Stories from the Migrant Trail
A group of migrants met 12 October 2018 in San Pedro Sula, Honduras and formed a caravan. The men, women, and children committed to helping each other travel towards the United States, with the dreams of a better future. Strength in numbers are the idea of these caravans of migrants, which have been increasing in frequency and numbers.
For this project, I set out to photograph portraits of both participants of the caravan and record their testimonials, to add context to the motives of these migrants and asylum seekers. I set up a white background in the temporary camp in Mexico City, where they rested for a number of days. I brought the white background on the road, as they loaded trailers and slept in parking lots. And finally, I photographed in Mexicali, a three-hour drive from Tijuana. I focused my efforts in Mexicali in a notorious shelter dubbed the Migrant hotel.
The future for these migrants and asylum seekers is as unclear as the day they left their home country, but today, their journey continues.
“There is a lot of violence. The gangs grow like flowers,”
said Ivis Alexander Medina Aguilera, from Puerto Cortés, Honduras. “We left because the situation in my country is very critical. In terms of politics and ways to make a living, there’s no security in our country.”
When Medina’s neighbor was shot to death and then another family nearby was killed, he knew he had to go.
“I was at my grandmother's house and she told me “eat your last meal with us and leave. Go to Belize or to Mexico but get out of here, you cannot stay here.’”
“Three men robbed me at gunpoint. They took all I had. I saw the caravan on TV and left the same night. At dawn. It was about 1 a.m.,” said Eduard Manuel Manzanares, 26, while resting at a temporary camp in Palmillas, Queretaro, Mexico. Manzanares was travelling with his girlfriend, Diana María Sarmiento Ramírez, also 26, both from San Pedro de Sula, Honduras.
Maria had been working at a spa, but it closed due to the bad economy and she decided she needed to leave in order to find work. She left her 6-year-old daughter with her family. “She doesn't want to talk to me right now because I left. When she's mad she won't talk to me. I feel really bad about that, but this is for her too. We have to move forward.”
Many in Honduras fall victim to the so-called tax of war excised by the gangs - the extortion that organized crime charges to many businesses, which is a large portion of their take home income. Manuel was behind in these mandatory payments to the gangs.
“The biggest fear I have is returning to Honduras. But I don’t fear this journey. When it’s my turn, it’s my turn. But I'm not going back to Honduras. We're fighting for a purpose, it's not because I want to live in the USA… I want to raise a family. In Honduras you can't do that. And if you have a job, the same crime takes the profit. You can't work in Honduras.”
“I'm not afraid. I have never been afraid,”
said Francis Eduardo, a 14-year-old from Copan, Honduras, at the “migrant hotel” in Mexicali, a notorious migrant shelter in Northern Mexico.
“I did not say anything to my family when I left. I just left with my luggage. I did not say anything to my mom because she was not going to let me come.” When he called her to let her know that he arrived to Mexico, she cried, but she understood his motivations and encouraged him to move forward.
“We are poor people and sometimes we do not have enough to pay rent and provide food for the family... What we earn per day as farmers is like 100, 120 lempiras ($4.10- $4.92). That does not leave us anything,”
said Alex Amaya, 39, with his son Dani Amaya Perdomo, 16, at the “migrant hotel” in Mexicali, Mexico.
“In Honduras crime is so out of control that they will kill you for nothing. My dad's uncle was killed for 800 lempiras ($32).
“I am fleeing because they killed my mom and my brother. I am in danger too,”
said Kenia Arias, 19 and her daughter Sury Belyiny Ramos, 4, from Tegucigalpa, Honduras, in Mexicali, Mexico. Arias had to leave her other six-month-old baby at home. “It’s very hard to leave the family and yes, it really hurts and one does even the impossible to seek the American dream, to seek a better future, a better life, because in our country you cannot even live.”
“I want to get to the States, to learn English. I do not want to return to my country,”
said Elder Claros Martínez, 7 years old, from Ocotepeque, Comayagua, Honduras, while he was getting his hair cut at the caravan camp in Mexico City.
“They charge you just for living, the tax of war as they say,” said Herson Manuel, 19 years old, from San Pedro Sula, Honduras. The day he left, he had to pay his monthly bills for his barbershop, but that did not leave Manuel with enough to pay the gangs their fee, “I better go, I said.”
“I'm afraid of the gangsters. They say that if you leave the neighborhood and then later return, they will kill you. It’s like me, if I go back, they will kill me. None of us (in the caravan) can go back for the same reason.”
“They wanted to kill me in Honduras. The gangs, they told me that if I did not join them, they would kill me,”
said Mainor Isaac Meléndez Suazo aka Diablo in the temporary migrant shelter in Mexico City, 16 years old, from, Atlántida, Honduras. “One day they threatened me in front of my mom too, they told my mother that if she does not make me disappear they would kill me there in front of my house, in front of all my brothers.”
