Migrant Memories Surround the Days of the Dead
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Subject: FNS News: Migrant Memories Surround Days of the DeadNovember 2, 2009
Immigration NewsMigrant Memories Surround the Days of the Dead
For Don Ines Antonio Resendiz, it was the winds of fate that whisked the young Mexican farmer to the United States. Like other residents of the small town of Cerrito in the Costa Grande region of Guerrero state, Resendizs livelihood was shattered when Hurricane Tara tore a path of destruction in November 1961. Stripped of crops and jobs, some residents found relief in the Bracero Program of contract labor between Mexico and the United States.Now 79 years old, Resendiz recently sat down with a Mexican reporter to tell his story. Recruited through the office of the municipal president, Resendiz and other willing hands were sent to the cotton and tomato fields of Hidalgo, Texas, where they earned one dollar per hour in eight-hour daily shifts. The jobs were assigned as renewable, 45-day contracts.Resendiz recalled a hierarchy of labor selection in Texas, with workers from northern Mexico picked first and farm hands from Guerrero and Oaxaca selected last.Decades after his bracero experience, Resendiz, received a social support payment from the Mexican government worth about $3,500. But like many other ex-braceros, the coconut grower does not consider the amount fair compensation for money that was supposed to be saved and returned to braceros upon their return to Mexico.I think it is difficult that the government would pay us the $10,000 that was sent to us from the United States, Resendiz asserted. The government is lying and doesnt like to lose.Of the four men from Cerrito who enrolled in the Bracero Program, only Resendiz is left to recount his migrant memories to a new generation. Other former braceros from the neighboring towns of Tetitlan, Tenexpa, Nuxco, and San Pedro came home, Resendiz said, but some who decided to stay in the United States still havent returned.Across the US-Mexico borderlands, the list grows of migrants who made their way to El Norte and never came back home. And some will never see their families again. With the Bracero Program a fading memory, many of todays migrants undertake risky journeys without papers, even amidst the worst economic downturn to hit the US since the 1930s.In the Paso del Norte border corridor, people of faith and human rights activists celebrate the traditional Days of the Dead celebration on November 1 and 2 by remembering migrants who died while trying to cross the border.In El Paso, Texas, crosses with the names of perished migrants were posted this past weekend on the new border wall that divides the city from Mexico. As is customary, a mass in memory of migrants was scheduled for the fence between Rancho Anapra on the northwest edge of Ciudad Juarez and neighboring Sunland Park, New Mexico.A growing tradition in the United States, Days of the Dead altars are now dedicated to migrants in different cities. At the well-attended annual celebration held at the West Side Community Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico, an altar this year contained the stories of deceased migrants. Viewed by crowds, the commemoration sat alongside another altar of photos erected in memory of the 11 women found murdered on the citys outskirts last February as well as many others who are still missing from the Duke City.According to El Diario de El Paso, the Mexican Consulate in El Paso has registered the deaths of 11 migrants in the El Paso sector during 2009. Nine of the victims were found in the deadly American Canal, while two were recovered in the nearby desert. Of the 11 victims, three remain unidentified. All men, the identified victims were from the Mexican states of Chihuahua, Baja California Sur, Jalisco, San Luis Potosi, and Veracruz.Located in central Mexico and considered the third spot for migrant expulsion in the country, the state of Guanajuato is another place where the memories of deceased migrants strike popular resonance on Days of the Dead festivities, a time when Mexican families gather in cemeteries to honor those who have passed on to another world.According to the state government agency Guanajuato Communities Abroad,
969 people from Guanajuato have died in the United States since 2006. The death toll includes 155 people who perished between the months of January and October of this year. Of the 2009 victims, six died while trying to cross the border, 26 succumbed to automobile accidents, 13 were slain in violent incidents, and 51 passed away from illnesses including heart disease, cancer, strokes, diabetes, and respiratory problems.Returning the bodies of loved ones home is a costly and time-consuming endeavor, with funeral costs alone ranging from three to five thousand dollars. Yet leaving the remains of the deceased north of the border is an unthinkable act for many families.The consolation is giving them burials here, said Luis Vargas, Guanajuato state undersecretary of social development. The peoples traditions are sacred- they want to have them in a community cemetery.
Sources: El Diario de Juarez/El Universal, November 1, 2009. El Diario de El Paso, October 31 and November 1, 2009. Articles by Lorena Figueroa and Guadalupe Felix. La Jornada, (Guerrero edition), October 31, 2009. Article by Rodolfo Valadez.
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