November 4, 2005

Remembering migrants on Día de Muertos

By Luis Alonso Pérez

This year death has taken the lives of more than 450 men, women and children who crossed the border without documents in search of a job, or with the hope of reuniting with family members who left their towns in search of a better life.


Father Luis Kendzierski, director of Casa del Migrante and migrants from the Casa del Migrante saying a prayer for those who lost their lives crossing the border.

To honor their deaths, on Tuesday November 1, migrant worker’s support groups from both sides of the border placed an altar in Playas de Tijuana, the place where the metal border fence begins, a fence that has become death’s most powerful allied in the border area.

“The extension of this fence has become the main instrument to deflect immigrants to more remote and dangerous places, where the possibilities of being rescued are small” said Claudia Smith of the Migrant’s Defense Coalition (Coalición Pro Defensa del Migrante). “Every year on Día de Muertos we ask ourselves how many more migrants do we have to honor next year and there are always hundreds more”.

The altar incorporated the traditional elements like candles, sugar skulls, incense, food, etc. But what stood out the most was a large painting in the back of skulls and Minutemen vigilantes in the desert. The paining was accompanied by a “Calavera” –a traditional Mexican comic poem about death– that said “La calaca, presumiendo de su inglés, les dijo a los cazamigrantes: Misters Minutomen, no hagan tanta bulla; bastante chamba tengo con la que me da la Patrulla” (“the Calaca [death], showing off his English, said to migrant hunters: Misters Minutomen, don’t make such a fuss; I get enough work from the Patrol”).

“With this Calavera we want to say that it’s stubborn that the Border Patrol or migrant hunters think that they can seal the border, the only thing they are doing is causing more deaths” said Claudia Smith.

The objective of putting up the alter –besides honoring the dead immigrants– is to call out the attention of the United States and Mexico government to a situation that turn more complicated every day, and to demand an end to the Gatekeeper operation and the militarization in the border, that has caused more than 3,600 deaths since 1995 in the Mexico-United States border.

For the migrant support groups the 3,600 official number is very low, because through their direct work with migrants they have reported that when they tried to cross to the United States, in many occasions they have found bodies or bones that had not been spotted by border authorities.

This is the reason why migrant defense groups are asking the Border Patrol to look for the remains of dead immigrants. They are also planning on asking Mexico’s National Commission for Human Rights to open a telephone line so people can anonymously report information about human remain found in the border crossing region.

“There is no worst anguish than to not know anything about someone who you saw leave with so much hope, and not knowing if he is dead or alive” said Esmeralda Siu of the Migrant’s Defense Coalition. Approximately one third of the immigrants who die while crossing the border can’t be identified and are buried in cemeteries like the one in Holtville, California.

To remember the immigrants who weren’t identified, migrant defense groups visited the Holtville cementary on Dia de los Muertos, to place cempasuchil flowers and traditional ornaments in their graves, and a large banner with the phrase “The unidentified migrants… by their government forgotten”.

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