Human Migration: Looking for Una Vida Mejor

This summer, I’m researching and writing about migration and sanctuary. As I read and write, I think about the children in my classroom from Mexico, Central and South America.

In their eyes, I find the earth, for their eyes are brown like the soil on the farms and fields from which they left to come to South Carolina.

In their smiles, I find the sunrise, for their sonrisas give light to our classroom and my life.

In their lives, I find life.

I think about Paola.

She was a student from El Salvador who lived in a small apartment with her grandma, mom, sister and uncle. She was a wonderful kid and has become a wonderful young lady.

One time, a new student named Billy walked into our classroom.

“Hi,” Paola whispered as he sat beside her. “I’m glad you’re in our class.”

She didn’t know the story of Billy’s suffering that brought him to our school but perhaps she recognized something familiar in his taut face, quivering voice, and shaking hands.

“This is your journal. It goes in your desk, like this,” she explained. 

“These are our crayons and markers. You can use them if you want to. Don’t worry. There’s lots to learn. I’ll help you.”

Perhaps her eyes are so kind, her mind so helpful and her heart so compassionate because she made the journey on the migrant trail from El Salvador to here.

Later that day, I sat beside Paola in the lunchroom.

“Why did you want to help Billy,” I asked.

“Oh, I remember when I was the new student,” she said. “And sometimes I feel the way he looked when he sat down beside me. I just wanted to be kind to him. It helps when people are kind to me. He’s my neighbor.”

He’s my neighbor.

Jorge Argueta’s beautiful book Somos Comos Las Nubes/We Are Like The Clouds is a collection of poems and pictures.

Read it and put yourself in the chancletas/flip-flops of those who walk the migrant trail in search of una vida mejor/a better life.

The road from the countrysides of Mexico, Central America and South America to my city of Greenville, South Carolina, is long and hard.

If you take the time to ask migrants along that road, “Why are you trying to make it to the United States?” they will answer, “We’re trying to make una vida mejor, a better life.”

The journey along that road is fraught with danger and heartbreak.

Listen to these words from journalist Oscar Martines, who embedded himself with migrants on the migratory trail from Central America to the Mexican-United States border.

He wrote about the people he met in his book The Beast: Riding the Rails and Dodging Narcos on the Migrant Trail.

“We walk on, telling ourselves that if we get attacked, we get attacked. There’s nothing we can do. The suffering that the migrants endure on the trail doesn’t heal quickly. Migrants don’t just die, they’re not just maimed or shot or hacked to death. The scars on their journey don’t only mark their bodies. They run deeper than that. Living in such fear leaves something inside them, a trace and a swelling that grabs hold of their thoughts and cycles through their heads over and over. It takes at least a month of travel to reach Mexico’s northern border…Who takes care of them? Who works to heal their wounds?”

Before The Beast was translated into English, it was titled “Los Migrantes Que No Importan,” The Migrants Who Don’t Matter.

Listen to these words from writer Jorge Argueta, who was a refugee from the civil war in El Salvador in the 1980s and is a listener, storyteller and poet of young Central Americans today who are saying goodbye to everything they know because they fear for their lives.

“In 2014, when thousands of children began to arrive from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico, I visited a shelter in San Diego, California, where young refugees were anxiously awaiting their fate. Some had the hope that a family member would take charge of them so they could remain in the United States. Others wanted to go back home. Others wanted to do both. Sad choices for such young hearts.” 

It is important to remember that people do not leave their land or their families unless they have to.

If your children are threatened by violence, sickness or poverty, you migrate and look for una vida mejor for them.

If your house is bombed and your land is stolen from you, you migrate and look for una vida mejor.

If you open your cupboard and there is nothing but dust, and you reach into your pockets and there is nothing but lint and there is no sustaining work for you to do to support your family but only underemployment and unemployment, you migrate and look for una vida mejor.

No one wants to leave their land or their families unless they have to.
No one wants to take on the danger and the heartbreak unless they have to.
But some people have to.
They do matter.
They are human beings.
They are life.
I am here to take care of them.
I am here to heal their wounds.
I am here to be a sanctuary for them.
Estoy aquí.
I am here.

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