El Cero

short stories

Monthly Archives: June 2011


Juan Jose, he’d taken 2 months to reach northern Mexico from his home in Honduras.

I’ve been passing time in these places called Casas de Migrantes or Migrant Centres. They’re a way to find stories rather than a story in themselves. Some people are heading south while others are heading north. People come with accounts of what’s happening in different parts of the country, as well as their own incredible personal tales. On Friday Juan Jose offered to take me across the border with him. He wanted his story to be documented so that the US president would take pity, and grant him political asylum. I wasn’t that comfortable with the motivation to be honest, as I knew I would never be able to meet his expectations, I also knew I just wasn’t prepared for such a journey this time either. I didn’t have the time and I only carry enough money to cover any particular trip. It feels like a serious undertaking, swimming across the river followed by a 4-day walk through the bush. Walking at night to dodge La Migra and sleeping during the day. For me however, successfully getting into the US feels far less daunting than successfully leaving Mexico. I’m told there are men who guard the river on the Mexican side, they’ll try to charge anyone wanting to cross a $200 fee. If you can’t or won’t pay they may well kill, or at the very least kidnap you and sometimes they’ll kidnap you even if you do pay. Kidnapping seems to be very big business in Mexico at the moment.


Street Theatre

It’s 7.30am, you’re in a narrow one-way street. A young guy walks quickly past you. A car drives up the wrong way and stops alongside him. They’re 2-3 meters away. You’re not really paying attention. Then, time slows down.

– That’s a gun. Shit, that guy’s pointing a gun.

– I don’t know how long I just stood and stared.

You duck behind a car,¬†you’re crouched next to the wheel. They back off, the guy runs past you. The car reverses after him. Two shots. The adrenaline’s making you shake. You walk down the street but there’s nothing to see, they’ve gone. There’s no sign, no blood. Time speeds up. The buses rumble past, the taxis beep advertising rides, the people are off to work and you’ve still got a full day with so many things to do.

Off to Church

La Casa de Migrante in Matamoros on their way back from the Sunday Mass.

Apparently a year ago the group was regularly attacked on their way to and from church. Armed men tried to kidnap and then hold would-be migrants for ransom. Now they hold crucifixes, bibles and sing songs as a form of protection and they say the situation in general has got better this year. La Casa is located 10km from the centre of town and the neighbourhood feels quite isolated. Matamoros is in the border state of Tamaulipas and is the most northeastern town in Mexico. Tamaulipas is one of the most troubled areas of Mexico at the moment.

It still amazes me how much I stand-out in this country. I’m a ‘Guero’ and assumed to be American. Everybody notices and many people stare. Normally I don’t mind, however I felt quite exposed standing on a street corner here. It’s a poor neighbourhood but there are plenty of expensive SUV’s with blacked out windows flying around. I can’t help asking who the people are inside. I just try to look away and hope they only see the Mexican I’m standing with. Apart from anything else some people may believe I’ll be worth a healthy ransom.