Feb 3rd 2010: The remittances that Mexican migrants send home to their families from a recession-bound US has dropped by 14 per cent over the last year. Adam Thomson visited the small town of Sengio in the Mexican state of Michoacan to see how families and local businesses are being affected by the drop off in funds. Filmed and produced by Deborah Bonello for the Financial Times.
Central American migrants have long passed through Tultitlán on their way north to the United States because the trains on which the migrants ride north pass nearby.
The mayor of Tultitlán says the number of migrants arriving has increased over recent months and wants them deported, but local activist Paty Camarena continues to fight for their rights.
The Canadian Embassy in Mexico City’s posh Polanco neighbourhood has been descended upon by thousands of Mexicans since the Canadian government announced on Monday that Mexican nationals now need a visa to travel to Canada.
Since Tuesday, Mexicans from Mexico City and states outside of the Federal District (another name for the capital) have been lining up around the block clutching envelopes and bundles of documents that they need to apply for the new visa. It’s up to the officials at the Canadian embassy to decide who qualifies and who doesn’t.
Much like the visa process Mexicans who want to visit the United States have to go through, they need to convince embassy officials that they only plan to visit, that they have enough money to do so, and that they won’t overstay their approved period of time in the country.
I spoke to many of the people lining around the block yesterday morning. They were, generally speaking, a very well-heeled, middle class bunch. All of those that I spoke to had already booked their flights when the Canadian government introduced the new visa restrictions.
The Canadian government explained on Monday that the new visa restrictions were in response to a surge in refugee applications from Mexican nationals. Reading between the lines, the new visa restrictions were in response to an increase in what they judge to be fraudulent refugee applications from Mexican nationals. As the news release stated:
In 2008, more than 9,400 claims filed in Canada came from Mexican nationals, representing 25 per cent of all claims received. Of the Mexican claims reviewed and finalized in 2008 by the Immigration and Refugee Board, an independent administrative tribunal, only 11 per cent were accepted.
The Canadian authorities have their reasons, but what still seems odd to me is that they should announce the new visa restrictions just two days before they came into force, throwing thousands of Mexican travelers into panic and dumping an enormous workload onto the embassy staff here in Mexico City. The usual working hours for visa issues is 8am to 1pm but staff have been working into the early evening over the last few days to cater to the demand for the new visa.
Watch the video for more on how Mexicans feel about the new visas.
Video by Deborah Bonello, created for the Los Angeles Times.
Traffic on Mexico City’s Paseo de la Reforma was blocked briefly last Friday afternoon by an actor in the role of Jesus.
Wearing a long white robe over jeans and sneakers and carrying a cross fashioned roughly out of wood, ”Jesus” took a tumble on a pedestrian crossing on the traffic artery in front of the U.S. Embassy while on his way to Calvary Hill.
But Friday’s performance wasn’t part of Mexico’s traditional Semana Santa (Easter week) activities, which are now in full swing. The depiction of the crucifixion of Christ in the tradition known as the Stations of the Cross, or Via Crucis, had a cross-border purpose.
Organized by pro-immigration activists, the street performance depicted Jesus as a Mexican migrant, and as the actor walked around dragging his cross, others wearing T-shirts emblazoned with ICE (U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and INM (Instituto Nacional de Migracion, Mexico’s national migration agency) flogged him from behind shouting, “Walk, wretch, walk!”
One of the organizers was Elvira Arellano, who shot into the spotlight in both the United States and Mexico in 2006 after she took refuge in a Chicago church to avoid being deported back to Mexico. Click here to read more about Arellano’s case.
Arellano was eventually deported, leaving behind her 10-year-old son Saul, who was born in the United States after she had crossed the border illegally from Mexico.
“It’s very sad that the migration policies treat us as though we were basically terrorists or criminals,” Arellano said in an interview after the protest.
“We’re just families looking for a better life. We want to live better and we all believe we have the right to look for work opportunities. Unfortunately, we don’t find those opportunities here in Mexico, which is why we go looking for those opportunities in the United States.”
Arellano, who was accompanied by protesters carrying signs that said “Stop the Deportations” in English and Spanish, implored Mexican as well as U.S authorities to show more respect for migrants’ human rights. As we reported last year, tens of thousands of Central Americans traverse Mexico illegally each year on their way to the U.S. border. Migrants have been maimed or killed hopping aboard freight trains. Others are robbed or raped.
Often, they are arrested and held in squalid cells or denied medical care. In hundreds of cases, Central American families never hear from their relatives again.
“Mexico’s National Migration Institute is complicit with the U.S immigration authorities because here in Mexico they ignore the rights of migrants who come from Central America,” Arellano said.
