Simone and I got to San Diego on Friday, November 16th, late at night. After five weeks and close to three thousand miles, the caravan had reached Tijuana. To our surprise, San Diego was a ghost town. It was as if an apocalyptic rain had hit before our landing, and the water had pushed all the humans aside. But no, the place was dry as a bone. There were no cars by the parking meters. All the stores were closed. And the only sign of life in Harborview was a bunch of dormant scooters, blinking their colorful lights. It was my first time in California.
On Broadway, we took the red line, and as the stations went by Spanish seemed to push English off the train. Half an hour later we got to la última parada. And at the edge of the city, like a bad joke or a silly reminder, there is the country’s last McDonald’s.
A concrete maze followed after.
For the past couple of weeks, I had been hearing how the US was preparing for the caravan, for what Trun’ called an “invasion.” Dozens of helicopters, three C130 planes, 21 miles of concertina wire, and thousands of soldiers—plus, whatever amount of personnel local police and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) had assigned to Texas, Arizona, and California. While I was back in Guatemala City, I got in touch with Roger Maier, from the Texas Border Patrol, and he mentioned that El Paso personnel was building barricades. Carlos Díaz, CBP’s acting director of media, said over the phone that they were regularly rehearsing how to handle traffic, how to quickly move riot control agents, and how to hasten the internal operations for all asylum seekers. During the days leading to our flight, I read that Trun’ had assigned 7,000 troops to San Diego all the way to Texas—the same number of soldiers fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria. My first sight of this demonstration of power was the concertina wire, which crowned the narrow, brightly lit hallway leading the San Diegans to the aduana mexicana. The walls looked thick and sturdy. The blinding lights, unblinking. Tijuana, over the hill, and unlike San Diego, seemed messy and chaotic, similar to Guatemala City. As soon as Simone and I stepped out of customs and into México, the familiar sound of meat on metal, the smell of tamales de elote quickly reminded us that suddenly we were back in Latin America. In California there was silence. In Baja California, relajo.
The next morning the two of us took a taxi to Playas and there it was: the wall, el muro, biting the cold sea, clutching the land.
It was weird being there, seeing that thing, touching its rusty fingers, standing on split land. Though it is made with durable steel, and it stretched as far as the eye could see, and there were CBP officers on top of CBP jeeps on the other side, and there were newly installed pieces of metal at the top, and there was razor wire at the top, and there was a bright light fixed on the Mexican beach, I couldn’t help but smile at the fact that my head fitted in between the bars. I wouldn’t even have to pull down my hoodie to make it across, I thought. My grandfather, the welder, could’ve done a better job.
Earlier that week, those who were at the front of the caravan—including members of the LGBTQ community—reached Tijuana and, like spawning turtles, found their way to the beach. The migrants and the locals clashed. The Hondurans wanted to camp by the wall. The people at Playas protested. They called them muertos de hambre. They argued they were a threat to their security. Quite the accusation, considering Tijuana has been ranked as the most dangerous city in the world for two years in a row. And while many Mexicans showed their support for the caravan, those unhappy with the catrachos began throwing rocks at them, yelling “Fuera, hondureño, aquí no te queremos—Leave, Honduran, we don’t want you here.”
Grupo Beta intervened. The group was moved to the Unidad Deportiva Benito Juárez.
After sunrise, Simone and I went to Benito Juárez, where Alberto was already waiting for us. The sight of that small baseball stadium was nothing short of jodida. Food, though it was constantly being handed out by volunteers and good Samaritans, was often scarce. The police had closed the streets surrounding the sports complex; only volunteers and those who came to give out food were allowed past the barriers and police cars. And whenever those good Samaritans drove up those deserted streets, people waiting outside the sports complex ran towards them. Sometimes the line of hungry migrants reached beyond the concrete barriers. On the sidewalk, there was a small infirmary, where a woman was getting treated for blisters the size of poker chips on the soles of her feet. She said that she, and some friends, had left Mexicali that morning and were rescued by a truck driver and taken to Tijuana. That’s how people moved across Mexico: on top of crowded buses or clumsily hanging on the side of pickup trucks. Those who had money, paid for buses here and there. Those who didn’t, hitchhiked their way to Tijuana. Later that week I heard stories of people spending hours locked inside the semi-trailer of eighteen-wheelers, suffocating and not knowing if the driver was taking them to where he had promised to take them. A reporter from El Salvador told us the story of a hundred and forty people riding on the back of a semi-truck, sitting in between coffins that the driver was taking from Mexicali to Tijuana. Carajo.
