In a distant country, Erick daydreams - #MigrantsDay

In a distant country, Erick daydreams - #MigrantsDay
Author: 

Story based on the testimony of Erick Galeas, a returnee.

The outbound journey

The heat was suffocating, as if the breaths of fresh air had forgotten that point in the world, where an immense dryness permeated every corner. The ground burned, the sun gave no truce. And this was no small matter: Erick hated the heat, which only made him feel tired and weak.

On those long days with his skin so exposed to the sun, he would try to find some place in the shade to relax for a little while, alone with his thoughts. It may seem absurd, but at that moment, instead of worrying and being overcome by fear and agitation due to the long-awaited trip, the only thing he could think of was that sweater that he intended to buy once arrived in the United States. He wanted to live in a cold place, this was clear to him, to buy a lot of coats and scarves, and to have frozen hands. Wasn't that part of the American dream too? To be able to escape that dryness and have a closet full of sweaters?

The city of Tijuana, in Mexico, served as the setting for Erick's mental wanderings. It had been also his temporary residence for almost a month. Residence, not home. Erick had been living far away from home for nine months, since he left Honduras and began his journey: one day in Guatemala, one month in Chiapas, six months in Veracruz, then Ciudad Juárez and now there, Tijuana. Nine long months treasuring the desire to be able to find better economic opportunities and support his family that he left behind, which was enthusiastic about the idea of being able to receive some remittances.

To fight for his wish, Erick had to pay for his trip by working, doing whatever job he could find, often up to sixteen hours a day for a paltry salary. But that was not a time to be discouraged, because the next day Erick was going to cross the Mexican border into the United States, after having paid 7 thousand dollars  to a smuggler who promised to finally take him to his destination. This is how Erick's last trip to the north began: early in the morning, on any given Tuesday.

You may have noticed that Erick's imagination led him to daydreaming very often, and at the beginning of his journey, after months of malnutrition, he was wondering what his first meal in the US would have tasted like. Surely it would have been the most delicious meal of the last nine months, a meal that tastes of success ... And then wham!, his reverie was suddenly interrupted. An immigration police officer instantly nullified all of Erick's efforts, who was arrested shortly after. But that was not the end of his journey; little did he know that he still had six months to spend in detention: first in California, then in Arizona, Ohio, Louisiana, and Michigan. In his fantasy there were no police officers or detainees; however, this was the only image that Erick could capture from the United States.

How angry he felt when the comments of people who said "it is easy to get to the United States" and "it is a matter of one, maximum two weeks" came to mind. The lack of truthful and adequate information had been an accomplice to his misadventure. Erick was tired, disappointed, and alone. He was also afraid, because in the detention centers there were not only migrants seeking a better life, but also some common criminals who intimidated others, exacerbating their feelings of discomfort. For Erick, the only chance for peace was those few minutes of calls that he could share with his family. He told them that he was afraid that the US authorities would deport him to Honduras, and on the 175th day of his arrest, that was precisely what happened.

The return journey 

A bittersweet taste marked Erick's return. Not being able to fulfill his long-awaited American dream made him feel frustrated, almost ashamed and humiliated. His overwhelming sense of failure disappeared for a moment when, after almost a year and a half, he could finally hug his son. "Children grow up so fast," Erick thought. But the little boy was not the only one who had grown up in all that time; Erick had also gone through an enormous process of personal growth, and he had acquired an incredible strength.

Oh, and there was also the Honduran food. That really made his return happy!

It was not easy, it was not quick, but after a long path, on a day like today we can imagine Erick dealing with his daily tasks at his handicraft company in Honduras. His small family-run atelier became a company that sells its products nationwide: souvenir-type crafts that include a large sample of boats, helicopters and airplanes, all made of wood. It is a business that allows him and his family to live with better economic conditions than when Erick decided to venture to the United States.

His work activity was also able to flourish thanks to the help of the IOM (International Organization for Migration), which provided him with the necessary machinery for his work, and also to the CASM (Mennonite Social Action Commission), whose course on entrepreneurship strengthened Erick's management skills. The feeling of frustration that he experienced when he returned to Honduras has been transformed step by step into a feeling of satisfaction and happiness a he saw his business growing and gained greater confidence in himself, in his talent and ability. The training courses and the support provided helped him through a difficult process of return and reintegration, and empowered the young migrant on his return home.

Erick was able to build his economic subsistence and his professional fulfillment in Honduras, and among so many complex and unfortunate stories, this is a story with a happy ending. Even so, from time to time, he cannot help but daydream, thinking about what it would be like to travel to the United States again, this time legally, and stay there, even just for one day: to eat at a different restaurant and buy a thick winter sweater.