Thousands of Mexicans and Central Americans cross the U.S. border with Mexico illegally every year.
See the video for more.
Image: A Mexican man playing the role of Jesus takes a tumble in front of the U.S embassy Friday during a street theater performance depicting Jesus as a Mexican migrant. Click here for more images on Flickr.
“Los Que Se Queden” (Those Who Remain) scooped the prize for best Mexican documentary at the closing of last week’s Guadalajara International Film Festival.
The film, which we featured on La Plaza on Friday, was made by Mexican directors Carlos Hagerman and Juan Carlos Rulfo and is an intimate study of the families and homes left behind in Mexico by the migrants who head north.
Gerardo Tort’s road trip movie, “Viaje Redondo” (Roundtrip), also featured on La Plaza last week, was awarded the prize for best Mexican fiction feature. One of actresses who stars in the picture, Teresa Ruiz, who plays Lucia, won the best actress prize in the category.
“La Teta Asustada” (The Milk of Sorrow), a Peruvian film by director Claudia Llosa, won the prize for best Iberoamericano fiction feature. Magaly Solier, who stars, won the prize for best actress in the category. The film is about a young woman who had been born as a result of her mother’s rape.
For a full list of winners at this year’s Guadalajara International Film Festival, go to their web page here.
See the video for a review of “Los Que Se Queden” (Those Who Remain).
“I’m always telling Marcos, when he left my hair was black and now it’s as gray as the Orizaba volcano.”
Juanita often sits outside the small and humble home that she shares with her husband Pascual in the Mexican state of Puebla. She thinks of her children as she sews. Three out of eight of her brood are living in the United States, where they have been for the last eight years. Life goes on without them, but for Juanita and Pascual — who eke out a modest living on their small farm -– it has never been quite the same since the children left.
“We’re getting on. There’s no turning back the clock. We spend our time thinking about our children … about how far away they are,” says Juanita, speaking to the cameras directed by the Mexican duo Juan Carlos Rulfo and Carlos Hagerman in “Los Que Se Quedan,” or “Those Who Remain.”
The focus on the issue of migration that we see in the movies tends to focus on the treacherous journey that so many Mexicans and Central Americans make across the border to the United States, or what life is like once they get there. The homes and families that those migrants come from are usually just a jumping-off point for filmmakers, but Rulfo and Hagerman chose to stay at the point of departure to see how those who remain deal with their reduced numbers.
“It’s kind of the Ullyses, and we wanted to make the Penelope story, about the people who stay behind and wait,” Hagerman said in an interview during this year’s Guadalajara International Film Festival, where “Those Who Remain” was competing in the Mexican documentary section.
But the film is barely a documentary. “It’s a movie,” emphasizes Rulfo, and it features such strong characters that the directors could not have asked for more had they been casting a feature film.
Viewers are spared the well-intentioned preaching common in so many Mexican documentaries.
“We didn’t want this film to say ‘don’t go’ or ‘go’, because who are we to judge what the people do?” Hagerman said.
The directors spent 11 months with more than a dozen Mexican families, living in their homes, observing their lives and getting a sense of their realities.
“Maybe the people who leave the country are always thinking about the relatives they left behind … but the feeling is very strange — it’s like the absence of your deepest, deepest whole,” Rulfo said.
“Those Who Remain” is about absence, broken families and unworked fields, about survival, identity, love and relationships. The film won’t just speak to Mexican migrants living in the United States, but to any family, from anywhere in the world, split by migration.
“There are a lot of very small things that you have in your mind that you remember all the time when you’re out of your own country. And nobody knows that. So that’s the basis of the kind of feelings that we’re trying to express to the audience,” Rulfo said.
Hagerman adds: “It’s those little things — it can be a taste, or a smell, or the way your grandmother made lemonade. These are the little things that you miss when you’re away from your own country.
“By staying with the families through their everyday lives it’s like we’re witnessing the little things for the ghosts that are over there [on the other side of the border]. It’s the things that they are missing and would like to be a part of.”
The intimacy that the directors capture in the film, in terms of people’s feelings as well as the relationships they have with their loved ones, is what gives “Those Who Remain” its poetic tone — a tone enhanced by a music score by Cafe Tacuba, among others.
But that intimacy also presented the directors with their biggest challenge.
“When you’re doing a documentary with real characters, it affects you, what happens to them. It’s a big responsibility, and that’s a big challenge, because it moves you,” says Hagerman.
At the time of this writing, Hagerman and Rulfo were looking for a distribution deal in the United States.