By the time Simone and I wrote our names down on the list by the front door, a group of pickup trucks were delivering portable bathrooms. The lady who took our IDs and told us the visiting hours for media, explained to us that the caravan had quickly exceeded Benito Juárez’s capacity and so, in a matter of days, the restrooms had collapsed. “Let’s see how these hold up,” she said. We went inside. The small baseball stadium can hold up to three hundred people. But on November 17, a Saturday, there were close to a thousand inside. They were under improvised tents, sleeping on the floor, in the gym, up on the bleachers, and in the dugouts. When we got there, few were setting up their stuff near the home base. The showers were on the opposite end, on center field; the portable bathrooms were by first base. And over the fence, on the other side of the highway, there was the wall, the same wall I had seen and touched early that morning. The United States was only a home run away.
I took a walk around the shelter, hoping to see a familiar face. I found none. Instead, I came across dozens of reporters peeking under tents, talking with the people. Next to worn shoes, clothes drying on railings, I caught a glimpse of logos such as CNN, Univisión, Vice, Al Jazeera, Deutsche Welle, and the Japan Times. And there, amid the murmur of blinking cameras and pens scratching notepads, came the sound of coughs and dry throats.
Many argued that their time to cross was coming up. They had signed on la lista—a handmade list kept and organized by migrants, made to provide an order to those seeking asylum. The waiting time: unknown; results (according to the migrants): promising.
A woman under the bleachers shouted at me.
“Guapo,” she said. “Do you know what’s going on? Are people crossing?”
“I’m sorry, I don’t know,” I said. “I just got here. But I can ask around.”
“Please do that. We’ve been here since Wednesday.”
The woman, 29-year-old Angela Vallecillo, was sitting next to a group of men, five in total. They were all friends. In Angela’s group there were people from Guatemala and Mexico too.
“There are a lot of rumors. People say that many have crossed and are walking free in the US. I don’t think that’s true. What do you think?”
“I don’t know, truly.”
“There’s no turning back for me. I’ve gone hungry, I’ve waited under the sun, I’ve been humiliated, but I think about my kids, and they give me the strength to keep going.”
“Are they here?”
“They’re back in San Pedro. You know, I used to have a nice life back there, or a so-so life, at least. My husband and I owned a store. We barely survived, but we always had food on our table. But then the mara began asking for the tax, for the impuesto de guerra: 500 lempiras a week, 400. Sometimes more, sometimes less.” A pause. “But one time business was bad. We didn’t have enough to pay. So, they killed my husband.” Angela started to cry. Tears ran down her face. “We had two boys and a girl. I just want to go to the US to get a decent job and give my kids a better life. I didn’t have the chance to go to school. I got as far as sixth grade. But I know how important education is. My daughter wants to be a teacher. My son wants to be a lawyer. Can you imagine? He told me one time, ‘Mama, I want to be able to help people. Some people are in trouble. People in jail who shouldn’t be in jail. People who need a lawyer but can’t afford one. I will help the people. I will work at a big office, to pay the bills, to buy your house, but I will always help those who can’t pay a lawyer.’ My son! A lawyer! So this is why I’m here. And I will stay here until I’m able to cross. This is for them.”
Then, luckily and unexpectedly, I ran into Fresbindo, now caneless. “I took a rock in the eye,” he said, “I was at Playas when the perros began throwing rocks at us. But we stood there. We sang the national anthem and shit.”
I was surprised by how quickly he had relaxed into a conversation. His entourage had gotten smaller. He said that most had dropped out mid-Oaxaca, which was understandable, I guess. It took the caravan less than a week to go through Guatemala, and close to a month to reach Mexico City, so many, I had heard, had left the caravan when the continental distance of Chiapas and Oaxaca discouraged them from ever reaching los USA.
“Fres,” I said. “What happened to your cane?”
“Hermano, I lost it a while back; in Chiapas, in el D.F., yo qué sé,” he said as quickly as a rapper; Fres moved his hands as if swatting flies. His eyes, looked around, as though expecting an ambush. “Listen, hermano, can you drive me to a Western Union?”
