Children riding The Beast
“La Bestia” (The Beast) is an unofficial name applied to freight trains that start in Tapachula, Chiapas, and go to Tijuana, Ciudad Juarez, or Matamoros. These trains have for many years served as the transportation method of choice for poor people of Central America migrating to the United States.
This method of travel has been the subject of many films, both fictional - “Sin Nombre”, “El Norte”, ”The Golden Cage” (Spanish title: “La Jaula de Oro”) and documentary - “Which Way Home”, “The Beast” and “Run For Your Life”.
Over the years, an informal network supporting the migrants has developed. One of the locations is Tequisquiapan, an attractive town of 27,000 people, 30 km. East of Querétaro. The Ferromex tracks run a kilometer east of the town, and the Estancia del Migrante (Stay of Migrants) González y Martínez A.C. has some space in a disused station.
I went to the old station and talked with Martín Martínez Rios to get his views on Central American migration as it exists in November, 2016.
The Estancia del Migrante is providing food, clothing, medical assistance, and moral support to three to four hundred migrants a day. If a train doesn’t stop, the volunteers toss bags containing food and bottled water to the migrants.About half of the migrants are from Honduras, and the rest are from Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and the Mexican states of Chiapas and Oaxaca. Many of them are unaccompanied children.
Traveling as a passenger on a freight train is technically illegal, but Ferromex (owned by Grupo Mexico) and government authorities have reached a truce on this. Ferromex has problems of their own; there has been a recent epidemic of train robberies is the states of Guanajuato and Querétaro.
In the past, there has been some harassment of migrant shelters by police, but the relationship between Estancia del Migrante and the Tequisquiapan police is good.
Mexico’s current immigration policy is friendly toward political refugees, but as for “civil” refugees – people fleeing from poverty, oppressive governments, and organized crime – the policy is “keep moving”.
Riding these freight trains is still dangerous, but according to Martínez, the passengers he sees in Tequisquiapan are in boxcars or open freight cars, as opposed to clinging to chemical cars or closed cars. The primary danger now comes from migrants getting robbed.
Martínez has no further contact with migrants after they leave Tequisquiapan, so he has no idea how many of them are successful in entering the United States, or where they end up.
Estancia del Migrante is funded by donations from people in Tequisquiapan and Querétaro. Donations can be sent to them by PayPal: estancia.migrantegym AT gmail DOT com.
Another “estancia” operation is in Amatlán de los Reyes, Veracruz. The women who run it are known as Las Patronas. An excellent documentary film, “Llévate mis amores” (English title: “All of Me”) was made in 2014. It has been shown in a lot of film fetivals, but has had general release only in Mexico (October, 2016).
Video about the Estancia del Migrante, by Michele Cattani. Spanish only.
Trailer for “Llévate mis amores”.