Published On: Tue, Dec 6th, 2016

OPINION: Migrants in southern Mexico reveal immigration’s human face

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The story of Mexican immigrants (both legal and illegal) in the USA is well known and widely covered, and of course was a central theme of President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign. Less widely covered however is the story of immigrants from other countries who use Mexico as a transit point on the way to their dream of a new life in the USA. It’s part of the price that Mexico pays for being the USA’s southern neighbor. Ben Chaplin, who has recently been visiting Tapachula, Chiapas, Mexico’s southernmost city, only a short distance from the border with Guatemala, sent us this report.

The coffee harvesters

Like the guy in the photo who I met today at a finca, almost all of the coffee harvesters here in Tapachula, Chiapas, are Guatemalans, Mexico’s neighbors to the south, reflecting the drift north towards better fortunes that Mexicans similarly attempt towards the USA. Here, as in the US, the migrant workers are engaged in hard labor that the local population doesn’t want to do or are not attracted to do for the wage. They are not taking jobs from locals; the locals don’t want that type of work, or at that rate of pay don’t see the value.

The long walk to safety

On the way home from the coffee finca we passed an immigration center, and I was surprised by the sight of Africans here in southern Mexico. But I found out that this is one of the many routes which immigrants – some economic, some seeking asylum – take to try to get to the US. People are quick to judge these migrants as trying to take something away from them, and they often get accused of being lazy, wanting handouts, stealing jobs etc. When I thought of how far these people have travelled and the lengths they are going to, I can hardly begin to think about the sacrifice they have made in their desire for a better life or simply a safe life.

Guatemalan coffee harvester. (PHOTO: Ben Chaplin)

Guatemalan coffee harvester. (PHOTO: Ben Chaplin)

It’s sad to think that for a lot of these folks, the land of the free that they have spent all their money and effort to get to, seemingly no longer welcomes them.

I didn’t chat long to the Guatemalan harvester, nor to those we saw on our way home. But when you get to put a face to an “immigrant” or “asylum seeker” you see another human being looking back; these are all real people with real dreams and nightmares. We would all do well to remember that. I am not saying it is an easy theme, far from it, but when you dehumanize the whole thing, it becomes easier to dismiss.

By Ben Chaplin for TYT

The opinions in this article reflect those of the author and not necessarily those of The Yucatan Times.

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