From south of the border come stories of selfless courage and compassion.
Mexico has had a pretty bad rap in the American media in recent years. “Mexican shoot-out kills 18 as drug violence surges” and “AZ beheading
tied to Mexican drug cartel” and “Evil on the border” are some of this week’s
headlines. But where there is
darkness, there also is light. Even amid the violence and desperation there
spring up courage and compassion, especially in women.
First a good news /
bad news story from Ciudad
Juárez, reputedly one of the ten most dangerous cities in the world. Las
Guerreras de Juárez (The Warriors of Juarez) are a group of ten Mexican bikers
on pink choppers who spend Sundays travelling around Ciudad Juárez lending the
poor a helping hand. Along with words of comfort, they dole out cash,
medicines, food and clothes for unemployed, the elderly, young drug addicts, and
single mothers. By day, the warriors are professional women -- teachers, businesswomen
and travel agents. They’re not fighting drug trafficking, just the misery and
poverty it generates.
Ciudad Juárez is situated across the border from El Paso, Texas. Due to
the war between the drug cartels the city has become a battlefield with more
than 7,000 deaths in the last three years. There is a deficit of compassion and
companionship which Las Guerreras are trying to supplement.
Co-founder Lorenia Granados told the local press that her group was born
two years ago after she and her friends heard that seven youths had been
murdered while they were playing soccer in a piece of open ground. They use
pink motorcycles because it gives them a very feminine tone and makes a compelling
contrast with the appalling violence. Traffickers often carry out their hits
“It is said that after the storm comes the calm. We hope so,” she says. “We
are trying to do something different and we hope that some day peace will come
back to this city”.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that all of the above belongs in
the past tense. A few weeks ago a Spanish newspaper picked up this story and
ran it under the headline “Las Guerreras: Ten bikers who
are challenging the drug-traffickers of Juarez”. Drug traffickers took this
literally, delivered death threats and the group disbanded.
Now for a bad news /
good news story. The bad news is that another group of Mexican women are lending
a hand to Central Americans seeking a better life in El Norte, illegally, of
course. The good news is their selflessness and charity.
Las Patronas take their name from the town where they live: La Patrona,
in the state of Veracruz, about 250 kilometres southeast of Mexico City, a city
named after the Virgin of Guadalupe. Every day trains rush through to the north
of Mexico. They are packed with moscas (flies), men who dream of escaping from
poverty or gangs in Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Panama, Nicaragua,
Belize, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela, or Colombia and crossing into the US.
These people can’t even afford a third class ticket and have to resign
themselves to travel on cargo trains. By the time they reach La Patrona, they
Las Patronas stand next to the railway and pass food and drink bottles
to the outstretched arms of the men as the train rumbles through. You only need
to watch YouTube videos of this to be touched by their cheerful altruism (all
in Spanish, unfortunately).
For more than 15 years, every day these women – about 15 of them, from
teenagers to grandmothers -- have been cooking more than 200 portions of food
every day. It’s just a drop in the bucket, but it brings consolation and a bit
of comfort for those who travel in El Tren de la Muerte
(The Train of Death). Plenty of these men will die before they reach the border.
Others will be deported by Mexican authorities. Others, in desperation, will
join the cartels.
Las Patronas are just ordinary housewives, although they have a website which tells their story. “The people
come shouting out, starving and thirsty, and when we give them food they leave
happy… that is very heart-warming for us and keeps us very cheerful”, says 73-year-old
Lenila Vásquez Albizar.
“I help them because they are human beings the same as us and I don’t
think that I have suffered like they have and that’s why I think they need us,”
says 46-year-old Bernarda Romero Vazquez. “We’re all people and we’re all
needy, but they need it more and if we can keep them from being hungry for one
day, well, that’s what I can do to help,” says 25-year-old Lourdes Romero
The worst of times can draw the best out of people.
Pedro Dutour writes from the capital of Uruguay,