“I don’t have a car, man. Not here.”
“Qué mierda,” he said. “How about lending me some money? You got dollars, right?” A pause. “I’m crossing tonight, you know?”
“Pesos only, hermano,” I said.
Fres said it was nice to see me again. “You got my number, right? Call me.” And he walked outside—despite his uneven walking, he led the group.
Fres’s energy made me dizzy. I looked around, thinking of the stories I heard of how the migrants had made it across Mexico. I thought of Sor Ana María, a nun from Mexico City, and how she had stood in the middle of a busy street, asking people to take the migrants to the next city. “Enough with the photos,” she said, angrily. “How about helping a bit?” I thought of the countless that moved, much like they did in Guatemala, on the bed of pickup trucks, under pouring rain or blistering heat. I thought of those that moved from city to city locked inside semitrailers and how they spent hours like that, in the dark, without access to food, water, or a breath of fresh air; huddled together like cattle. I thought of Fres’s cane. I thought about the hundreds of mothers and fathers who tirelessly pushed strollers across two countries. I thought about Sergio and his wheelchair, and if he, if they had made it across the Suchiate on top of a raft, if he had paid two dollars to reach Chiapas, if he had made it out of Oaxaca, Veracruz, Puebla, Mexico City, Queretaro; if he had made it all the way to Tijuana on top of pickup trucks or locked inside semitrailers, or if he, uneventfully but understandably, had simply taken a flight back to Honduras, back to the fifth most dangerous country in the world.
“Sor Ana María, a nun from Mexico City, stood in the middle of a busy street, asking people to take the migrants to the next city. ‘Enough with the photos,’ she said, angrily. ‘How about helping a bit?’”
Then I ran into Brayan, the first person we interviewed in Esquipulas. He hugged me and said that he had waved at Simone, but Simone hadn’t recognized him. “It’s been awful, José,” he said, “but we’re here.” Brayan got sick upon entering Mexico City, like hundreds others. “All the coughs you hear are the result of whatever we got there,” he said, his voice raspy. Like many, Brayan got medical aid. They gave him a shot. He got an allergic reaction. He fainted. “I almost died, José,” he said.
I took a walk.
I zipped my jacket.
I called my editor in Guatemala.
I tried calling Cynthia and Osiris but the call went straight to voice mail.
I hadn’t been able to get a hold of Cynthia since after the Phillies left Mexico City.
I hadn’t been able to get a hold of Osiris since he, presumably, crossed the Suchiate.
“Do you remember Oli?” Simone said, suddenly reaching for my shoulder. I told him que sí. “He went back to Honduras. He got as far as Mexico City.”
Suddenly, as the staff that ran the shelter began asking the reporters to leave, I found Sergio, next to his wheelchair, all in one piece and still wearing his kind, toothless smile. He was as talkative as ever. “Mexico is prettier than I thought it would be,” he said. But he still wouldn’t tell me his life’s story, or his last name. “When did you get here?” he said.
“On a bus?”
“Ah, you didn’t get to see the mountains,” Sergio said. “Just outside Tijuana, I saw the mountains. They’re beautiful. They look like they’re made of granite. They let me sit on the copilot seat, and all I did was watch the mountains, and the desert, and the long highway.”
Though Sergio’s future seemed uncertain, bleak even, he looked relaxed, happy even to be there, happy that he made it across Mexico, happy that he was in a shelter, with guards, and food within reach. He had survived cold and hunger. He had gone through endless deserts and tangled metropolis. He had crossed two borders, and a third was within sight. While prosperity was still far away, danger seemed a distant memory. Sergio spent the next few minutes asking me about San Diego. I told him about the clean streets, the bilingual trains, and the sleeping scooters.
Later that afternoon we went to Enclave Caracol where LGBTQ couples were getting married. They were couples who had met along the way, couples who, after facing discrimination together, began a relationship. They were people who after having been in violent relationships or being the victims of prostitution suddenly found somebody who treated them kindly, and were convinced that had found the love of their lives. People like 18-year-old Nati Vanegas a transwoman who was getting ready to marry 29-year-old Adrián Eneuterí; the two had met in Mexico City but had started hanging out when they reached Tijuana.
