Warriors in pink

From south of the border come stories of selfless courage and compassion.
Pedro Dutour | 10 March 2011
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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 from motorcycles.

“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 are starving.

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 Huerta.

The worst of times can draw the best out of people.

Pedro Dutour writes from the capital of Uruguay, Montevideo.

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