The Central American Caravan

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I am Central American.  My people are being seen for the wrong reasons.

We are being criminalized for having strength in numbers, roughly 5,000 migrants in total. Today the Central American migrants have reached Mexico City, which BBC has reported many are calling a ‘milestone’ because of the now three week long crossing, mostly on foot. This caravan is not a crime.

Central American migrants cross Suchiate River, which boarders Mexico and Guatemala. Photo provided by Mynor Toc/Prensa Libre

Central Americans are only covered in the mainstream English and Spanish media when in crisis. I wish that weren’t true. The only coverage I would follow when the crisis in Nicaragua began in April through today is by following Nicaraguan journalists via Twitter. CNN barely touched it. AJ+ made a good looking video after people died. The Central American caravan has made a dent in the Twitter world as well as global publications, but I don’t feel it’s being referred to enough as a Central American caravan.

Civil Defense of Mexico delivers water to Honduran and Salvadoran migrants that stayed in Tapachula Park. Photo provided by Mynor Toc/Prensa Libre

It is important that it is referred to specifically, not for blame or for fear, but for visibility. Our people are going through crises in our homelands. When this administration speaks about Mexico, those living here who are Mexican descent or allies with immigrants speak up and stand up for the Mexican people. But what about us? Are we not as valuable or important as our Mexican cohort? Are we no more than target practice for military under this administration?

Trump gave the “OK” last week for the military to shoot anyone who so much as throws rocks at them. “They wanna throw rocks at our military, our military fights back… I told them, ‘Consider it a rifle. When they throw rocks like they did at the Mexico military police, I say, consider it a rifle.” He has now backtracked, stating “I never said shoot,” adding the migrants would be arrested.

Trump shared an ad last Thursday for the GOP criminalizing Central Americans.

The ad features a Mexican man but uses alleged footage of Central Americans within the caravan to drive its racist, anti-immigrant point home. Luis Bracamontes, dawning a bald head, as CNN reported, is “a Mexican man who had previously been deported but returned to the United States and was convicted in February in the slaying of two California deputies.” The ad shows Bracamontes smiling, saying, “I’m going to kill more cops soon.” At the same time, a text shows over the image that reads, “Democrats let him into our country. Democrats let him stay.”

This video has now been fact-checked. According to documents released by the Sacramento Bee, Bracamontes was deported in 1997 during the Clinton administration after famed anti-immigrant Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s office transferred Bracamontes to federal immigration agents.

“He apparently did not stay in Mexico long. Records in Arizona show he was arrested on drug charges again in Phoenix in 1998, then released ‘for reasons unknown’ by Arpaio’s office,” the Bee reported. The pattern of deportation and re-entry continued for Bracamontes under a the Bush administration. “Bracamontes was next arrested May 4, 2001, on marijuana charges in Maricopa County, and deported three days later.” Bush was still president when Bracamontes “slipped back into the United States a short time later.”

The criminalizing of my people, lumping all of us in the same category as one individual who killed someone, and falsely accusing Democrats for permitting re-entry for criminals who happen to be Latino, is damaging. The focus is on the wrong people. What Republicans and anti-immigrant political pundits should be doing is focusing on real individuals who kill people domestically.

I could and do point the finger at white men with guns who are domestic terrorists, the most example, the gunman in Pittsburgh who killed 11 people and the Kentucky gunman who killed two African-Americans on Oct. 24.

We are not the criminals. We are not the rapists and gang-members Trump and his administration is trying to portray us as.

We are flesh and blood, one who has already been killed. Henry Diaz, a 26-year-old Honduran was killed by a rubber bullet to the head at the hands of Mexican police.

As the second wave of Central American migrants, with a reported total of 2,300 children, heads in search of a better life, the fact that they are from Central America needs to be specified by the media. No, not for the fact that we want to be singled out, but because we need our fellow immigrant allies and Mexican “hermanos,” which I love and respect, to care about our issues as well. Central Americans may not be the overwhelming Latin majority in Los Angeles, but we matter.

Central Americans we are at the forefront of the political debate right now. Not only is it a debate, but there are faces, bodies, adults and children who the debate is specifically about. People crossing unforgiving terrain and natural elements to get here. I am also sick of our allies seeing us as one category. Do these allies mean well? I’m sure they do. However, when they use sarcasm to shoot down racist white people who are fearful of those migrating, those allies can end up sounding discriminatory and prejudice themselves.

These are people vary in ages and aspirations. I am so over the narrative that liberal white women are building for my people as well. Renee Libby on Twitter, who described herself as a rabid Trump opposer, shared this Tweet:

Renee was referring to an exit from the U.S. of those who oppose Trump. It was a joke. I refuse to have a caravan reduced to something people of privilege think they can easily do, especially when they don’t go through the same things these migrants have been through. Families being separated. People in Honduras dying because of drug trafficking or not having options for work. I highly doubt many privileged white people would be able to endure anything the Central American migrants have.

