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Post #4 — We Would Give Them Food, If They Asked

12/18/2018 10:09:57 AM


By the time the meal is served, the room is beyond packed — a clear violation of fire codes, if such a thing exists in Nogales, Sonora.  As rabbis, we’re only just so-so as food service workers, but we get the job done. I’m on drink duty.  It’s my job to serve “agua,” which is nothing more than red Kool-Aid.  I bounce around from table to table, eager to pour out the sugary water, to fill up my charges with something.  I say the few Spanish words I can (¿mas agua? ¡por supuesto!), make faces at the toddlers, pantomime pouring the pitcher into my mouth, generally try to keep things light.  These folks could use some laughs, I figure.  I’m happy to be their clown.

It’s as the meal winds down, and the room begins to clear, that we get to hear the stories of the migrants.  With the help of a translator, I strike up a conversation with a man named Paulo*, and his two children.  Paulo lived in the Salvadoran countryside, tending a tiny plot of land with three cattle; he tells us the all-too-common story of mafia extortion.  When he was unable to pay the thugs, they came for Paulo’s father, murdering him.

I ask Paulo what he remembers about his father, and he tells me, “He taught me to work hard, and be good to everyone.”  An awkward silence follows.  Paulo is a quiet man, but the distress on his face is clear.  “Why did they have to take?” he wonders, addressing nobody in particular.  “We would give them food, if they asked.”

Many of the migrants express deep and profound faith in God.  Despite everything, they’ve survived their harrowing journeys.  I wonder, out loud, if Paulo ever gets mad at God.

“Sometimes I get angry, and I wonder — why us?”  His voice trails off.  “We'll see if God touches hearts, and we can make it to the United States.”

The room where we talk is a quarter of a mile from the United States.


What would it take for you to leave your home?  What would your life have to be like?

Following the afternoon meal, we talk with Lucia*.  She and her family have come here from Acapulco.  For me, the name conjures up images of beach vacations and Price is Right prize packages.  These days, Acapulco is no paradise.  Lucia and her family have escaped a city rife with violence, both physical and emotional.

She describes a place where violence — and the threat of violence — are ever-present.  Lucia is a hairdresser.  Leaving work one day, Lucia describes being surrounded, at gunpoint, by local gangsters.  Even when they do not commit violence, the threats serve to establish a hold on their turf.  A fearful community is a compliant community.

Like many other migrants we meet, Lucia describes police and military forces who turn a blind eye to this violence or, sometimes, cooperate with the mafia.  Lucia’s girls sit with her as she tells us her story, weeping.  At this point, she is afraid to send her girls to school.  Schoolgirls are routinely cornered by the mafia, who grab them and forcibly cut off their hair — or worse.

One day, Lucia and her girls came upon a severed head in the street.

A colleague asks Lucia what she told her daughters, especially the younger one.  She lied.  She told her it was a hairdresser’s mannequin head, like mama uses. 

“But kids are smart,” she says.  “They know.”

Lucia has a relative in New Jersey, waiting (and praying) for the family to join them. In previous years, having a relative in the US would greatly ease entry into the States.  These days, all bets are off.

I ask Lucia what she hopes for.  She says she wants her girls to be able to go outside.  “I keep them in.  Just go to school and back.  It’s not safe,” she says.

“I would love one day for them to be able to dress up and go to a party.”



Sun, May 29 2022 28 Iyyar 5782