Departing Nicaragua (Part 1)
By: Cyndi Malasky and Brooke Denmark
Today a group of 13 Nicaraguan mothers, sisters and brothers are beginning their journey North to follow the footsteps of their disappeared loved ones. Many went missing while passing through Mexico to reach the United States. Some may have been kidnapped, victims of human trafficking, detained in Mexican jails or killed by gangs that prey on migrants. Some may be living in Mexico, ashamed to call home because they have been unable to earn enough money to support their families or have been severely traumatized by one of the many dangers that migrants confront.
All the family members anxiously hope to find their loved ones alive, or at the very least to find answers. The Mesoamerican Migrant Movement has invited them to join Central American families in a caravan through Mexico to search for their family members and spread awareness about the perils that Central American migrants face.
Most of the Nicaraguan families in the caravan come from the Northern department of Chinandega, which borders Honduras. Historically Chinandega was an epicenter of Nicaragua’s banana production. Large U.S.-based banana companies employed residents of Chinandega for low wages while knowingly exposing workers to dangerous chemicals that have led to serious health problems and contamination of the land. The monoculture crops that currently dominate the region, such as cotton and peanuts, have become completely mechanized, leaving very few job opportunities in the agricultural sector. Without sources of employment, residents of Chinandega are forced to look for work elsewhere. Today Chinandega has the second highest rates of outward migration in all of Nicaragua, second only to the country’s capital.
The Nicaraguan caravan is being organized by the Jesuit Migrants Services of Nicaragua (Servicio Jesuita Migratorio Nicaragua or SJM), which researches migration patterns from Nicaragua, and helps to organize migrants and their families into grassroots committees. The committees provide each other with psychological support and organize to help each other through different challenges that arise from migration, such as repatriating the bodies of migrants who were killed abroad.
Last week we met with the Nicaraguan group of family members across the street from the Mexican consulate after they finished handing in their paperwork and passports for their visas. The following are some of what the families shared about their reasons for joining the caravan, why their family members migrated and their hopes.
It is Marta’s mother’s only wish to see Marta and her twin sister together again before she dies. Marta has heard from her sister sporadically during the 23 years she had been gone. She can’t even imagine what she has lived through. She only knows that her sister has survived at least one kidnapping, and been in and out of therapy.
“A person who is not informed, does not see. Our level of education does not provide us with the orientation to know how to defend ourselves. The Jesuit Migrant services has helped here in the community, they have been angels, helped us to know our rights. Information about safe houses and the rights of migrants should really be played on the television so everyone, especially children, hear it.
Most women leave to be able to take care of their sick parents, or because they have been abandoned and are single mothers. We have the right as women to find a way to make a living.
The poor in this country never are able to lift their heads, we fish around for food instead of ever really eating. The price of electricity goes up, the price of water goes up, the price of food goes up, but salaries never increase. No poor person makes enough to provide what the government defines as our basic needs. We wouldn’t leave if we had a dignified salary.
We all support each other. We are not daughter of the same mother, but we are all daughters of God. These difficulties have brought us together and we are thankful at least for that.”
“The negative thing about the United States is that they don’t give visas. My son applied but didn’t get it so he had to go as he did [undocumented]. They are very closed off… I haven’t heard from my son in six years.”
In 2005, Roberto’s brother went with a group of community members who migrate yearly to El Salvador to cut sugarcane. From there he decided to continue north, with the goal of reaching the United States.
“He called from El Salvador saying he had tried to cross the U.S. border and been arrested, beaten, and deported back to El Salvador. We heard from him one last time after he tried to cross again. He said that he had been caught a second time at the border, and was heading home. We never heard from him again.”
Carmen’s son grew up in Costa Rica where he was able to get an education and graduate from high school. She told me he decided to go to the United States to find the American dream. We asked her what the American Dream means to her.
“You know, to have job security and be able to help your family.”
Suyapa de Socorro
“My hope, my only hope, is that I find him. But we are going also for all of the mothers. If a son is in jail we can give his parents a number to call. If the sons and daughter give us the name of a town, we will look for their mothers. We will tell the sons and daughters not to be afraid to contact their parents, not be ashamed. We understand the pain of their mothers, not knowing the fate of their children.”
Maria Eugenia’s daughter went missing nine years ago. She believes she was a victim of human trafficking. Maria Eugenia is caring for her daughters two children, who were only 11 months old when she disappeared. This is Maria Eugenia’s second time participating in the caravan.
“As a mother, until my last day I will keep looking to find whether she is dead or alive; I hope she’s not dead. It’s a pain that consumes me…I feel more hopeful and stronger with the support of the other mothers and the Jesuit Migrant Services, because it’s not just my case, there are thousands, every day…In the last caravan a Honduran woman found her daughter 20 years later, so why can’t we have hope?”
“On the caravan there will be both beautiful things and painful things.”
Our team member based in Honduras will be meeting with Honduran families who will be participating in the caravan before they depart for Mexico and we will also talk with the families upon their return. Please stay tuned for the next parts in this series.