In a small Mexican village, prayers and hope for missing migrants
SAN MARCOS ATEXQUILAPAN, Mexico >> The residents of this mountain village clutched rosaries and stared at photos of three of their own on the altar of the local church and prayed that teenagers Jair, Yovani and Misael were not among the 53 migrants who died in asphyxiation Life came to the fans in Texas.
Waiting for confirmation has been agony for families from Mexico to Honduras. Now they are hoping for what would previously have feared – capture by border patrol, even hospitalization – far from the solemn finality that family after family across the region leaked.
Then again, at least they would know.
Not far from the church, in front of the pretty two-story houses of the Olivares family—which line each sister and their parents—a black tarpaulin has been hung to shade the dozens of people who come each day to see the Parents of the teenagers are brothers Yovani and Jair Valencia Olivares and the mother and father of their cousin, 16-year-old Misael Olivares Monterde.
Such coverage is common for wakes when the family home cannot accommodate all who come to pay their respects. But in this case, it’s a vigil where residents of the city of 3,000 come to lift family spirits, pray and share stories about the boys.
On Friday, the wait ended for a family in mourning. Word quickly spread through the city that Misael was among the dead. Other people gathered in front of Olivares houses and expressed hugs and condolences.
Candles were still burning on a makeshift altar indoors, where Teófilo Valencia and Yolanda Olivares Ruiz, parents of 19-year-old Jair and 16-year-old Yovani, were hoping for a miracle.
A day earlier, Valencia had sat on his cell phone and read the latest messages he had received from them.
“Dad, now we’re going to San Antonio,” Yovani wrote at 11:16 a.m. Monday. Half an hour later, his brother wrote to their father that they were ready to work hard and pay for everything.
Hours later came the horrifying discovery of the semi-trailer abandoned next to railroad tracks on the outskirts of this south Texas town.
The cousins had left together on June 21. Yolanda Olivares Ruiz, the brothers’ mother, put Yovani’s school report card in his wallet as ID and stuffed three changes of clothes into backpacks for each of them, along with phone numbers for relatives in the US and Mexico.
Hermelinda Monterde Jiménez spent the night before her departure talking to her son Misael. “He said to me, ‘Mom, wake me up,’ and for a moment I thought about not doing it so he wouldn’t leave,” she said. “But it was his decision and his own dream.”
Her parents took out loans and used their homes as collateral to cover the $10,000 smuggling fee for each cousin. They paid part in advance and were to pay the rest after the boys had safely arrived.
The youngsters wanted to work, save money and return to open their own clothing and shoe store. They gave each other four years.
Last Friday, June 24th, they were in Laredo, Texas.
They told their parents that after the weekend they would be taken to their destination in Austin, where a cousin who had traveled just months earlier was waiting for them. In the past week, about 20 residents left the city for the United States.
The family only found out about the unfortunate caravan on Tuesday. They tried to reach the boys but the messages and calls didn’t go through. They went to government offices the same day and provided any information that could help in the search.
On Wednesday, Mexico’s consul in San Antonio confirmed that residents of the Gulf Coast state of Veracruz – where San Marcos is located – were among the 27 Mexican victims. Prosecutors traveled to San Antonio on Thursday to help with the identification.
Meanwhile, the Olivares wait and pray.
A week after his 18th birthday, Marcos Antonio Velasco left Mexico’s capital for the United States, accompanied by his friend José Luis Vásquez Guzmán, whom he met in his mother’s hometown in the southern state of Oaxaca. This week, authorities confirmed that Vásquez Guzmán was one of the trailer survivors and was hospitalized in San Antonio.
Fears for Velasco’s family grew when an official with Mexico’s foreign ministry called on Wednesday to say their son’s ID had been found in the trailer. They have since exchanged information that could help identify their son, but have only been told to wait.
“I want to know where he is, if he’s alive or dead,” said his mother, María Victoria Velasco.
The wait ended Thursday for Jazmín Nayarith Bueso Núñez’s family in El Progreso, Honduras. Their prayers for their safe return have not been answered. She was confirmed among the dead in San Antonio.
Bueso Núñez suffered from lupus, an immunological disease that had cost her a job at an assembly plant and was very expensive to treat, her family said.
A family friend had offered to help her travel to the United States, where she hoped to find better-paying work to support and seek treatment for the 15-year-old son she left with her parents to find their illness.
Before leaving on June 3, the 37-year-old informed her father that she wanted to emigrate.
“Father, I have come to say goodbye,” said José Santos Bueso, she had told him during her last visit. “I’m going north.”
He tried to talk her out of it, realizing the dangers. “No, Dad, this is a special trip,” she told him. “‘I was there, daughter,’ I tell her. ‘There are no special trips.'” The only special trip is the plane trip with a visa, he told her.
“The smuggler makes $15,000. He says he’ll take me with him no worries,” she told him.
She was in Laredo when they last spoke. She told him that the smugglers would take their phones before proceeding, leaving them unable to communicate for a while.
On Thursday, her brother Erick Josué Rodríguez, a relative in the United States who had helped the family provide identity documents to authorities, said they told them the sad truth.
“The economic situation, the social situation in our country is very, very difficult,” said Rodríguez. “That is why we see caravans, migrants, day after day, month after month. That’s because people have dreams and don’t have opportunities.”
Back in San Marcos Atexquilapan, Mexico, sisters Hermelinda and Yolanda walked from their homes to church late Thursday carrying photos of their sons. They were flanked by women with candles.
Inside, the mothers sat in the front row while the priest called the congregation to prayer.
“It’s not that they’re criminals,” he said. “They went in search of their daily bread.”
The townspeople prayed, “We ask you that these boys will achieve the dream of a better life, give them this comfort, this relief, wherever they are, Lord, that answers will be given because these families are suffering, they have a broken heart .”