What I do appreciate are tweets like the one from writer, teacher, and Ph.D. candidate at Harvard, Clint Smith.

Editor-in-Chief of Vice Mexico, Alejandro Mendoza, also shared tweets featuring migrants and their personal reasons for leaving their homelands.

One of the profiles was on Cesar “El Autentico” Mejia. He is 23 and was an activist in Honduras for the LGBTQ community. He aspires to do something related to his passion of cooking and wants to buy his mother a house.

While I appreciate allyship from outsiders, journalist Xeni, made a big mistake and was ignorant when tweeting this sarcastic joke about white people who are paranoid and scared of the caravan.

I, in every way, respect and admire all of my people and how they make a living, from janitorial services, to house keeping, but those who are outside of our community need to be smarter in trying to defend us. WE are not reduced to these jobs. Some of us HAVE to do them. Believe it or not, brown people/ Central American immigrants have the ability to earn a higher education, to work at an architecture firm, to create their own businesses etc.

Hey, allies who aren’t migrants: Less is more. “No nos ayuden tanto,” which translates into “Don’t help us so much,” in the sense that you guys often end up putting your foot in your mouth from trying to speak for us or making your white, racist anti-immigrant cohorts try understand. No, thank you. Those in the caravan have different dreams, aspirations, and reasons for trekking through dangerous territory, like an area in Veracruz called Cordova where people have been kidnapped, killed, and held for ransom, as NBC reported.

Washington Post photojournalist Carolyn Van Houten was interviewed by CNN for about the photo of her 4-year old Camila, kneeling and crying on the ground.

Van Houten said that morning the caravan gathered at 3 a.m and they had gotten two big trucks to get women and children further on the journey. Camila’s mother, Kayla, was concerned because there were hundreds of people being shoved into those two trucks.

“She didn’t want her kids to be crushed or hurt in any way so she decided to walk with them,” Van Houten said. Kayla had both Camila and her other daughter Samantha, walking with both, rotating carrying them.

Van Houten said, “Just at a point where I had been impressed that Camila had been so good and been walking for so far, she just stopped and collapsed. She started crying and refused to walk any further. When her mom tried to move Samantha over, she started crying because she also wanted to be with her mom. She picked them both up and carried them until they got to a car they could ride in. The mom is a single, 21-year-old mom, according to Van Houten.

My family that emigrated here from Nicaragua on my father’s side is no different. My abuela came to the United States first with one of my uncles. The state of things in Nicaragua were trying for my family, who were in the lower socioeconomic class under the then-Ortega, Sandinista regime. My two younger cousins, chaperoned and coached by our aunt and uncle had to cross the border through Mexico for a better life.

First group of Salvadoran migrants register through Guatemala to cross into Mexico. Photo provided by Mynor Toc/Prensa Libre

I don’t know if those reading this now can comprehend or relate to that kind of fear or trauma that goes into a kid’s head at the moment of desperation. Or the nerves on end of the adults that accompanied them, the risk they were taking. All of this was for a better life.

As for my father, my uncles and aunts who came just wanted a better life for those little ones and those of us to be born in the future. Nicaragua was under the grip of a corrupt Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega. He was going to draft two of my cousins who were under 14 into the Sandinista Army and the adults of my family weren’t going to have it. These were boys. Why should they fight for a cause they didn’t choose?

The majority of my family did not support the Sandinista party to begin with and this made their decision even stronger to begin plans to bring my four cousins to the U.S. Ortega, who is back in power, is responsible for the deaths of 322 people, a total reported by The Guardian.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/gallery/2018/oct/31/migrant-caravan-in-mexico-en-route-to-the-us-in-pictures

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/bandaged-feet-bleeding-hands-violent-coughs-the-caravan-takes-its-toll/2018/11/01/d0330d90-de09-11e8-b732-3c72cbf131f2_story.html?utm_term=.06b497054261

We already have limited coverage in American media when it comes to the crises that happens in our parent’s home countries. Ask any Central American who is a child of immigrants and you will see that I am not alone in that fact. Olivia Kugler-Umaña, Salvadoran Ph.D. candidate in Immunology at University of Massachusetts Medical School, shared how she feels about the treatment of migrants under this administration.

Her full thread featuring “Central American scholars who want to change the world” linked here.

To be ignored is one if the most painful and irritating things we can face when others are speaking for us, others who haven’t been through what we have been through. Others who, though we feel a sense of kinship with our Mexican friends, deal with some different issues, concerns, and overall motivations for fleeing our home counties.

Please listen. Please ask us questions. Get to know where we are coming from and why. Most of all, follow this Central American caravan and know that the overwhelming majority plainly and simply wants to not just have a better life for themselves, but see that their children have one too, just like my family did for me.

A special thank you to editors at Prensa Libre in Guatemala and Mynor Toc, multimedia reporter for Prensa Libre, for images.