Talk about motivation. That is what Guadalupe Ayala-Arroyo sees in farm work, motivation for achieving a brighter future. “When I go home, I think to myself: See this is why you stay up late and do good on your exams. So you don’t end up here,” she says. “That’s what I tell myself when I’m working there.”
Ayala-Arroyo didn’t always have a permanent home. She and her family would move every two or three months, switching schools each time, to follow the harvest up and down central California. This pattern lasted until she was in middle school. At that point, her parents decided to stay put working the brutally hot fields of Coachella Valley.
Since Ayala-Arroyo was 16, she’s been helping her parents pick grapes and strawberries. She’s now 20. During summer breaks, the third-year psychology major at Cal State University Long Beach usually works from sun up to sun down — about 10 to 12 hours a day.
Thanks to the College Assistance Migrant Program [CAMP], Ayala-Arroyo has been able to pursue her degree at CSULB. CAMP provides families like Guadalupe’s with help navigating the university system and its bureaucracy. CAMP’s support has been invaluable, especially since Guadalupe’s parents lack a formal education — her father doesn’t know how to read or write and her mother dropped out in middle school. What once scared them about letting her go to college is a distant memory.
“I was very afraid of you going to college because I had no idea what you were up against. But I know you were intelligent and that you could overcome anything,” her mom confessed in a recent video profile produced by CSULB. “The conferences and workshops helped me let go. They encouraged me to let you fly on your own.”
Watch one of the segments from Guadalupe’s story below:
We love it when someone is going about their day and suddenly become ephemeral celebrities thanks to a photographer who was there in the right place at the right time. Such is the case of a Mexican mariachi who was immortalized while he was walking amidst a snowstorm in the city of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Latin American musicians, mainly Mexicans and Peruvian folk singers, have migrated all around the world and make a living showcasing the cultural richness of their countries. They often have to survive for years as street performers, but many of them have found a way to build a musical career from scratch. It is common to see mariachis and Andean musicians in squares and plazas all around the world, particularly in Western European cities such as Madrid and Paris.
So this is the photograph that made its rounds in social media and turned this mariachi into an online celebrity.
Just look at him, super regal walking as if he was strolling down the streets of Durango or San Miguel de Allende. There is a mythical quality to the photo. The way that he is carrying his guitar case reminds us of Antonio Banderas in Desperado. His gaze, serenely looking at the snow-covered floor, is reminiscent of old Westerns. But above all his white and red mariachi suit makes a perfect contrast with the environment. The onlookers on the background also give this great image a bit of drama. We just want to print and frame it, eh!
The image reminds us of the work of great photographers of the seemingly mundane such as Henri Cartier-Bresson or the Mexican great Manuel Alvarez Bravo. The photo was captured by photographer Cameron Frazier during a shooting to promote the 17th anniversary of this mysterious mariachi’s band… Yes, we know you want to find out who he is and we are keeping you en suspenso!
But who is this mysterious mariachi?!
When the photograph became viral due to its mythical quality, the question was who on Earth was this amazing musician. Well, his name is Alex Alegria and he has Oaxacan heritage. He has a mariachi band called Los Dorados and he has been living in Canada for 23 years. He has employed non Mexicans in his mariachi band, showing that music is universal and that when there is passion involved it doesn’t matter where you are from. Everyone owns music, right?
Alex arrived in Canada when he was only 20 years old as an international student. But he decided to stay and has made the Pacific coastal town of Vancouver his home. He plays with his band twice a week in two restaurants. He discovered his passion for mariachi music when he became a street performer, as Mexico Desconocido found out. He used to work in a factory and was at risk of depression, but Mexico’s most famous musical genre helped him regain his passion for life and improve his mental health. His band is made up of 12 musicians, only three of which are Mexican. The rest come from Canada, Poland, South Korea, Taiwan, Ukraine and China.
Such a diverse group! We love it! They have played in various consulates and embassies in the United States and Canada. And the white and red colors on the mariachi suit? You guessed it: they are an homage to the Canadian flag. This is a great example of the wonders that can happen when multiculturalism is promoted and celebrated, as is the case with Canada and its inclusive migration policies from which a lot of Global North countries could learn.
You might not be aware, but there are professional mariachis all around the world.
In the United States one only has to Google “mariachi near me” to find multiple listings. European cities are the same: mariachis are constantly sought after to play at parties, embassy events and all sorts of social gatherings. Even as far as Australia there are Mexicam musicians who have migrated and made a living out of singing classic tunes like “El Rey” and “La Puerta Negra.”
As Hector Patricio, founder of Fiesta Viva in Sydney, explains: “Traditional mariachi is a type of music that is strong, loud, and represents us as Mexicans. It is joyful and sad at the same time. People in Australia love it. 80% of my bookings are made by white Australians. We work with the best talent agencies. Mariachi music brings happiness and sadness together. We even play at funerals. We migrate to work hard, we always find a way to make things happen. Us Mexican migrants are constantly tested and we have to make it happen through hard work and dedication.”
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The recent geopolitical crisis derived from migration to the United States and how detainees are treated by the U.S. authorities at detention centers and in courts has produced some really harrowing stories. Journalistic narratives of the U.S. southern border are full of despair, some slivers of hope and plenty of solidarity from activists and some voices in Washington. Yet, migrants keep dying under U.S. custody at a fast rate. The number of casualties is increasing and some point to the conditions of detention and provision of basic services for migrants.
A 32-year-old man from El Salvador died in front of his 11-year-old daughter.
