Curiosity filled our heads as we awoke bright and early on our second day in El Paso. Our Guide for the week, Sister Fran advised us that we would be visiting what locals called “Las Colonias.” Las Colonias refers to a “pop up” town in which many undocumented families live.
In the area of El Paso, most of these Colonias offers undocumented immigrants sanctuaries where they can go and not have to worry about being bothered by Border Patrol, the police or any other governmental entity because most of these towns do not officially exist on any governmental document, so in the eyes of the American Government. They do not exist. Another benefit of living in the Colonias is that buying land is cheap in these areas and many families can band together in order to buy a plot of land an accentually build anything they want on this land due to the fact that there are not Zoning laws that dictate what an owner can and cannot do with their land. The downfall of this system is that since the government does not know that these pop-up towns exist. Many families go without having clean drinking water or electricity in their homes, but those are luxuries many families are willing to forgo to live somewhat safely in the United States.
Upon arriving in one Colonia town, my group and I had an opportunity to speak with some of the residents who live there. One of the women explained to us that many of the residents in this particular town were Mexican citizens seeking asylum from all of the violence in the neighboring Mexican city of Juarez where over the last ten years, many people have been kidnapped, trafficked and killed by feuding gangs and drug cartel.
One of the women who I will call Maria for the sake of this story described to us how her husband, father, and uncle were all taken from her home in Juarez Mexico by local gang members who were recruiting men for their personal army. According to Maria. She and her family were having a birthday party for her daughter when some cars pulled up to the house and men jumped out carrying AK-47 assault rifles. The men then rushed into the back yard and held everyone at gunpoint and demanded that all of the men present come with them. When her husband protested, he was struck in the face with the rifle and dragged out of their home. The other men present were told to come quietly, or they would kill them all. Fearing for their lives and the lives of their family. The remaining men complied with the gangs demands and followed them out of the house. Each man was then put on the back of a car, and that was the last time any of them was seen or heard from.
According to Maria, this happened over three years ago. She also noted that went to tell her local police department what had happened. Upon her arrival back to her home she found a noose hanging from her front porch with a note saying that they knew that she had gone to talk to the police and that if she didn’t stay quiet. They would kill her, the men they had taken and her children. It was then that Maria decided that she had to leave Mexico and cross the border into the United States. Over the next few days, she quietly scrapped together money from her savings and friends and family and came up with enough money to hire a Coyote. (A Coyote is hired missionary who assists people in crossing the border. Typically their payments vary in price, but more often than not it is about 3k per person)
Maria was lucky that she found a trustworthy Coyote because it is common for Coyotes to take the money of the people who hire them and to kill them directly after. The process of crossing the border is extremely dangerous for all parties involved and many people do not survive this journey. After hearing Maria’s story, Sister Fran told us that 8 in 10 people who cross the border are sexually assaulted by their hired Coyotes, and many of them may end up being trafficked and sold to brothels, various mines or farms around the globe.
The rest of the day was spend visiting other families who lived in the Colonias. Story after story reflected tales of hurt and pain. Many of the individuals involved were fleeing violence and came to America to start a better life. I had to ask myself. If I were in their shoes and were faced with the same decisions, would I be brave enough to travel to a distant land where there was not guarantee that I would make it to my destination alive.
This trip is giving me a whole new lease on life. Recognizing one’s privilege is a hard pill to swallow, and I am so great full to these individuals for sharing their stories with me
Until Next time. Take chances…make Mistakes…get messy