Tuesday, December 16, 2014

No human being is illegal

Young adults gather in Nebaj to discuss the issue of migration.

By: Nancy Sabas


¨ Imagine all the people sharing all the world¨
-John Lennon

The Service Week started last week in Nebaj, Quiche with 35 young participants from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, United States and Canada to discuss the causes, effects and alternatives for migration.  
The Service Week is an annual activity that the Mennonite Central Committee for Guatemala and El Salvador organizes by gathering youth from its different partner organizations to discuss an issue of regional importance.  This activity was developed thanks to the support of FUNDAMAYA and MCC through its Connecting Peoples Program.

The causes of migration may be related to political or economic reasons that affect the survival of youth. Migration is very human. It is political and it is a business,” explained Giovanni Batz, Social Anthropologist graduate of the University of Texas, who opened the second day of the event with a presentation on International and Local Migration.

“Currently, it is estimated that 232 million people live outside their country of origin. In Guatemala remittances represented the main source of income surpassing even the coffee category in 2005. People have become a product and migration big business,” Batz said.

Unfortunately, migration has very strong consequences, particularly for those whom are denied access to other countries through the formal system. This causes them to jump into seeking alternatives to make a living. “It is estimated that 60-80% of women migrants to the United States suffer from sexual violence,” Batz explained. “When we speak of immigrants, we must be careful to use terms like 'wetbacks' or `illegals´ because they are very political. They dehumanize people and it becomes easier to accept violence to expel them.”

The first day of the activity included a series of skits where different groups of young people were requested to act out the causes of migration in their urban and rural communities.
“Why do we migrate? Because we want to, or because we are forced to do so?asked Marco Antonio during the discussion with his skit group. Marco belongs to the Tacaná community which is very close to the border between Mexico and Guatemala. “We seek the dream to help our family to get ahead, but we ignore the risks that the road brings. A strong wind blows outside and we leave without shelter,” he added.

The youth discussed in groups the underlying causes that provoked migration. They explored the possibility of consumerism as a reason why young people migrated from their rural indigenous communities. Elias Solis, graduate from the University Ixil, believes that “extreme poverty must be a consequence of historical reasons, since colonization. The Spaniards not only invaded our lands, but influenced our way of thinking. The system has taught us that rural life has no value.” 

Gaspar Cobos, also a student graduate from the Ixil University added,the system brought us the idea of being ashamed of our peasant labor because it is dirty. If you are a farmer, 'you are poor,' even when the small farmers are the ones who produce the food for the country. Small farmers in Guatemala currently have only 15% of the fertile land but produce over half of the food consumed by the entire country. When young people in our community abandon their land to go to America, once they get there they also end up getting jobs as workers in the agricultural sector but they are no longer ashamed of it.

However, consumerism isn´t the only factor pushing youth to migrate. Amelia Ramirez, from the community of Santiago Atitlan, said, “the pressure on families to contribute financially can sometimes be very strong. I have listened to families telling their children who are only studying but not working: ´Do not eat too many tortillas, because you don´t contribute in this house'. Then it's easy to think ‘If my family sees me that way, I´d rather go to the United States.’”

Young people from urban areas explored other possible causes: “In the cities the space is so small that people do not own a piece of land to work on,” explained Yasmin Mendez from San Salvador.

“It is of great concern if you compare the number of people graduating from educational institutions against the few available jobs for them,” added Luis Reyes, from Metapan, El Salvador.

Through the process of debating the causes of migration in their communities, the youth finally were able to prepare their skits. Due to the nature of the activity, problems were exposed in a very precise yet non-intrusive way. Humor helped the group deal with the difficult topics that came to the surface.

  The causes that the young people represented in the skits were:
* Poverty
* Violence (gangs, extortion, assaults)
* Family Reunification
* Broken families / violence
*Loss of lands
* Consumerism
* Unemployment

The third day of the activity was devoted to creating a space for young people to come up with alternatives to the causes of migration in their specific contexts. The methodology included a collage of photos that represented alternatives and solutions to the causes of migration.  These solutions and alternatives presented by each group were then put to the test during a round of debate that questioned their feasibility.
Among the answers they proposed: projects to boost economic initiatives for small business owners, community organization to protect neighborhoods, loans for small farmers, advocacy for policies around the use of abandoned land, and awareness workshops ongood living versus better living” that encourages children and youth to use their income on local markets and producers to prevent consumerism. Every young person was encouraged to give a follow-up to their ideas, and to keep reformulating answers to the problem.

During the afternoon of that day, the youth listened to the powerful stories of two young people who had migrated to the United States and after a few years were deported. They spoke very honestly about the abuses suffered by migrants on their way north and the labor exploitation and discrimination that they suffered in the United States.

The youth network from Chemol Txumbal of FUNDAMAYA introduced to the group their plan on migration response which included the creation of a farmers' market where young people could trade their products and receive income through their work on the land at a fair price. Given that many young people today are not interested in the farmer´s life, the Youth Network has undertaken a number of activities to recover the pride of working the land, such as the “young peasants competition” that they organized, among other initiatives. These efforts are intended to create decent conditions in communities to  keep young people from migrating to the United States.
The week of service concluded with a ceremony that featured a Mayan spiritual leader, a priest, and an evangelical pastor, where each participant from his own faith prayed for migrants who are currently making their way north.

Future plans that came out of this activity include the publication of a summary of this activity written by Giovanni Batz. The groups of participants also plan to stay in touch and write a letter advocating for the human rights of the migrants.

“Borders are imaginary, but now they have become dangerous and deadly. No human being is illegal,” concluded Batz.

The youth representing on their skit a person being caught by Migration agents and discussing about alternatives to Migration.