If shown in the U.S., “Those Who Remain” will be a sweet, if painful, reminder to the millions of migrants living in El Norte of what they left behind. But it also has the potential to inform audiences about what drives the millions of migrants north in the first place.
The music of Mexico’s drug trade has taken a beating lately. As we reported from Tijuana last year, some radio stations south of the border have stopped playing the songs and promoters have banned the music from many public events. Nightclub owners ask bands to turn down narcocorrido requests.
Richard Marosi wrote: Narcocorridos still draw legions of fans, despite government
efforts to squelch the music. Calor Norteña played the song about
Villarreal only because of repeated requests from hard-drinking
bar-goers. But it was a momentary exception to a backlash that has
succeeded like none before in changing people’s attitudes toward the
music, say members of several bands, nightclub owners, concert
promoters and government officials.
They describe a growing dislike, even revulsion, for music that critics
say celebrates the people terrorizing a community that has suffered at
least 207 violent deaths this year. Attendance at narcocorrido concerts
has dipped; bands say audiences request the music less and less,
preferring dance and romantic tunes that take their minds off the
But Mexican artist Cristina Rubalcava wasn’t put off by the controversy. After writing a song for los Tigres Del Norte about the controversial 670-mile fence project along the U.S.-Mexico border, she got to listening to some of the band’s narcocorridos and created a mural that illustrates phrases from more than 40 of their canciones. Watch the video for more.
In El Alberto, a small village over 1000km from the border between Mexico and the US, tourists can pay to experience what it’s like being an illegal migrant. MexicoReporter.com accompanied the Guardian’s Jo Tuckman to film the video for her piece on the fake border crossing, where participants try to enter “America”.
Mexico City’s Museo de la Ciudad is playing host to a photojournalism exhibition — Expofotoperiodismo — that features nearly 50 photos from 2008. You can see some of the images featured in the show in the above slide show.
All images appear courtesy of the Museum de la Ciudad, and the show runs until April 19th.
Rosa Jimenez, a 26-year-old Mexican woman, could currently be serving a sentence of 99 years in a Texas prison for a crime she didn’t commit, according to Lucía Gajá, 34, the young Mexican director of the documentary “Mi Vida Dentro (My Life Inside).”
The film takes aim at the United States criminal-justice system and its treatment of Mexican undocumented female migrants. It is told through the case of Jimenez, who crossed illegally into the United States when she was 17 years old. Clearly on the side of the defendant, the film combines the words of Jimenez, her defense lawyers and the prosecution to lay out what ends up a chilling depiction.
“Mi Vida Dentro” debuted in Mexico last week in cinemas across the capital, and is the first feature-length film from Gajá, who is a graduate of CUEC, the cinema program of the Autonomous National University of Mexico. It’s also the first Mexican documentary to be distributed by Ambulante, the film festival created by two of Mexico’s most bankable stars, Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna, in 2006.
Gajá said that the film was an attempt to broaden the discussion about immigration in Mexico and the U.S, which she felt focuses on border crossings, the deaths of migrants en route and Mexican men sitting on death row.
“I felt that it was necessary to talk about the women who cross over, and also what it’s like for a Mexican woman to be in a prison in the U.S.”
“They lose contact with their families and many [of their families in Mexico] will never be able to get a visa to visit their daughters in prison.”
During the filming of the documentary, the young filmmaker saw what she calls the “double incarceration” of Mexican female migrants in U.S prisons caused by a lack of knowledge of the language and culture as well as isolation from their families.
“When women are in that maximum security prison they are only allowed one five-minute phone-call every six months,” says Gajá.
Brian Gutierrez, a two-year-old child, died when he was under Jimenez’s charge one afternoon in 1999. The young boy choked on a wad of paper towels.
Jimenez says that the first she knew of the incident was when the child approached her in the kitchen of her small apartment in Austin, his hands around his neck and his face red, suffocating.
The prosecution lawyer in the case, Alison Wetzel, on the other hand, argues that the boy’s death was a homicide and accused Jimenez of “holding him down” and stuffing the paper towels into his mouth.
Gajá’s account of events after the boy’s death is compelling and, from material presented in the documentary, viewers are drawn to share her conclusion: Jimenez is serving time for a crime she didn’t commit.
Some of the most damning footage is that of Texas forensic specialists and a police detective testifying in court during Jimenez’s trial. All report that there was no physical trauma to the dead boy’s face or neck that would have been there had Jimenez tried to stuff his mouth with paper towels. But when asked their opinion by the prosecution, all three say that they think the death of the boy was no accident and that Jimenez was responsible.
“Mi Vida Dentro” is activism through film in the same vein as movies such as Bajo Juarez, released last year here in Mexico. It follows, therefore, that the film is subjective. For example, the prosecutor is given no on-air time (the director said that Wetzel failed to return the many calls she made to her office requesting an interview).