The first question that pops into our heads is whether these deaths are preventable. Reports from U.S. detention facilities are increasingly Dantesque and speak of a true humanitarian catastrophe. The most recent death is horrific. As The Independent reported on August 2, 2019: “A 32-year-old Salvadoran man who was travelling with his 11-year-old daughter has died at a border detention center in New Mexico.” Rest in peace Marvin Antonio González from El Salvador.
Marvin Antonio González had been taken by the U.S. Border Patrol.
Like many of his compatriotas, González was fleeing unprecedented levels of violence in El Salvador, where the Maras and other gangs rule under an iron, bloody fist. USA Today reports: “The man had been taken into custody by Border Patrol agents at about 9 p. m. Wednesday and was being processed at the Lordsburg station Thursday morning ‘when he fell into medical distress,’ U.S. Customs and Border Protection said in a statement”
Back in July Mexican Pedro Arriago-Santoya also died while in custody.
González’s death echoes far too many similar cases in recent months. As Kristin Lam wrote in USA Today: “In custody since April, Arriago-Santoya told immigration authorities he felt stomach pain on July 20, leading a nurse practitioner to send him via ambulance to a hospital in Cuthbert. Medical staff suspected he had gall bladder disease, ICE said, and, the next day, sent him to the hospital where he died for surgery consultation”.
And also a Nicaraguan man, and a Honduran, and a Cuban have died in U.S. custody.
After a terrible and dangerous journey, and in dire conditions in detention facilities, some migrants’ bodies simply give up. A 52-year-old man from Nicaragua died in a Border Patrol facility in Tucson back in July. This is the same fate suffered by a Honduran 30-year-old on June 30. As reported by CNN: “Yimi Alexis Balderramos-Torres entered ICE custody on June 6 and less than two weeks later was transferred to the Houston Contract Detention Facility in Houston, Texas. On June 30, he was found unresponsive in his dormitory and attempts to revive him were unsuccessful, ICE said”.
Casualties tell stories of despair from around the world.
But Mexico and Central America are not the only places where migrants are being mourned. Other detainees to die in ICE custody since November 2018 include a 58-year-old Cuban man; two Russians, a 40-year-old man and a 56-year-old man; a 54-year-old Mexican man; and a 21-year-old Indian national. Also a 25-year-old Salvadoran transgender woman, Jonathan Alberto “Johana” Medina Leon, who died in the agency’s custody in early June.
This was ICE’s response: se lavan las manos, como quien dice.
Even though some members of Congress and a few journalists have witnessed the conditions of these detention facilities, ICE tends to be hermetic. ICE released a statement upon Arriago-Santoya’s death, saying: “ICE is firmly committed to the health and welfare of all those in its custody and is undertaking a comprehensive agency-wide review of this incident, as it does in all such cases. Fatalities in ICE custody, statistically, are exceedingly rare and occur at a small fraction of the rate of the U. S. detained population as a whole”. Still, one death is a death too many!
Some minors have also died, and this is just not okay.
Let’s get this straight: for many, illegal migration is the last attempt at keeping oneself and one’s family safe. CNN reported on another sad, painful death back on July 18: “One of the migrants was a 16-year-old Guatemalan boy who died while being held in custody by US Customs and Border Protection. He was diagnosed with the flu after complaining about feeling poorly. An official with the agency said that Border Patrol agents picked up Tamiflu, the prescribed treatment. But later he was found unresponsive at the Weslaco Border Patrol Station in Texas, although his cause of death is still unknown”.
Critics have slammed the current administration for the condition in which migrants are kept in detention centers.
Migrant deaths are a thorny political issue and will surely influence the 2020 presidential elections. Members of the media are blasting the Trump administration over the crisis. Renee Graham wrote for The Boston Globe on July 10: “It’s well documented how hard life is in these camps, but his base doesn’t care how cruelly children and their families are treated because they refuse to see them as human. When a child in US custody dies — and at least seven have on Trump’s watch — the typical response is: ‘Well, they had no business coming here.'”
President Donald Trump claims that reports are greatly exaggerated.
As reported by Katelyn Caralle over at Mail Online: “Donald Trump claims the media is over exaggerating the overcrowding and poor conditions at migrant detention centers on the U.S.-Mexico border.’The Fake News Media, in particular, the Failing @nytimes, is writing phony and exaggerated accounts of the Border Detention Centers,’ Trump posted in a thread of three tweets Sunday afternoon. ‘First of all, people should not be entering our Country illegally, only for us to then have to care for them. We should be allowed to focus on United States Citizens first.'” What do you think, mi gente?
Particular populations, such as transgender individuals from Central America, are particularly vulnerable, and legislators are urging ICE to protect them.
The unprecedented levels of violence in Central America have led some transgender women to try to settle in the United States, and so far authorities have not been able to cater to their specific needs. Sires wrote in a statement: “I am deeply disturbed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s policies and treatment toward transgender asylum-seekers. Transgender individuals fleeing the Northern Triangle do so as a last resort to escape the violence and persecution they face back home. Those who seek asylum deserve to have their requests taken seriously and to be treated humanely and fairly by U.S. authorities.” Further, in a letter to ICE Acting Director Mark Morgan, Sires wrote: “In El Salvador, at least seven transgender women were killed in a five-month period in 2017. In Honduras, at least 97 transgender people have been murdered since 2009. And in Guatemala, five transgender women were killed in a two-month span in 2016. In such precarious situations, many transgender people are left with no other options but to flee their countries”. Sires was joined by Representative Frank Pallone, Jr., Chairman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, and 32 other members of Congress in signing the letter.