3 Reasons The Migrant Caravan Is Marching To The United States
Angered by the President’s gross mischaracterizations of the migrant caravan, the Modern-Day Church Lady sets the record straight about why people leave Central America based on her recent travels to Guatemala.
As the migrant caravan moves north, our president is fanning the fires of fear with his gross mischaracterizations of the desperate people banded together for protection. Migrants leave everything behind-friends, family, precious belongings and houses. They walk 10 hours a day for months with little food and water. And now, they face teargas lobbing American troops at the border. But they come anyway to escape a horrific trifecta of poverty-violence-misogyny in their countries.
Last spring, I had the chance to better understand the root causes of the immigration crisis by traveling to Guatemala with an interdenominational church youth group.
Here’s what we found.
Poverty-In Guatemala City, our group listened to Ana Maria Diegyez, the former Guatemalan Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs reel off the depressing statistics:
- 50-60% of Guatemalan’s live in abject poverty
- 45% of children under the age of 5 suffer from chronic malnutrition
- Only 2 out of 10 young people are able to find jobs
Throughout our trip these statistics morphed into real people. We drove by District 18, one of the poorest districts in Guatemala City, where 350,000 people have clawed out places to live on a muddy hillside frequented by gangs. We saw the results of chronic hunger in the bodies of the perilously thin children in the countryside outside of Quetzaltenango City.
The trip engrained a fundamental understanding of the centuries old institutional causes of poverty. I, like many of my fellow Americans, who were brought up to believe in the power of the individual, tend to give short shrift to the institutional causes of poverty, both abroad and in our own country. This trip changed that for me.
During our trip we learned how the roots of today’s poverty in Guatemala stretch all the way back to the arrival of Cortez in 1519. Many of the prominent families who now control Guatemala can trace their roots back to these early conquistadors. These original invaders took most of the land, leaving the indigenous people, primarily Mayans, with very little. And like reverse bank interest, this initial injustice has compounded over time, resulting in the soul crushing poverty we see today.
Violence-While poverty has historically been the main driver of migration to the United States, gang violence is what causes many to leave their country today (great article in The Atlantic on this topic). Often, people leave when a close family member is gunned down. They know they could be next. When migrants say they can’t go back, they are serious. The nephew of one of my church lady friends was killed when he returned to Honduras after being deported from the United States.
There is also a history of institutionalized violence by the Guatemalan Government, often aided by our own US Government. While in Guatemala we met with Mario Domingo, who was the lawyer prosecuting the case of the violent murder of Bishop Juan Gerardi in 1998. Gerardi was murdered after he released a 1,400-page report which concluded that “80% of the atrocities committed during the war were from the Guatemalan Army and its collaborators within the social and political elite.” There is a great page turner of a book written about the murder and subsequent trial, The Art of Political Murder: Who Killed the Bishop.
We read the names of the hundreds of priests killed during this Civil War carved into the church posts at the Guatemala Metropolitan Cathedral. We saw the haunted faces in the missing persons posters plastered on city pavers as a memorial in the center of Guatemala City.
We listened to Carlos Sanchez who was part of the student movement in the 80’s when the violence was at its peak. Carlos spoke about his professors and fellow students who were “disappeared” or whose visibly tortured bodies were dumped in public places as a warning. Read about the organization Carlos helped found honoring his friends.
Misogyny-During our trip we spoke to women of all ages. From Kimberly, a slight quiet young woman, we heard how her grandfather repeatedly told her that it was a waste of money to pay for a girl to study. Crystal, another young woman, told us about her boyfriend badgering her unceasingly with comments like, “Listen Crystal, because you’re in university, you think you’re more than me.”
We worked alongside women in the Wakami collective who were grateful for work they could do at home since in the Guatemalan “macho” culture, women sometimes are not allowed to work outside the home. Misogyny is depriving Guatemala one of the most powerful economic engines of all, women. As the UN researchers have found, “When women work, economies grow.”
Featured Image Source: AP/Ueslie Marcelino/Reuters. Unless otherwise noted, all other photos by the Modern-Day Church Lady