“I liked her style; I saw her dancing and I asked her if I could take a photo with her,” Adrián said; his lips painted orange, not by any lipstick but by Nati’s orange lips.
“I got beat up constantly in Honduras, and my family kicked me out of the house,” Nati said, touching Adrián’s face. “So, when I heard of the caravan, in October, I packed some of my things and went to San Pedro. Slowly all of those from the community got together. We ate together. We slept together. We traveled together.”
“And how did you decide to get married with Adrián?”
“Like he said, once we reached Tijuana, we started hanging non-stop,” Nati said. “Then we heard that we could get married here. I can’t do that in Honduras. I thought I was never going to get married. But then the opportunity arose and I got excited.” Nati turned to look at Adrián who, red-faced and smiling, looked down. “If my friends are getting married, why can’t I?”
“It caught me by surprise, her proposition,” Adrián said. “But I liked the idea.”
The couple was hoping to reach Houston where some of Nati’s aunts, uncles, and grandparents are waiting for her and have accepted her identity.
The Church of Larger Fellowship officiated the seven weddings.
“We’re gathered here today to witness how these men and women will offer eternal love to their partners.” That’s how Padre Flores, from the Church, began the ceremony, his voice intermittently drowned by the mariachis playing next door. Enclave Caracol is right at the end of a busy street with taco stands on one side and thrift stores on the other. “The events these people have lived during the past few weeks have created unbreakable bonds. It takes other couples years to experience what you have live through.”
After the weddings there came the reggaetón and the perreo and the tequila and the feast, given by some of the organizations that support the Enclave.
Danger seemed a distant memory. Only, it wasn't. Once we reached the hotel, Alberto told me of an anti-caravan protest that would walk the streets of Tijuana in the morning.
“Did you bring any vinegar?” he said, half-smiling.
When I saw them the next day, gathered by the feet of Cuauhtémoc, I thought of Ismail Kadare.
“(…) evil was rising once again from the sea and must be driven back into it.”
There were hundreds of fuming Mexicans on the roundabout, under the long shadow of the Aztec king. They were demanding the migrants leave their city, their country. They carried Mexican flags. They carried signs that read, “Immigrants YES Illegals NO.” Signs with the word Invasión written on them. They sang the national anthem. “¡Viva México!” they yelled. They wore fútbol jerseys. They had gathered on a Sunday, perhaps after breakfast, convinced that the caravan, was a risk to Tijuana and an insult to the country’s sovereignty.
They were angry. They were loud. They were violent.
I made my way through the crowd, to the sound of vuvuzelas and voices singing, playfully, “¡Que los saquen! ¡Que los saquen!” At first, they simply stood there, waving their flags, singing, clapping. But soon, as media reached the area, they grew louder and angrier.
“They’re not immigrants, they’re not refugees; they’re invaders, right?” a woman that appeared by my side said. “Some years ago, we welcomed hundreds of Haitians. They were polite, and you can see them on the streets. But these Honduras, savages they are. They’re loud and dirty.”
“We’re not racists,” a man wearing a luchador mask said, “but we wished they had come into this country legally; that’s why we don’t want them here.”
“Who knew there were fascists in Tijuana?” Alberto whispered in my ear.
“There were hundreds of fuming Mexicans on the roundabout, under the long shadow of the Aztec king. They were demanding the migrants leave their city, their country. They carried Mexican flags. They carried signs that read, ‘Immigrants YES Illegals NO.’ Signs with the word Invasión written on them. They sang the national anthem. ‘¡Viva México!’ they yelled.”
Then I noticed people were gathering near a man who looked like a pro wrestler, like he could knock down Cuauhtémoc’s statue using his bare hands. People applauded him, took selfies with him, flexed their arms by his side trying to appear at least half as muscular as he was. A silly task; the man had bovine arms and a veiny neck that looked like it was made out of concrete and steroids. “We have been getting reports of acts of violence, thefts, assaults; they have disrespected our flag,” he said. Pajerazo, I thought. “We’re ready to respond using non-lethal weapons: paintball guns, rubber bullets, rock salt bullets.” His name was Iván Riebeling, the self-proclaimed founder and president of something called the Cuerpos Diplomáticos de los Derechos Humanos. A quick Google search on my phone revealed that he had been accused and/or found guilty of owning unlicensed weapons and threatening reporters. Additional charges include kidnapping and rape. A video of him surfaced later that afternoon, a video in which he asked the drug cartels to do their share to stop the invasión, stop it and send it back to Honduras. “We will take control of the situation,” he said, and the crowd cheered. “We will use non-lethal weapons,” he repeated, angry, “we know they came here with firearms, but we will control them using paintball guns.”
