Day 6 – Tierra Blanca, Veracruz, Mexico
Representatives and members from the various migrant rights organizations participating in the Step by Steps Towards Peace Caravan march up four flights of steps to a large, air-conditioned auditorium in Tierra Blanca, Veracruz, Mexico. We are all a bit tired after a week of traveling northward through Mexico, sleeping on church floors, mounting street protests, and holding press conferences, but we are excited for the meeting ahead of us. Dr. Felipe Gonzalez, Chair of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States (OAS), has agreed to hear the our testimony and recommendations regarding the rising number of kidnappings and disappearances of migrants in Mexico.
The meeting begins and representatives from each of the groups, as well as victims directly affected by violence in Mexico begin to take turns sharing their stories. I am struck by the resilience of the people involved in the Caravan. These are people with whom I´ve shared meals, swapped stories, and laughed at silly jokes all throughout the past week. We have bonded, and enjoyed many good times together. But at the same time, we are dealing with very serious material. As a human rights defender from Guatemala methodically lists the names of every disappeared person currently being sought by family members on the Caravan, I watch as, one by one, my new friends take turns standing up in silence with the photos of their missing loved ones clutched in their hands.
At the end of the day, after we had all eaten and debriefed from the meeting, I realize that it is time for me to say goodbye to my new friends and allies. Due to other obligations, I knew from the start of the Caravan that I´d have to depart early, though the other participants will continue the route through the states of Veracruz and Puebla and will eventually finish in Mexico City on August 2nd. Among a flurry of hugs and phone numbers exchanged, I wish my Caravan-mates luck and thank them for all they have taught me. Carlos*, one of the young men who has been traveling with us in search of a lost cousin, tells me meekly as I shake his hand goodbye, “Maybe I’ll see you in Boston next month.” Clearly, migration is always with us.
For Carlos´ sake, and for the sake of all the migrants who risk their lives along the dangerous route northward, I hope against hope that the violence they now face in Mexico is brought to an end. But hope is not enough. My experience in the Caravan has taught me that we must join together across cultures and countries, organize, and unify our voices. We must all take responsibility to hold our own governments accountable and demand action to protect the human rights of migrants. For people residing in the US and US citizens, this includes:
1. Advocating for more legal options and visas for migrants who seek to come to the US. In the absence of legal options, people risk their lives along the migrant trail.
2. Protesting against aggressive in-country enforcement and the rising number of deportations from the US. Many deported migrants re-migrate to the US, which increases their exposure to the danger.
3. Challenging US diplomatic pressure for increased Mexican immigration enforcement and material support of Mexican authorities. Focusing primarily on increasing capacity and enforcement, with limited attention to human rights protections, increases migrant vulnerability in Mexico.
4. Recognizing the role that US military and business interests have played in spurring violence and economic problems in Central American countries. The US must ensure that its foreign policy prioritizes human rights and sustainable economic development in these countries.
Achieving true social justice for migrants and their families throughout the Americas (and around the world, for that matter!) will take vision, dedication, and hard work. But, as the name of the Caravan and the example of its over 500 participants shows us, by simply coming together and moving forward “step by step,” we can truly work towards peace.
*Name has been changed to protect identity
Ready to advocate for immigrant rights or to bring your current work to the next level? Make sure you join us at UU General Assembly 2012 in Phoenix, Arizona. Click here for more info.
Read previous posts in the series “Reflections from a Migrant Rights Caravan”:
Part 1: Step by Step Towards Peace–A Six-Day Caravan for Migrants’ Rights
Part 4: The Graves in Arriaga
Part 5: Women Along the Migrant Trail