October 13, 2000
All seems to be okay with our friends. We´re keeping up on the developments. It would be very interesting to compare notes on what you´re hearing through CNN and what the megalomedia on this side (not to differentiate it from the one over yonder, mind you... as far as I´m concerned, it´s pretty much all the same) is spewing out. For now, I´ll just describe a little of the scenario that took place during those fateful days:
I can't help but consider the strangeness, the unlikelihood, if you will, of our last exchange of e-mails regarding our friends at the Suites Royal. That very same night, on Wednesday, the 21st, I returned to the hotel where I was staying in Morelia, Michoacan and saw the news on TV. Hector, who I was working with in Morelia, and I, were sharing a hotel room. When he turned on the TV, the first thing we see is this broadcast about a hotel in Tijuana where over one hundred Iraqi immigrants had been discovered. I couldn't believe my eyes nor my ears. My heart sank to the floor as the images that followed corroborated the story. There was Philip, motioning and shouting something out of a hotel window, as the news broadcaster continued narrating the story of how the Mexican authorities had basically sequestered the hotel, how deportation was a likely possibility, etcetera. I was in shock, paralyzed, holding one hand over my mouth in sheer disbelief. When the segment ended, I completely broke down. Losing all sense of perspective, I was rather hysterical. Hector spent the next few hours trying to calm me down, and for that, I'm grateful. I simply refused to believe that it was happening, that they might be deported. I had to do something, and I didn't know what was within my reach. I couldn't believe that chance and destiny had placed me in Morelia, from where I could do nothing. It had been the first and only time I hadn't been able to go to Tijuana for one of the visits.
I called Diego, and asked if he'd heard. He was having drinks with Joris, Hayde and Alberto. He said he had heard, that it was all over the TV and the papers there. I listened on the other end of the line, as Diego mentioned to his companions that I'd heard the news. The general "yeah, how about that" response on their behalf did nothing to soothe my desperation, and it made me feel like I was overreacting. I felt so out of context. Something like what happens during "that time of the month" (to me, anyhow). So, Diego assured me he'd try to talk to a few people and see what he could do. Immediately after hanging up and upon Hector's suggestion, I tried writing some thoughts down, in an attempt to sort out my emotions, to try to figure out a strategy. A couple pages into it, I thought it best to sleep on it and put the pen aside for the moment.
I spent the night having an endless nightmare. Different variations on the same theme. In my dream, Hector and I kept trying to enter this place, some kind of room or building, where Diego was, accompanied by Hayde, Joris, Alberto, and others. Each time we tried to gain access, we were either mugged or robbed, or we'd fall, or something. We just couldn't make it, although I somehow had a birdseye view into what was going on inside. Diego was on the internet, and people around him were having conversations about the fact that I was overreacting, and they didn't understand what the big deal was. The following morning, I woke up with this sense of awkwardness, confusion and general impotence.
On Thursday night, Diego called me to let me know that he´d spoken to Manuel Valenzuela, a great guy and intrepid journalist from Tijuana, someone that Hayde knew, as well as to several other people, to see what could be done. He told me that everything seemed to be under control, and that it was being rumored that they would receive temporary asylum in Mexico until their situation was straightened out. He went to visit them at the hotel, after waiting outside for several hours until the guards let him in. He chatted with Jorge and Phillip and I think also Joseph´s brother, and of course they seemed totally confident and relaxed. I figured that this whole situation was peanuts in comparison to what they´d already been through in Iraq. So, that´s the general story.
I just got through reading a gigantic stack of newspapers that Diego brought back for me, dating from the 21st through the 24th, which is the day Joris and him left. Some newspapers from Tijuana, others from San Diego. The stories were on the front page of almost all of them. It seems most of the Iraqis are already on the other side. What seemed really unreal to me, in reading the papers, was that the first few stories, written during the initial developments, mention a group of people from El Salvador and from Guatemala. Apparently, the Mexican authorities had asked all of those at the hotel to move into this kind of shelter, and the Iraqis refused, so that was how they sequestered the hotel. Needless to say, within the first couple of days, the people from Guatemala and El Salvador obediently followed the orders and were transferred to this shelter, to await "expatriation," as the papers like to call it. It´s a kinder or less known term for "deportation." Well, you can guess that they weren´t so much as mentioned after that. It shouldn´t surprise me, and it doesn´t, in fact, but it does make me sad. I´m so ecstatic for our friends, so glad everything seems to be working out for them, but I can´t help but realize that the whole thing fell from the sky for the Mexican government. There´s all this fuss being made as of late, about the treatment of Mexican immigrants trying to cross over to the US. It´s become an issue, but more than that, a great political opportunity. Everyone loves to stand under this flag of human rights, defending the Mexican immigrants´ right to seek out a better life, etc. Funny how the opposite doesn´t apply when the tables are turned. By the same token, it seems that the media, coached and caressed by politicians both in and out of government, makes a point of ignoring the pink elephant that is the huge groups of Central Americans that try to come into Mexico every day, in an attempt to get to the US. Their fate is a big mystery in Mexico. For obvious reasons, the Iraqis don´t represent a real threat to the Mexican government. Iraqis are not about to come by the millions due to this particular gesture. For economic, geographical and a myriad of other reasons, it ain´t gonna happen and the government knows it. In fact, they even made public their offering for asylum to the Iraqis in Mexico, in case they weren´t able to obtain it in the US. So generous, don´t you think? The way I see it, the whole saga with the Iraqis was an ideal and timely political opportunity for the Mexican government. What better than this as a safe "example," and a very dishonest one, for that matter, of how "we, Mexicans, treat immigrants in our country, as opposed to how the US treats Mexican immigrants in theirs." Well, so what else is new, right? Where´s the overwhelming support for Central Americans? Where are the signs, the banners, the unconditional offerings of asylum to people who are withstanding the very same kind of persecution as the Iraqis, the only difference being that the parties involved are not considered soldiers, revolutionaries, but rather guerillas and troublemakers? It´s a war, all the same. A war with all the trimmings: death, bloodshed, fleeing families. So glad that Vicente Fox, the president elect of Mexico, went down to Central America just a few weeks ago, to, amongst other things, apologize for the mistreatment of Central American immigrants in Mexico. That really changes things, much like it would for a chronic batterer to apologize to his wife after very beating.
to be continued
(EDITOR'S NOTE: The Rainbow Chronicles is a sponsored project of inSITE2000, a non-profit arts organization operating in both San Diego and Tijuana. The Chronicles will be published in La Prensa San Diego for 19 weeks. For information on the project visit www.insite2000.org.)