“I’ll take an R15,” an elder woman said, laughing.
Kadare, Kadare, Kadare.
Suddenly the anti-caravan march began walking down Paseo de los Héroes, and headed to the shelter. Regardless of how upset they were at first, once they began walking, they, especially the men up front, looked like they could punch through a brick wall. There was nothing but hate in their eyes, violence on their gait, and sarcasm in their laughter. “¡Fuera! ¡Fuera! ¡Fuera!” they sang. “¡Tijuana! ¡Tijuana! ¡Tijuana!” they sang. “¡Viva México!” they sang. There were men wearing gas masks and surgical masks. “Help us get these scumbags out of the country,” they said when street vendors and passersby saw them go by. Suddenly Alberto touched my shoulder. “Look,” he said. Between those leading the group, there was a slightly corpulent man with tattooed arms and a shaved head. He had dark sunglasses on. He had a black bandana across his face. He was wearing military pants and a black, sleeveless shirt with the German Iron Cross on it, and printed on top was the phrase ‘DefenSSores de Tijuana,’ in clear reference to the SS.
Ay, Kadare, did you know there were fascists in Tijuana?
But these weren’t just a bunch of skinheads. There, among them, were office workers, housewives, hipsters, elderly, and college students too. Regular people, asking for blood, for Honduran blood, Central American blood.
I thought suddenly of how, during my time living in New York, people would always think that I was Mexican.
“No, Guatemala,” I told a drunkard once in the Bar España.
“Mexico, Guatemala. They’re pretty much the same,” he said and he laughed.
I wondered there, as I walked the streets of Tijuana if the fascists thought I was Mexican, if they thought I was a Mexican reporter, a local reporter, and if I had grown in Tijuana. Or if they, the fascists, perhaps used to seeing Guatemalans in Tijuana, saw me and knew immediately I was guatemalteco too, centroamericano. Would the color of my skin, a color I got from my grandfather, the welder, tell them I’m Central American? Will the DefenSSor direct his fury at me?
“I got one of them,” he’d say, enthusiastically, and the crowd would follow.
At 1:40 they reached the end of 5 de Mayo Avenue. Luckily there was a thick wall of riot police in between them and the shelter. People, however, began demanding that the cops move aside to let them go through. The cameras blinked urgently. “There’s a Mexican flag in your arm, güey,” a thick, dark-skinned man said, clapping his shoulder. “Yet you don’t defend it. You don’t care about shit.” Soon they pulled down the jersey barriers to the ground, reached for the police’s riot shields and began pushing and pulling. “Stop defending them, pendejos,” someone said. Suddenly two of the drones that were recording the scene collided. They came rushing to the ground. One hit a demonstrator in the head while the other landed on his back amid the crowd. As a guy inspected the head of the first man, others proceeded to stomp the drones. Another pelón went by in front of me. The pelón in question had a long piece of wood on top of his right shoulder, and nails were sticking out of the piece of wood. While two reporters tried to rescue their flightless drones, the pelón cut through the crowd and began swinging his instrument at the helmets of the police. But they didn’t move.
They didn’t move.
People tried climbing on top of the cops. People tried pushing them aside. But they didn’t move. People screamed and sang and yelled.
But the cops didn’t move. Thankfully they didn’t move.
I remember distinctively a conversation between two men, two men that weren’t even at the front of the march, two men who had merely followed the group and were idly standing on the side of the road looking straight ahead.
“I thought more people were going to show up,” one said.
“We need more people here, then it’s going to be too late, now it’s the moment,” the other one answered. “I heard in the news that more than forty thousand migrants came here. They come from Brazil, from Venezuela, Bolivia; puras lacras—bunch of scumbags.”
“I know, güey. We can’t let them come here like that, suddenly, de un chingadazo.”
“This happened because there are no checkpoints on the highway. They made a mess and not it’s too late.”
“And look at the media. They’re on their side. Televisa, Telemundo, Univisión. Look over there, there’s one. They’re a bunch of sellouts!”
