OAW delegation

Friday Across the border

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We met West Cosgrove of Kino Border Initiatives near his office in Nogales, Arizona, and drove across the border into Nogales, Sonora. The comedor is open for two meals a day, serving only those coming north from Central America and those who have been recently deported since there is not enough food to feed all the homeless in Nogales.

The border at Nogales, Arizona.

The border at Nogales, Arizona.

Meeting at the comedor, we broke into two groups … half staying at the comedor to help with a late breakfast and the other half went to the women’s shelter with Sister Engracia, a Missionary Sister of the Eucharist, who was one of three working with KBI.

I remained with the group at the comedor, at first helping to cut up cucumbers and later peeling garlic. At 9:00am, the people were allowed into the commedor and took their seats. Seventy-two men and women were served rice, beans, tortillas and a vegetable mix that included small pieces of chicken. We were able to help serve the migrants their meal, passing filled plates as though a fire line … like passing buckets of water. Later I was able to go around with additional rice and beans. A comment overheard was that if American women were serving the Mexican people, there was hope for the future … this was something they had never seen before.

The stories at the comedor were prolific and painful for the most part. One young man of 19 arrived, looked around and began to sob. He had attempted the crossing with three friends. One had to be left behind, he and the second person got separated and he eventually was caught by border patrol and deported. Arriving at the comedor, he fully expected to find the friend they had left behind. He was not there and it suddenly occurred to the 19-year-old that his friend was probably dead. He was distraught and inconsolable, even after two hours of crying.

A man from Central America came to eat. He was using crutches due to a missing leg. Many from Central America ride the train north and he was no exception. As is common, he was attacked by bandits and thrown off the train. The train ran over him, severing one leg. He is now in Nogales, waiting to be measured for a prosthesis and when he has it, his plan is to try crossing the border.

Dona Petra provides residents of the dump with makeshift medical.

Dona Petra provides residents of the dump with makeshift medical.

One observation that brought a smile was with the blind man. Appearing to be in his early twenties, his body and attire are neat and clean. I had served a plate of food to the man next to him who promptly gave it to the blind man, explaining the food to him. It was only after that he took a plate for himself.

About noon, everyone in our group met back together at the comedor. There we met with the staff from Home of Hope and Peace (HEPAC). HEPAC is a multi-faceted project that is adult education and a children’s lunch feeding program. There are five neighborhoods near this facility and many children get only one nutritious meal a day … the lunch at HEPAC. We met staff and children, having our own lunch of rice, beans and vegetable soup. Sister Pilar saw one child had only beans and tortillas and so gave the child her vegetable soup.

After lunch we again broke into two groups: one to visit the Tirabachi Community living at the local dump and the other to visit with some Maquiladoras … workers in a factory with a story not so uncommon. Later, the groups met and visited the opposite sites.

The workers have an all-too-frequent story. An absentee owner of the Legacy factory decided to sell. When he couldn’t sell the machinery, he closed the plant overnight without notice or severance to the workers. According to Mexican labor law, the machinery now belongs to the workers so that they can attempt to sell it and receive some money to live on. The case is going through the legal system now. Because the owner lives in Colorado, it is an international law suit and this takes much more time. In the meanwhile, some Internet research by our group indicates that the absentee owner is a multi-millionaire many times over.

"Recyclers" living at the dump can earn up to $3 a day picking salvage.

“Recyclers” living at the dump can earn up to $3 a day picking salvage.

Mexican labor law also states that the Mexican worker is entitled to three month of severance for each year of employ-

Some of the workers we spoke with have worked at the plant for 15 or more years. This is a huge amount of money for workers earning under $6.00 a day. Also, In Mexico, if you are over 40, it is difficult to find work.

The groups then exchanged sites and we traveled to the local dump to meet families living there. Dona Petra, 70 years young, has lived there since the age of 15. A woman with a sense of humor and a face showing her inner beauty, is considered to be the wise woman of the community. People go to her for health advice and she tends them as best she can with what little she has. Our delegation donated work gloves to protect their hands from needles in the trash plus face masks. She lives with her son, Jose, and daughter-in-law Alejandra and their two children.

The grandson had just returned from a stay in the hospital for a lung infection. They were burning copper wire nearby the day we visited and I can understand the how and why of lung problems while living there. The granddaughter, about 3 years old, was the cutest, dirtiest child I have ever seen but who also had a beautiful smile and played with us without reserve. Alejandra completed elementary school but we are not sure what that means in Mexico. Our concern was the amount of education the children could or would get while living where they do. Their parents are “recyclers,” picking plastic, paper, metals, used clothing or anything else they might be able to sell. If it is a good day, they can earn 250 to 300 pesos a day … about $3.00.

It makes me ashamed to see people living as they do on the cast offs of a more affluent society? In what way do I contribute to this?