I was interested to watch the Sue Perkins’ programme about her trip across northern Mexico last November, because I had visited some places along that border with the USA six months before. She had travelled the length of that border from Tijuana in the west to Reynosa in the east, crossing into the United Stats for part of it. I had visited several towns on the border in North East Mexico, and then flown across to Tijuana. Our trips were different. Sue’s visit highlighted aspects of life on both sides of the border, while I had predominantly visited migrant shelters and church people doing their best to support the migrants, many of whom are trapped at the border.
Watching the programmes on two consecutive nights this week, brought to the surface many of the memories of my trip, which was both heartbreaking and inspiring. Meeting people who had had incredibly difficult journeys over thousands of miles, who had had encounters with cartels; been robbed, attacked or raped, left a lasting impression on me. So many were surviving on so little, reliant on food charity every day. Even though I did not share language with very many of the people I met, and was deeply appreciative of my colleague on the trip who translated, it was not difficult to pick up something of the trauma that was a common thread. The women and children always the most vulnerable to abuse and trafficking within Mexico and across the border into the USA.
The television programme highlighted attitudes of people on both sides of the border, showing the harsh approach of border patrol and ICE. However, in some parts of the border there has traditionally been fluidity of movement in both directions. Mexicans working in America and Americans setting up businesses in Mexico where it is cheaper. This was economically beneficial to all, but the much-vaunted wall and its associated restrictions is making such travel more difficult. Mexicans effectively can become trapped in America, and migrants and asylum seekers sent back to Mexico for minor misdemeanours or less. Families, mainly Mexican, become separated for long periods of time unable to be together, while some Americans take advantage of the cheaper lifestyles in Mexico with little restriction on their movements.
Just before lockdown I launched an appeal to support a new migrant café in Tijuana. During our Executive meeting this week we heard that the first payment has gone through the bank. The café prioritises women and children, aiming to feed hundreds of people via three meals each day. There is washing and showering facility and since January they have run English language and maths lessons. It is hoped to be able to add a mezzanine to the building so that shelter can be offered to some of the most vulnerable women and children. The appeal continues so that we can offer more support to those in desperate need. Contributions of any amount are welcome and can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org, clearly marked for Mexico.
Sue Perkins ended her programme commenting that building a wall is not a way to solve perceived problems or foster good relationships. I can only concur.