 


Returning to the smell of my home cooking - #MigrantsDay

Returning to the smell of my home cooking - #MigrantsDay
Categoria: Return and Reintegration
Autor: Laura Manzi

Story based on the testimony of Sandra Flores, a returnee.

It is all dark, there is no light, and no space. We lack even air to breathe. There is only a small hole, made with a nail, through which a puff of air can pass. And so we keep moving, so that each one can breathe a little for a few minutes: first my daughter, then my son, and finally me. How many hours have we been in this van? It must be more than six, seven or eight. My children offer me food but I don't want to eat. I'm not hungry, and I don't know when I will want to eat again. It's that my stomach hurts so much, it hurts in there. Fear controls me.

What is happening all of a sudden? These contemptuous glances from the people watching us haunt me still today. I could forget the tiredness, the hours spent in the van, but I could never forget these looks. I am afraid and I want to cry, but I have to be brave, lift my head and answer all the questions:

Where do you come from?

Do you have papers?

Are these your children?

"Don't take them away, please!" I managed to say. "I'm not the smuggler, I'm their mother, my name is Sandra." I must have yelled it many times, because my mouth feels dry right away, and the fear that once controlled my stomach now cuts off my voice. Meanwhile my daughter holds out her hand to me in a desperate act, because she knows that I cannot hold it; I'm already too far. I try to scream, I want my children to stay with me. But the more I plead with the police, the more I see them disappear.

My scream wakes me up in the middle of the night. With my sweaty forehead and my breath still gasping, I manage to get up to go to the bathroom and wipe my face. Luckily my cry has not interrupted the sleep of my children, who rest in their beds. I need to stay there for a while, looking at them and trying to calm down. It has been three years since we traveled to the United States and were returned here, to El Salvador, and yet these memories still feed my nightmares.

I could go to bed again, it's very early, but I prefer to keep myself busy. I prepare breakfast for my children. Miguel is 16 years old, Elizabeth is 10. This is my family: I am their strength and they are mine. The agitation that the nightmare had caused is slowly fading; cooking calms me down, it is my peace and my therapy. I prepare some beans and fried plantain and also something for lunch: some pupusas with sauce. My kitchen already smells of homemade food, and with the smell I am immediately transported to bygone times, when I was just a child and I had fun cooking with my grandmother Leonor, or Noy, as I affectionately called her. She is the one who taught me everything I know, her way of cooking, her touch and her taste revive in me today. She would show me what she was preparing and I would stare at her. Our moments together were happy times, and delicious too.

I have to cook one meal at a time because I don't have many pots or plates. But I am not complaining, it is already a luxury for me to have what I have now. When I came back after my journey, in 2015, I didn't even have a kitchen. The community here, in Guazapa, helped me a lot. I still feel moved when I think about everything they did for me: they brought me food, they let me heat the water at their homes and they always had words of comfort for me. They encouraged me after an experience as hard as the one I had and they never, ever discriminated against me.

It is morning already. My children wake up and the whole house is filled with vitality. I dress quickly to go to work, today I have to clean and iron clothes at a neighbor's house. That's my job, although sometimes I also work as a cook and sell the food I prepare. On my way to work, I pass by the mayor's office and I can't help but notice a big announcement: it seems that they are going to offer training for entrepreneurs as part of a project for returnees. Down there was a list that indicated all the workshops and courses. I sign up for every course, I believe that it could be an opportunity to learn, grow and maybe see my life change, improve. A new encouragement and hope is just what I need.

Months go by and the courses offered by the mayor's office together with the IOM keep me very busy, but also excited. My dream of having a stable business of my own, of being a cook, is no longer so unattainable. A small griddle and a table were all I had before, but today I have the opportunity to invest in my business project thanks to the support of the project for returnees. So I'm going to buy a refrigerator, a griddle, a blender, pots, pans; everything I need to finally start my business.

I'm going to open my activity in a week. My business will also employ another woman, who will help me prepare the dishes. My son Miguel will help us distribute them; he wants to be involved, he tells me "Mom, I want to be an entrepreneur too." I'm glad to see him happy now, after all we've been through just three years ago. At home we don't talk about our misadventure to the north very often, but when we do, my son always repeats that he would never try to migrate irregularly again.

One last detail that I have not mentioned: my business already has a name, it will be called 'Mama Noy’s Kitchen and Pupusería', in honor of my grandmother. Her example has guided me since I was a child and I want to dedicate this great achievement in my life to her. She has cultivated my talents, and the mayor's office and IOM have turned my skills into a job opportunity. Today I am going to sleep peacefully, and if I cannot erase the dramatic memories of the past, then I will have to replace them, in the future, with some new happy memories.