence or instability. Across the region, people are leaving the familiar in search of both safety and economic opportunity. We met MCC partners helping peoples on the move and supporting initiatives for alternatives to migration.

Since arriving back in Ottawa, I find myself more often reading the “Product of…” labels on the foods I buy. My favourite yellow mangoes sold by street vendors in Mexico City are also available at my local grocery store. Our world is very interconnected—especially when it comes to food and drink.

An employee of Cafe Justo demonstating how  coffee is roasted in Agua PrietaAh, coffee. The smell. The taste. I wouldn’t say I’m a committed coffee-drinker (coffee and tea are equally enjoyable), but I do like a cup o’ joe. And so do many others: over 14 billion cups of coffee are consumed in Canada ever year (according to Statistics Canada). That’s about 398 cups of coffee per person per year (more than a cup-a-day for everyone in Canada). Coffee’s a big deal! And in 2009, most of Canada’s raw coffee was imported from Colombia, Brazil, and Guatemala.

During the learning tour, we visited Cafe Justo (“Just Coffee”)—a coffee co-operative of over 100 families in Mexico. The coffee beans are grown and harvested in the Chiapas region and sent to roast in Agua Prieta on the Northern border. Small-scale farmers often get the shorter end of the stick when competing with agri-businesses in places like Mexico and Guatemala. Traditionally, the “middle-man” buys coffee from the farmers to sell to the manufacturers for a profit. This often leaves the farmers with insufficient funds for their basic needs. The Cafe Justo co-operative sells directly to the consumer (businesses, churches, and individuals) after deciding what their coffee is worth. This business model has allowed 100 families to reach a decent standard of living without having to migrate.

Supporting fair trade helps small-scale farmers live with dignity in their communities. It provides choice: to leave or not to leave.My patio garden in Ottawa

This summer, Jen (my wife) and I decided to grow a garden on our patio. It’s been a fun journey as we’ve witnessed seeds sprouting and transforming into vibrant, green plants. Watching our flowers bloom has also been a joy for us!

While in the Guatemalan highlands, the Uprooted team visited MCC partners in Tonina who grew organic vegetables and flowers with no chemicals. Their gardens were beautiful. They sell their flowers across the border in Mexico. Many of the flowers imported to Canada from Latin America are grown under harsh labour conditions with high chemical usage, putting both workers and the environment at risk. But working in the flower industry is the primary source of income for some.

The question I ask myself is: How then shall I live? I find myself more concerned about the type of chocolate I purchase (and I love to purchase it). Or the coffee I drink. Or the flowers I enjoy. Purchasing fair trade is one way to support my global neighbours. Being mindful of systems and processes that do not always promote the well-being and dignity of people is part of my journey. Considering fair trade first (both globally and locally) can lead to decisions that will positively influence the lives of others.

But is it really worth it to support fair trade cooperatives? After all, it’s just coffee and flowers. And yet coffee and flowers allow people to feed their families, support their children’s education, and remain in their regions without needing to migrate for economic purposes. These projects serve as alternatives to migration.

When justice is partnered with human-centered business, the outcome is “just coffee” or “just flowers”—which means more than I can fully comprehend.

The “American dream” lives on

This guest blog is written by Megan Enns, peace and youth program coordinator for MCC Alberta. She recently led a young adult tour to the northern and southern borders of Mexico for the purpose of exploring themes of migration and peacebuilding.

I grew up thinking the “American dream” was something of the past. It was an ideal from that age of “Leave it to Beaver” that, to most people now, seems unrealistic and even unappealing. While traveling with MCC on “Uprooted,” a migration themed young adult learning tour to Mexico, I was shocked to hear how very real that American dream is.

Miguel and his son Jerry are in search of the American dream. Our group met them in Mexico City at a shelter where they are staying, waiting, and planning to move north and to cross into America where they will hopefully attain that dream.

The entire Uprooted tour group, along with Jerry (back row, middle, with sling)

The entire Uprooted tour group, along with Jerry (back row, middle, with sling)

Already Miguel and Jerry are scared. They were traveling from their home in Honduras for four months with their son and brother, but he chose to stop and stay back after they witnessed a woman and her young daughter raped and killed on the train. They left him behind with a family in one town they passed through.

A quick explanation is needed about the train. In Mexico and Central America they call it “the beast.” People die every day on the train, or they fall or are pulled under, often losing limbs. The drug cartels and gangs, in some places with the support of la migra, the local police, run the train tops. Miguel and Jerry were charged $300 three times by a gang — standard practice “fare” to pass through their territory — and threatened at gunpoint, with a gun handed over by a migra agent.

These are the lengths people are going to for the American dream, the hope of a better life, and a belief that they are worth it. They are met by harsh realities: the Mexican police, exploitation, border patrol, the desert, detention, deportation, and the realization that immigration systems don’t share that belief in their worth.

MCC has recently outlined our need to support “people on the move” and we see this as a growing theme. People are on the move everywhere, fleeing violence and poverty in Syria, Sudan, Nepal, traveling to Canada as temporary foreign workers from Central America, the Philippines and elsewhere. And people are on the move in Mexico.

Mexico is the world’s migration capital — crossroads for some moving north from Central America or poorer areas in Mexico, a destination for many from around the world seeking opportunity, and a place of return for those deported from the U.S. or Canada when their American Dream is broken.

Members of the group hear stories at a shelter for migrants in Mexico City.

Members of the group hear stories at a shelter for migrants in Mexico City.

Our Uprooted tour group had the chance to meet many agencies and centers working with migrants and to talk with many migrants themselves. We also met lawyers and public defenders, visited a detention center, and received a fairly well rounded exposure to the issues on the border, and what people were fleeing south of it.

One message we heard that sticks with me is that it’s easy to blame a person, a “side,” a group: the drug cartels, the migrants, the border patrol, the coyotes, Mexican communities along the train line who threaten migrants, the American legal system and “operation streamline,” the private companies that are making a profit off detention and prison centers where migrants are held — even ourselves for not caring, or knowing, or saying something about this. However, it’s a system that is completely broken. People are playing their small part, with what they know.

What would happen if more people knew the story of Miguel and Jerry and played their part from that perspective?

A friend who recently returned from a learning tour to Israel/Palestine, described herself as broken. I felt a bit of that, though her empathy is much more admirable than mine. I come home wanting to remember the hope — because there are glimmers of it — amidst so many stories of brokenness. The problems we see and hear are so far away. The reality I am learning from this tour, though, is they’re not that far away.

Our country’s laws around immigration are moving in a bad direction too. We are bystanders in this equation, one which allows a system in which Miguel and Jerry aren’t worth enough to have their simple dream of safety and security. So what can we do? This is a question our group keeps asking each other. A simple start of course is to share the stories of these people on the move and share our own struggles with this brokenness.

My own struggle — much as I hate it — is that I have bought into the story that I am worth the dream and “they” are not. I sat there, over lunch with Miguel and others from our group and the refugee shelter, talking about the American dream being outdated or unrealistic. What a warped world it is when I can buy into thinking the American dream is unrealistic for people like Miguel and Jerry, while I live it. I want to convince them not to leave home in search of an elusive dream, where they will undoubtedly face unknown dangers in their journey. But life at home, for many migrants, has just as much violent threat and unknown danger.

I think of the American dream as outdated, because I have the privilege to do so. So I will struggle, with my fellow travelers, to understand and learn from Miguel and Jerry and the many other migrants we met, and question the stories I buy into.

For more stories and resources about the Uprooted tour on migration and peacebuilding, visit mccuprooted.com.