“All that Trump has to do to end this is to say that there are Islamists among them.”
Both men laughed.
“These people want everything for free, am I right?”
“You know what I heard? That they want the government to give them a house and a car. ¡No mames! I worked my whole life to get a house. I’m still paying for it, and they want these things for free. Hijos de puta.”
A lady grabbed a mic and began insulting the cops, telling them to go a chingar a su puta madre.
The men laughed again.
“I’m laughing, but it’s a serious thing, you know? They have no right to come here and demand things from us. That’s not the way things work.”
“No, compadre. That’s not how they work.”
When the more violent ones got tired or bored or hungry, yo qué sé, the police began letting reporters past the jersey barriers. I went in. They still wouldn’t let us inside the shelter, it was too early, but I needed to charge my phone. So I went to the trailer the Policía de Tijuana had installed just outside Benito Juárez.
“Excuse,” I said, with my phone and charger in my hand.
“What do you want?” a man as tall and thick as a light post said.
Suddenly a fight broke out a few feet from us when a car drove near the shelter and began giving out plates filled with rice and beans. People rushed to it and some men tried to cut in line. After a few violent pushes, and after the police intervened, normality was restored.
“I need to charge my phone,” I said. “Can I leave it here while—?”
“No,” he barked. “Get out of here.” I frowned. Other friends had even used the trailer’s bathroom on repeated occasions, but I didn’t even have the chance to plug my cellphone? Then I felt my press ID sliding from the insides of my jacket and dangling over my chest. “Oh,” the police officer said, looking at it. “I didn’t know you were a reporter. I’m sorry, José. Go ahead, come inside.”
“What did you think I was?” I said.
“Well, you look just like—”
“And what if I do?” I took a step back and walked away.
At 4 pm we were finally let inside the shelter when there were still a handful of patriots waiting on 5 de Mayo Avenue. I took a walk around. I sat on a swing checking my notes, when a little boy appeared by my side. “Yo arreglé este,” he said. “I fixed this one,” he said, referencing the other swing, one that, though crooked, hung steadily with the help of a green thread. He sat on top and began swinging.
“Oh, you did?” I said. “Where did you find the thread?”
He shrugged. “Around.”
“And where are you from?”
“Where in Honduras.”
“Just Honduras.” The sound of the Mexican national anthem, sung outside, reached my ears.
“And what’s your name?”
“And who did you come here with, Christopher?”
“My ma, and my pa, and my sister.” The boy’s swing whistled, as though in pain, every time he came down.
“And how old is your sister?” I said, smiling.
“I don’t know.” He shrugged. “If you want to know, I’ll take you to where they are,” he said, hopping out of the swing. “I’ll take you to my pa.” The little boy grabbed my hand and pulled me across the playground and under one of the tents nearby. “I found another amigo,” he said, obviously excited.
“I thought I was your amigo,” said Luis Rojas, faking concern. Rojas was a Mexican freelance photographer who was also staying at our hotel. He was sitting with the boy’s family.
“He’s got a bunch of amigos,” the boy’s father said, smiling and wiping the bread crumbs off his shirt—he had been eating a sandwich he later gave to his daughter.
I waved at the boy’s parents, lying on the ground, tapped Luis on his back and introduced myself.
“He’s got amigos here, over there,” the mother said. “He’s always making amigos.”
“Is that how you met them?” I asked Luis.
“Something like that, well, I met them in Mexico City,” Luis said. “I leave you with my amigos. Son bien platicadores.”
“And how are you, señores? Resting up?”
“We come all the way from Olancho,” Christopher’s father, 32-year-old Ever Hernández said; he was barefoot, and had a button-down shirt half open. We’re tired, but thank God we’re here. Now we must wait to see what are our possibilities to cross.”
Suddenly, Christopher took off running. “Don’t bring any more amigos,” Christopher’s sister, Aslynn Jané said. She was ten and had her hair tied in a bun.
“It’s been a long and arduous way,” Ever said without prodding. “We’re considering staying here, in Tijuana, because we don’t have any family in the United States who might be able to help us. I want to start working soon. Since we left our home in Olancho, I had the idea that if the US doesn’t open its doors, Mexico might be an option for us; there’s plenty of work here in Tijuana. Or even if I have to go back to another city, I wouldn’t mind staying in Mexico. I just want to work and provide for my family, to give them what I couldn’t in Honduras.” Despite Ever’s serious tone, his face was soft and relaxed; it occurred to me that he was relieved to talk about himself and his family. “I don’t want to become rich. I just want to be able to give them a good life,” he went on. “I used to work driving trucks, and I know how to work heavy equipment too. My faith is in God. He will help us.”
