Recently I took in a series of four films that brought me witness to a 2,000 mile journey undertaken by over 160,000 hopeful men, women and children every year. They departed from El Salvador, Honduras and the far southern Mexican state of Chiapas, traversing hundreds of miles of open country while perilously perched atop a freight train, to the edge of the Rio Bravo/ Rio Grande and across to great expanses of Texan dessert, a portion of the journey which in itself would take four, five, maybe six days to cross. After this odyssey the travelers must be wary of immigration officers, conmen and thieves. Some came to support their families, some to be reunited with them. Perhaps they will find work. Others came to escape, from the law of their homelands, from its criminal elements, perhaps both. It was a fascinating journey as well as an emotional one. Along the way I was given a perspective of the immigration debate that is ignored more often than not. That being the experiences and hopes of the immigrants themselves, the individuals most involved in the debate, but who are heard from the least.
If that is a perspective that you might also be interested in, I urge you to check out these movies. Here’s the first in the series; watch for the rest later this week.
Sin Nombre (Nameless)
Sin Nombre is a fictional film about youths travelling across Mexico by train, illegally. There are many films that describe some of methods and also the dangers of crossing America’s southern border, but it was not until I had seen this film that I considered how a poor traveler, often as not coming from Mexican states that are distant from the border or maybe even they have come from countries further south such as Honduras or Guatemala, how does such a traveler cross the distance of Mexico itself. In this case it is the railway that provides a means of free travel, however for the young people in this movie hopping a train does not mean finding an empty box car and hiding until the iron house begins chugging down the rails. It seems that Mexican authorities have made the cars inaccessible leaving the migrants one option for a free ride, sitting on top of the railroad cars themselves. Without shelter from wind or rain, heat or the freezing nights they sit atop the cars, bouncing down the tracks and watching out for branches, bridges or other low obstacles that would brush a body right off of the train and under the steel wheels. There is constant danger of this. Someone must also stay awake through the night watching for obstacles. They are afraid to fall asleep for fear of falling off the cars or worse, between the cars. For people with no money and a strong desire to get closer to the U.S. border, this is sometimes seen as the only option.
The film itself is excellent. Two teenagers from two very different, yet neighboring homelands meet on the train traveling north. Sayra leaves her home life in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Willy or “El Casper” is from the far southern Mexican state of Chiapas. El Casper is hunted by his former gang members, whom he has offended and now he must keep a wary eye trained for members of Mara Salvatrucha, the gang which he had so recently considered to be his family. El Casper knows the train lines and though recognized by the other passengers as a gang member which keeps them at a careful distance, they also recognize the valuable resource he is in helping them not only in staying on the train without being spotted by bulls, or railroad guards, but also how to survive on top of the train. Sayra comes from Honduras travelling for far northern New Jersey to be reunited with her family. It is clear that Sayra is not a street survivor like El Casper .These differences in origin’s departed from, the relatively stable family life Sayra has left behind and the life threatening circumstances of Willy’s presence on the train illustrate the desperate and varied circumstances that drive someone to make the dangerous journey by train.