Seventy-two shattered dreams
Carlos, a migrant and three-time deportee, commented to me, “I’ve been there and back, too. I’m a migrant and I want a better future.” Carlos’ brother is one of the 16 Hondurans whose bodies were repatriated on September 1st after being found among the 72 immigrants executed by a drug cartel in Tamaulipas, Mexico, as they neared the border with the U.S.
I couldn’t help thinking of a recent magazine article about 800 expatriate soccer players in Europe and how, according to the author, their story might open doors for other foreign “workers” in this globalized world. It struck me that while many of those athletes were born in the slums of Latin America just like most of the 72 dead migrants, the difference was that their talent made it good business for them to cross borders.
At the same time any number of talented musicians from Peru or Bolivia, artists from Ecuador, craftsmen from Guatemala, farmers from Honduras, or laborers from El Salvador, either die while emigrating towards a better life in the U.S. or survive there with a feeling of well-being thanks to their material gains, but suffering the pain of having been uprooted. They are all migrants just like Carlos who go and return tirelessly, with the conviction that comes from having been propelled from their homes by failing economies. The enormous obstacles make me believe that they won’t have the same luck as those who entertain us with their passes and goals.
All these thoughts came to me while covering the story of Miguel Carcamo, another of the dozens who died with the brother of Carlos in Tamaulipas as they headed north in search of a better life. Miguel and his wife Marleny Suarez had four children, the eldest of whom is Isabel. Before emigrating north Miguel worked with his brother near home, carting sand in a wheelbarrow to sieve by hand and sell to brick factories.
To find them I first called Miguel’s sister Maria, who allowed me into her life in the unguarded manner so typical of victims of injustice whenever journalists appear. She told me to meet her on the corner “where they sell chickens,” and then led me up the side of a mountain to her home. That’s where I met her family and Marleny, without her four children. We spoke of their lives and they showed me photos of Miguel. In spite of their pain they treated me like a distinguished guest.
“Where are your children,” I asked Marleny. In tears, she answered that they stayed at home in El Guante, a village 70 km from Tegucigalpa. “We don’t have the money for them to come too.”
After seeing their family photos we all left in the same taxi to the foreign ministry. They had to sign papers to begin the repatriation of Miguel’s remains and I was looking for other photo opportunities to complete the story. Marleny’s deep sobs resounded inside the taxi. “My husband! Give me back my husband!”
Isabel, the eldest of their children, arrived days later in Tegucigalpa with her siblings. When the immigrants’ bodies arrived on September 1st the whole family was at the airport, including Isabel. Marleny and her four children mourned amidst the smell of 16 decomposing corpses. She had told me that she was just 13 when she met Miguel and that his mission was always to make a better life for them. I sensed at the airport that their children understood that the sacrifice had been for them. The times Marleny had asked him not to leave were always answered with, “I want to give them a better future.”
Miguel’s body finally reached their home in El Guante. The wake was held in a room adorned with plastic tablecloths. So much mud was treaded around that the floor inside merged with the ground outside.
The sound of church bells accompanied the funeral procession and Agua de Florida was abundant to revive anyone who fainted. A relative sustained Isabel, keeping her standing through one of innumerable fainting spells.
Then as I photographed Isabel during one of her spells I noticed several people run to help her, and the moment impacted me. Her mother collapsed simultaneously a distance away. The women to whom Miguel meant so much were consumed by grief.
I moved well ahead of the procession as it advanced towards the cemetery, and suddenly found myself photographing butterflies attracted by the wild flowers growing around other tombs. Finally, Miguel arrived at his resting place next to his mother. His wife, Marleny, draped his favorite pants and shirt on the coffin, as a flag on a soldier’s casket.
Isabel and Marlene asked to see Miguel for one last time, but the rest of the family refused to open the coffin. I saw myself reflected in mirrors standing between the Carcamos, the only one without tears, and I left without disturbing them with goodbyes.
Maybe each of the 72 migrants was talented in some way. Some may have even been professionals. All were migrating for some reason. All had dreams motivated by something like material needs, or dreams of becoming competitive and successful. All of those dreams are now shattered.
View a selection of large format Reuters images on the immigration debate here.