“And you, señora,” I said. “What did you do?”
Sandra Maldonado, a year younger than her husband, laid casually on her side. “I was mostly a housewife, but did a lot of domestic work, too,” she said, as she began combing Aslynn’s hair. “We survived with what my husband made, but the maras took a big chunk off his salary. Now I can help him more.”
“That’s true. Our life in Olancho was pretty hard. The maras were always asking for money. I was making 5000 lempiras a month, but they asked 600 a week,” Ever said. “They said that if I didn’t pay, they would take it out on my wife and kids. I couldn’t allow that. So, I quit my job, we left our house and joined the caravan.”
Suddenly a speaker a few feet from us, possibly on the field’s 3rd base, coughed and barked, before letting out the unmistakable and spellbinding drum pattern found only in reggaetón. As soon as the beat dropped, people cheered, drowning out the fascists.
“Now that we’re here, we also want to work to fix our house,” Sandra said. “It has no flooring, and the walls need maintenance. Hopefully one day we will be able to go back to it.”
“Right now, our priority is giving our kids the right opportunities,” Ever said. Christopher returned with a set of crayons and an Avengers coloring book. “They’re my pride. I’ve been praying really hard, every day, asking God to give me the strength to get my family through this, to get my kids into a nice school. They were in school back in Olancho, you know? She’s very smart,” Ever said, looking at his daughter; Aslynn’s face went from brown to radish red in a matter of seconds. “She’s moving into fourth grade—”
“Fifth!” Aslynn said, suddenly jumping off her blue mat.
“You know she’s moving into fifth, mi amor,” Sandra said, reaching for Aslynn’s curly hair. “And she wants to be an engineer. She’s more into boys’ stuff. She doesn’t like playing with dolls.” Aslynn smiles. “She likes playing outside, playing with cars. She’s got a crane.”
“I’m guessing it’s because she has seen me driving trucks,” Ever said. “She even knows how to drive lift trucks. She saw me driving one, and she asked me to teach her. She knows how to move all the levers and which pedals to push. She’s too small to reach, but she knows what to do to make it work.”
I saw Simone’s long ostrich legs running towards the baseball field.
“Now he says he wants to be a police officer,” Sandra said, pursing her lips towards her son. But Christopher was too busy painting Bruce Banner green, all of him, green: shoes, shirt, lab coat, skin, as if the Hulk hadn’t fully turned back into his feeble alter ego. “He says he wants to protect people from the maras and evil people.”
“He likes to play fútbol too.”
“Is he an Olimpia or Motagua fan?” I said. “León or Águila?”
“He’s a potro,” Ever said, aiming his tightest frown at me.
“Mi amor,” Sandra said. “You need to get going in a while. Sorry, José,” Sandra said, looking at me. “Every other day this lady comes to give out tamales at around the same time, 5 pm. And it’s almost 5 pm.”
“We’re from Olancho,” Ever said, smiling. “So, he’s an Olacho F.C. fan, a potro.”
“He’s a goleador, my little angel,” Sandra said, gently nudging her husband. “He likes kicking the ball and running around. By the way, that’s not how we spell his name.” Sandra grabbed my note pad. “It’s Cristofer, with an F. Our Cristofer likes to run a lot.”
“And finding amigos,” Aslynn said.
“I like the Hulk because he’s strong,” Cristofer said.
I pulled out a bundle of keys from my backpack and gave it to Cristofer. They’re bound by a worn down key chain with a Funko Pop figurine of the Incredible Hulk at the end. Seeing that the Hulk wears purple shorts, Cristofer immediately grabbed a purple crayon to finish his opus.
After I said goodbye to Cristofer and his family, I ran into Simone, dancing with a Honduran lady to the beat of dozens of others clapping, waiting to get on the dance floor. Y no es para menos. They had escaped death and were at the brink of prosperity. Once death was pushed aside, momentarily, it was time to celebrate.
Vamos potros. Viva Centro América.