His friends jokingly call him Diablo after he bought a number of red jumpsuits for his trip across Mexico.
Meléndez is an up and coming soccer talent, he played in on of the top divisions in his region. He was about to advance to an adult league and play with people older than him.
But he could not escape the gangs. They would hang out in front of his school, pressuring the kids to join. When Meléndez and his friends resisted, the gangsters took offence.
“They killed two of my friends. They killed two. They cut off their heads.... Everyone knew who they were and the police did nothing.”
The gangs sent his threats through facebook, photos of guns and notes saying that he would soon meet their knife. This is when Meléndez knew he had to leave.
“In Honduras the authorities do not exist. They wear uniforms, but they are sold to the gangs,”
said Pedro Juárez, 29 years old, from Choloma, Cortés, Honduras, while resting in Mexico City.
Three years ago, he was working as a security guard when he was shot by a drunk male walking through the streets, shooting randomly.
“I was hit by two bullets. I almost died, but by a pure miracle of God I am still alive. I still have a bullet in my body (lodged in his neck) that they could not remove in Honduras.”
“Well, my story is hard. About 10 years ago one of my brothers was raped. 14 years ago the gangs killed another brother of mine,”
said Elvin Giovanni Matute Rivera, 23 years old from San Marcos, Ocotepeque, Honduras. “They want to get me as well.”
Matute doesn’t consider going to the law enforcement an option, and he didn’t want to face the gangs himself.. “I have a sister who was raped by her stepfather. I am not one for seeking revenge, so I left. These violent acts do not affect their souls.”
“Many things made me leave the country. One, the discrimination that exists in Honduras,”
said Jordan Yalir aka La Tuti, a 23 years old trans woman from San Pedro Sula, Honduras. A few days before she joined the caravan, she was assaulted by a group of males on her way to university.
She left her home at an early age, her parents would not accept her and shunned all forms of homosexuality.
“I said enough, I cannot continue here.”
“We are on our way, fighting to move forward,”
said Dayana Carolina Castillo in Mexico City. “What I want is to get a place to live, that's all. Then I will return to my country.”
“In Nicaragua it has been six months since the war started. They told me they were killing students. My children were students. That is why I left,”
said Karen Lorena Macy Pérez, 32 years old, from Matagalpa, Nicaragua, inside of the temporary camp for the caravan in Mexico City.
Macy, a single mom, was travelling with two of her children.
“I just want to get to Tijuana. United States astonishes and scares me more than the country we come from, but I have to be calm. I am afraid that I will be separated from my children. I do not want them to take my children away,” News of Trump’s newly implemented immigration policies was common in the caravan. “How can he (Trump) think that he can take away the children from their mother? That is awful.... That is a torture for children. A real torture.”
Macy Pérez is part of the migrant caravan, traveling from Central America, poses for a photo in the temporary camp of Jesus Martinez stadium in Mexico City, November 8, 2018. This caravan was made up of thousands of people and one of the biggest caravans to date. Migrant caravans have been happening for years, people from Central America travel together for safety.
“I feel that I left off all my problems behind. I had terrible problems,”
aid Karla González, 19 years old, from Ahuachapan, El Salvador, posing for a photo with her new boyfriend Juan (last name withheld for security reasons,) 19 years old, from Honduras.
González and Juan had a caravan love story. They had met on social media, but did not meet in person until they were in Tapachula, Chiapas, Mexico.
“A had a lot of problems in my home, but also in the street. In the street there is a lot of crime. I could not leave my house because there were two people trying to recruit me into the gangs. But I could not risk the life of my family, nor the life of my baby.”
Karla González and her new boyfriend Juan, pose for a photo, while waiting to load into a semi-truck trailer on the outskirts of Mexico City, November 11, 2018.
“The crime there left me bankrupt,”
said María Claro, 35 and her daughter Valerie Claro, 9, from Cortes, Honduras. Claro made the decision overnight, she did not spend a lot of time thinking about it.
Claro sold used clothes at an informal stand on the street, paying the ‘tax’ that the gangs required was starting to be impossible.
“I left because they were extorting me, that was my reason. They told me that if I did not pay the tax the next month, they would kill my daughter. I could not find a way to make the money that I owed. I had no money to pay, or any way to sell enough to make up my debt.”
During the journey, many watched the statements of President Trump. “We have been accused of being criminals, but not we are not. We are hardworking people. We tried to get ahead, but they did not let us. I ask Trump to have a conscience. There are women and children who are very hardworking. We like to earn our daily bread, in an honest way. Just as he was once a migrant, so are we.”