Although the mother and other members of Brian Gutierrez’s family appear on film in court, and express doubts about the conviction of Jimenez, they are not featured in any one-to-one interviews.
Gajá explains: “The mother was very upset because of the loss of her child. I didn’t want to go up to her to ask her more questions.”
The dead boy’s uncle makes a statement to the court after Jimenez has been found guilty. He apologizes to Jimenez and adds that he has his doubts about the verdict.
“I felt that that testimony in some way summarized what he felt about Rosa,” said Gajá.
The film includes numerous interviews with the defendant, her husband, mother and defense lawyers.
The director’s camera style might be jarring for some, and the lens often moves from one character to another in the same take, swinging around searching for its subject before settling.
Regardless, the documentary has wowed critics. It was voted the best documentary at the Morelia International Film Festival here in Mexico in 2007, and was an official selection at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival last year (see the film’s websites for a full list of accolades).
But prizes weren’t at the top of Gajá’s objectives for the film when she started working on it back in the year 2000.
She says that besides seeking to raise awareness of Rosa Jimenez’s case in the United States and Mexico, she had another goal.
“I also want to inform the people here in Mexico who head north…that there are complicated and hard situations that happen to Mexicans over there when they confront a language, culture and law system that they don’t know.
“Really, living in the U.S is very hard for people who don’t speak the language.”
At the time of this interview, Gajá was yet to secure a U.S distribution deal for “Mi Vida Dentro”.
Images:Top – A screen shot from the documentary film “Mi Vida Dentro”. Bottom – Director of “Mi Vida Dentro,” Lucía Gajá, 34. Both images courtesy of http://www.mividadentro.com/.
Edited Jan 23rd 2008, 1030am Nexico City Time. Director’s name changed from Bajá to Gajá.
A group of Honduran men and women came to Mexico looking for their missing loved ones earlier this year. They claim that there are nearly 600 Honduran migrants who are missing in Mexico who disappeared whilst crossing Mexico to get to the United States.
Their visit coincided with a report that was published by Mexico’s federal human rights commission that alleged attacks against Central American migrants trying to cross Mexico were increasing.
Ada Marlen was 17 and already the mother of two children when she set out from her home in Honduras to seek work in the United States. That was in 1989; her family hasn’t heard from her since.
“Nineteen years ago my daughter started her journey, in search of her American dream, and to this day I don’t know anything about her,” said her mother, Emeteria Martinez.
The 70-year-old was among a group of 15 Hondurans who traveled to Mexico recently to search for missing relatives and draw attention to the perils Central American migrants face en route to the United States.
Tens of thousands of Central Americans traverse Mexico illegally each year on their way to the U.S. border. The trek, which can involve perilous journeys by boat and through isolated countryside and mean city streets, often ends unhappily.
Emeteria Martinez, 70, from Honduras holds a photo of her daughter Ada Marlen, who disappeared nearly twenty years ago during a visit to Mexico City. Deborah Bonello / Los Angeles Times
Panting for breath, I waded through cow-pat flavoured mud, struggling to keep myself from slipping in the dark. “Vamanos, vamanos, vamanos!” urged my coyote, the Spanish name for people who smuggle migrants across the border into the United States.
The sound of La Migra’s sirens – also known as United States Border Patrol – sounded out behind me. Hands shaking, I stopped to catch my breath and watched the faces of the other migrants crouched in the dark, breathing heavily.
“We know you’re there,” boomed a crackling voice in English, tinged with a Mexican accent, over the loudspeaker. Gun shots rang out.
“What you’re doing is illegal. We have food and water. We can help you get back home.”
Only, no one wanted to go back home. Everyone was actually having a rather a good time. That’s because this wasn’t for real. We were pretend migrants, trying to cross an artificial border pursued by a fake Border Patrol deep in the Mexican state of Hidalgo for the bargain price of 100 pesos (US$10) rather than the thousands that Mexicans and Central American migrants crossing into the U.S illegally pay their smugglers. (more…)
La Misma Luna, or Under the Same Moon, made its Mexico City debut last week to a full house. The movie, which is the first Latino-centric feature from Fox Searchlight, tells the story of the separation of mother and son against the backdrop of thorny issue of immigration between Mexico and the United States.
The film has divided critics – which can only be a good sign. Your humble correspondent found it an enjoyable film which, although pulls at the heartstrings a little too gratuitously in places, portrays well the strong relationship between mother and son and also brings to a mainstream flick the important and political issue of immigration between Latin America and the United States. (more…)