On a day where love (or at the very least roses, chocolates, and consumerism) is being celebrated in many countries around the world, take a moment to think about all of the people you love. The people that make you laugh, that raised you, that wiped your tears away and provided for you; how far would you go for them?
More specifically, how far would you travel for them on the tops of speeding trains through Central America if you thought a safe arrival meant access to the “American Dream?” How far would you journey if it meant you would be reunited with family members who had already risked their lives crossing or to earn money in order to provide for your loved ones back home?
Thousands of children are traveling alone through Central America each year in hopes of crossing the North American border.
“What I think is so incredible about the stories is how dehumanizing the situation is. Whether you’re an adult migrant or a child migrant, once you get into Mexico you have to take that 1500-mile journey just to get to the northern border. There are gangs that kill people, rob people, rape women, kidnap migrants for money. There are all kinds of police corruption. Then there are the dangers of jumping on freight trains and falling under the train wheels. There are people who have to prostitute themselves just to get farther north. People die. In the film, two children are found dead and are brought back from the desert… People are forced into an incredibly dangerous and demeaning situation just to try and find a better life, and that’s unacceptable.”
Rebecca Cammisa, a documentary filmmaker, discusses what struck her most in her research for her documentary on this topic, Which Way Home. You can read her full interview with the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants here.
While I’d like 30 Days of Trains to be entirely stories of inspiration and hope, that is unfortunately not the world that we live in. However, I think that these stories of pain and sorrow are relevant because they almost always occur in the pursuit of hopes and dreams.
Inevitably, American culture is exported constantly to the world through movies, news events, TV shows, and the internet. I even feel guilty at times for my presence in Paraguay as a Peace Corps volunteer, being one more sensationalized exportation of American culture.
The young girls at the train station thumb through my books and ask with wide eyes where I got them from.
“The United States.”
One girl rolls her eyes at the other, “Duh, everything beautiful comes from the United States.”
And even in Paraguay, a country that seems a world away from the train hopping of Central America (or the border cities of the U.S./Mexico that I visited in 2010) and whose citizens are most likely to emigrate to Argentina or Spain, the “American Dream” starts to look pretty shiny from this angle and distance.
There’s plenty of work to be done to revise (If not just getting rid of all together) what the American Dream means in the U.S. and its implications around the globe, but work should proceed on other fronts. Blockbusters will continue to be shipped out to world screens that glamorize the U.S. and don’t alternately show the unemployment, underpaid dishwashers, often inaccessible higher education, crippling student loan debt, and human rights abuses that go unpunished and unprotected without documents, because they don’t make for a cheery storyline.
Countries and their education systems, governments and politicians, health care systems, public spaces, employers, infrastructure, and citizens need to start giving people good reasons to stay. This is obviously much easier said than done. Some goals require sweeping legislation change, others billions of dollars, but a few require just a handful of committed citizens.
I think the Train Station Community Center in Paraguari is one of those projects.
The other day I was sitting in my neighbors yard drawing a Sombrilla del Mar tree into a square of styrofoam to use as a stamp. I told them that it was my favorite Paraguayan tree for the way it’s leaves grow out of the top of the branch, optimistically toward the sun. The mother peered over my shoulder at my design and said, “You can tell Molly’s not Paraguayan because she’s so creative.”
I can’t wait for the day when I walk into the train station and see a Conductor proudly admiring the work of a young girl and remarking, “You can tell she is Paraguayan because she’s so creative.”