Filed under: Community Organizing, How To, Immigration, Mexico, Northern Mexico, Solidarity
While the migrant caravan has faded from headlines now that the mid-term elections are over, the crisis at the most-heavily used border crossing into the United States is far from over. What follows are some tips and ideas for how to plug into the ongoing organizing happening in Tijuana.
On New Year’s Day US Customs and Border Protections officers once again fired tear gas over the border wall at migrants attempting to seek asylum, and tens of thousands of migrants remain in Tijuana either waiting their turn to cross, or lacking access to information on how to do so without getting turned away for not jumping through numerous arbitrary and shifting hoops. Here are some reflections from a few anarchists who recently traveled to Tijuana, MX to provide on the ground support for people seeking to cross into the United States.
We chose to travel to Tijuana with little Spanish-language skills, and quickly found ourselves overwhelmed with the language barrier. While it is fairly easy to get around in Tijuana without speaking Spanish, it is much harder to build connections and find out how to meaningfully plug-in to mutual aid efforts. There were few people at Enclave Caracol who spoke both English and Spanish, yet they were plenty busy as it was and it would have been unfair to request interpretation for every task of the day. Be patient, there is plenty that’s useful to do even if you don’t really understand what’s going on.
“This is not sexy work, but if non-Spanish speaking anarchists wish to travel to Tijuana to offer mutual aid and solidarity, helping to feed hungry migrants is one of the most direct efforts one can get behind.”
Enclave Caracol hosts a Food Not Bombs every evening Monday through Thursday. This meal is for those who are truly hungry, whether out in the streets of Tijuana or stuck in the warehouses referred to as “shelters” that more closely resemble concentration camps. While many of us have written off FNB as a relic of a time past, this proved to be the easiest access point for those of us who otherwise did not speak Spanish. Be prepared to spend most of your day chopping vegetables and prepping large quantities of food. This is not sexy work, but if non-Spanish speaking anarchists wish to travel to Tijuana to offer mutual aid and solidarity, helping to feed hungry migrants is one of the most direct efforts one can get behind.
If you don’t speak much Spanish, bring a dictionary. Practice on Duolingo before coming down. The better you can communicate, the more you will be able to form actual connections with others in Tijuana. Keep in mind that Hondureno-Spanish is different than Mexican-Spanish.
Childcare is another task that is accessible for non-Spanish speakers. There is a legal aid organization in the upstairs of the Enclave Caracol building that helps prepare migrants for the asylum application process. Some of us spent an afternoon doing childcare during the legal clinic so parents could get their paperwork in order and become familiar with the asylum process without the distraction of their children.
While providing childcare for 4-5 hours can be exhausting on its own, a language barrier and slim resources didn’t help. Playing and looking after these children was both uplifting and heartbreaking. They would get frustrated at your inability to communicate with them, but smiled and laughed with you all the same. Playing and creativity don’t always necessitate language. A patience and care for young children with extreme “home” situations is of utmost importance. In childcare institutions in the United States they are referred to as “high-needs children” yet these children in Tijuana have possibly already gone through more traumatic experiences than we have as adults.
At one point, one kid had constructed a miniature wall out of some of the toys, and was telling other kids to step over it, and then destroyed the wall. One child broke down after having been prevented from putting marbles in his mouth for the umpteenth time and proceeded to try to run away to their parents, who were attending a legal support workshop.
All of this anger and sadness, mixed with laughter and joy and creativity, made the direness of the situation for these children ever more clear. The situation is much worse for migrant children who arrived in Tijuana without parents. The legal aid groups seem to be unwilling to help them for fear of catching a child trafficking charge, and Mexican authorities are eager to arrest and deport any unaccompanied minor they encounter – including children attempting to reach the border to apply for asylum. The only aid that legal groups seem to be willing to give unaccompanied Minors, is to tell them to find someplace safe and hide. The youth shelter is completely full. A few weeks ago three children were lured out of the shelter and tortured; two were killed.
If you are bringing an iphone or android with you, make sure it is updated to the most recent operating system, has plenty of spare room on it, and have downloaded Adobe Scanner. This program is used to digitize the documents that asylum seekers use to make their Credible Fear Interview (CFI). Not having previously known this, it was practically impossible to install all of that on an already overused wifi network.
One thing that is frequently needed is a car to help transport things within Tijuana. This requires a car with some amount of space (station wagon, pickup truck, or SUV), and one bilingual person for directions. If you bring a car make sure you have insurance that is valid in Mexico. The police in Mexico generally want their interactions with you to result in maximum profit for minimum effort – they’re looking for any reason to fine you.
Google maps are unreliable in Tijuana. As in any major city, it’s a bad idea to leave valuables in plain sight in your car unattended. An hour before we planned to return to the US, a window was busted out in the car and most of our bags were stolen. Even our friends from Tijuana were surprised that that had happened in broad daylight and in that neighborhood of the city, but it just goes to show not to be careless.
It took at least a full day to acclimate to the chaotic conditions of Enclave Caracol and orient oneself in the surrounding neighborhoods of Tijuana. That being said please make plans to stay and volunteer for at least a full week.
Based on our experiences in Tijuana we recommend others also travel there to support the migrant caravan. The longer you are able to stay the better. There has been a high turnover rate among volunteers, especially with the high number of students volunteering for a short time then returning home in time for school to start. When you get to Tijuana you may feel lost and overwhelmed at first, or unsure if you’re doing anything useful. Try to be patient and trust that you’ll find ways to plug in. It’s ok to go with intentions or proposals for ways to help out, but be ready to be flexible as well. The situation is chaotic and changes rapidly.