It’s 8:30am and I’m watching gentle, warm waves roll in a sandy beach that stretches a few hundred yards, bordered by tall, red, rock cliffs. This area is a major spot for fishermen and relaxed surfers. (my latest favorite word: surfiar, to surf). The west coast of Michoacan is an abundant land: fruit and coconut trees have good lives here. But still in this strikingly gorgeous area there is sadness and loss. Everywhere I turn, it seems, I meet someone whose family is leading split lives, ruptured by the militarized border that runs through the desert. There is so much talk of missing loved ones, and I know that this pattern is not restricted to the state of Michoacan but is an endemic situation for millions of Mexicans, Central Americans and South Americans.
Some people I have talked to have actually described deportation as a kind of blessing in disguise. Magdelena, a P’urepecha woman I met in Patzcuaro, said to me: “Even if we’re going to be poorer here, I’m happier because I have family and this is where I am from.” She has hopes of returning to Arizona some day, where she spent seven years and where her husband is currently sitting in jail. Traveling to the United states is an understandably mixed bag, I knew that. I guess I’m surprised at how much severe separation families go through because any single individual who makes the crossing (or gets caught, or never makes it) is connected to family, friends, and community that feels the space left.
The man who drove us from Patzcuaro to Uruapan a couple days ago has most of his family in the United States, including his parents and his kids, and is himself a US citizen. He chose to return to Michoacan because of difficulty finding jobs in the states and to be with an elderly family member. While he wished that his kids enjoyed visiting him more (they are unimpressed and bored with Michoacan), he says he’s happier here, occasionally sending money north. I met someone else who spent close to thirty years in the United States, has a wife and children here, was deported, and seemed almost thankful in some ways. In the 1980s he took a two hour walk from Baja California to California, United States, easily skirting the border patrol at San Diego. Obviously border crossing is much harder now, resulting in hundreds of deaths per year in the desert and mountains. He predicted that by next year it would be impossible to cross illegally…This gave me pause. I have not studied the precise security plans of the border but I know they are getting more high tech and systematic…What will we know as the border in five years? I honestly cannot fathom every aspect, and considering it scares me.