My friend, Larry Trent has been in Mexico for the last month taking an intensive Spanish course to assist in his ministry with people who live on the streets in Los Angeles. He has sent many stories home. He is a story-teller. Someday I will convince him to publish a book of his stories.
It’s early Sunday morning. I woke up at 6 AM, had my coffee and read the LA Times online, took a shower and was now going to look for breakfast. By now, it was 8:00. I knew Mexico didn’t get started this early on Sunday; however I found a hotel restaurant that was open and serving breakfast.
I was sitting in the window table eating when I saw a man walking by with a big backpack and blanket on his back. He also had a second backpack on his chest. He had long black hair in a ponytail and facial features of an Indigenous person. He stopped in front of where I was sitting to look around. It seemed as if he didn’t know where he was going. He wasn’t paying attention to me, I don’t think. But I was paying attention to him. He looked like many a migrant/pilgrim that I had met in Nogales.
He walked on down the pedestrian walkway out of my view. I ate my huevos a la mexica and drank more coffee.
After I paid my bill, I walked on over to the main plaza to sit and people watch for a while. The fact is, at 9 AM, it was still early for folks to be out and about on Sunday morning. There were very few in the Plaza; it was easy to spot the man I had seen earlier sitting on a bench with his two backpacks at his feet.
I walked his way not sure if I would stop and talk or not. I thought I would just say “buen día” as I passed him. When I spoke he came back with “ buen día” and “como esta”. Now a reason to keep the conversation going. I stood for a moment with him sitting on the bench while we did the formalities of introductions. He invited me to sit, so I did.
His name is Jorge, 26 years old and he is from Guatemala (a small town I had never heard of and can’t remember). He had arrived in Querétaro by bus from Mexico City the night before. He hoped to work a few days to get enough money for a bus ticket to Monterey and ultimately to the border to try to cross to USA. He had, indeed, traveled on top of the train from Guatemala through Chiapas to Mexico City. He didn’t want to do La Bestia* any more if at all possible.
Like many others, he wanted to work in US and send money to his parents In Guatemala. He said that there just wasn’t any work to be had back there. These are his translated words, “ Indigenous people can’t get real jobs. We are discriminated against. “. This I had heard before.
We chatted for a long time before I had the sense to ask him if he were hungry. He had not eaten since he left DF the afternoon before. “I will buy you something to eat, if you would like”. “Por favor”, was his response. He loaded up his two heavy back packs and we walked looking for a place for him to eat. I said that the mercado was open with lots of food stalls inside, if that was ok with him.
He asked me where I was staying in Querétaro. I said in a house there in El Centro. I had to explain Airbnb to him as he had never heard of such a thing. He asked if he could take a shower there. At this point, I must confess, I hesitated.
When I was going back and forth to Nogales, I often stayed overnight in a hotel there. I, also, often let migrants take a shower in my hotel room. Especially the Central Americans who got stuck in Nogales without access to the same services as new arrivals. I only hesitated for a moment; I’m not sure if he noticed my hesitation or not. I said, “sure. Come on. The house is very close.”
I showed him the bathroom and gave him a towel. I sat in the kitchen reading on my iPad while he showered and put on clean clothes from his backpack.
Yes, while he was showering I did think to myself, is this a smart thing to do. However, I told myself over and over this is the right thing to do. I had done this many times in Nogales. And, had let new arrivals to Tucson shower in my house and change into clean clothes I bought at Goodwill.
Of course, everything turned out fine. We walked back towards the Plaza. By this time, I had been in Querétaro for a week and knew where the migrants hung out during the day. I knew where comida would be served at 3:00. I took Jorge there. When I left him, he was already talking with several Honduranos. I knew he would be fine.
I shook his hand and said goodbye. I headed on off to the museum I had planned to visit that day.
I did see Jorge one more time a few days later. He said he was leaving for Monterey with another guy the next morning. They were getting a ride with some family member of the other man. I wished him buen suerte.
* La Bestia also called El tren de la muerte is a network of freight trains crossing Mexico on top of which many Central American migrants travel. there are great dangers boarding, disembarking and falling as well as danger from gangs that often control the routes.