Migration is a living process, historical and current in nature. It varies depending on the fabric of sending, transit and receiving countries; intertwining lives, stories and dreams in the process. It continues to exist, no matter how many barriers or walls built, as the creative minds of those looking for something different in life always manage to overcome them.
According to a report by the International Organization for Migration (OIM, 2014), there were 214 million migrants globally; 49%, women. In Latin America, the figure goes up to 50.1%, and it is on the increase. It also reports that there are no official figures available, since most migrants travel undocumented and are not recorded in any database, yet it is estimated that 400,000 migrants cross the Southern Mexican border irregularly every year, mainly through the state of Chiapas. Most of them are from Central America, South America and, to a lesser extent, from Asia and Africa.
Mexico is the transit country with the largest migration corridor on the planet. While most of the migrants that -attempt to- flow through the Mexican territory do so in pursuit of the ‘American Dream’- reaching the USA-, living in Mexico is now a motivating factor in itself.
Up until the mid-20th century, recurrent migration patterns in Central America were rural-rural and rural-urban, in line with an export-driven model that needed labor to grow crops, such as coffee or cotton crops. From the 80s onwards, migration has also been determined by inner armed conflicts and natural disasters; realities that have exacerbated poverty and unemployment, particularly in rural areas.
As for El Salvador, according to the database of the European Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (CEPALSTAT, 2015), there were 6,298 migrants; out of those, 3,332 were women. The drivers for migrating are wide-ranging, as attested by 15 Salvadoran migrants interviewed (Trejo-Velasco, 2015). The main reasons mentioned were unemployment and structural violence, caused to a large extent by criminal groups such as Mara Salvatrucha. Born in the 80s and 90s in California, these are international organizations of criminal gangs. They operate mainly in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, committing illegal activities, such as drug and human trafficking.
Despite the high proportion of women migrants, historically this phenomenon has been analyzed from a masculine perspective. That explains the scare information -beyond statistical data- available on women in migration contexts. Fortunately, this is now changing.
As feminist Heilbrun (1988) states:
There are four ways to write woman’s life: the woman herself may tell it, in what she chooses to call an autobiography; she may tell it in what she uses to call fiction; a biographer, woman or man, may write the woman’s life in what is called a biography; or the woman may write her own life in advance of living it, unconsciously, and without recognizing or naming the process. (p. 11)
I will be sharing a story here – that of Paty, a Salvadoran, migrant woman who, on her journey through the South of Mexico, told her story in this fourth way. She explains, in her own words:
I don’t want to read my own story because it’s sure going to hurt, but I do want to tell it. I want to hear it through your voice which, in not being mine, might hurt a bit less. If it helps, I want it told someday, but like a fairytale… with a happy ending. (Paty, personal communication, April 18, 2015)
Paty and her fourteen attempts…
Once upon a time, a young woman named Paty was born in a wonderful country called El Salvador, right in its capital, a beautiful, while somewhat precarious city. Paty married very young and both her husband’s family and her closest girlfriends from school decided to migrate to the promised land -the US- in search for a better life. At the beginning everything went smoothly – both of them found a job, friends and a beautiful house. They then decided to increase the size of their family, and had two smart, quiet sons. With two children, some additional help was needed, and Paty asked her mother to move to the US. At the time, paying for a reliable trafficker and reaching the US in relative safety was still possible.
Since their house was really small, all of them had to sleep in the same room, which strained Paty’s marital relationship. She recalls:
Having to wait for my mother to go grocery shopping, to Mass or visit some friend of hers from El Salvador so that we could have some privacy was slowly taking a toll on our relationship, which eventually came to an end.
Paty had to look for an alternative living arrangement for her sons and mother; one close to her workplace, the school of her little ones, and, most importantly, far from the constant surveillance exercised over undocumented migrants. Not an easy task! Particularly for foreign-looking folks.
They had a brief taste of the tranquility of their new home. Shortly after moving in, however, Paty’s mother died. She shares it with us: “When my mother left, my strength, my hopes and my wish to live up to the motherhood ideal she was teaching me, one of abnegation and enthusiasm, left with her.”
This was not something the supportive, yet harshly critical community she was living in could understand. Paty relates:
I was told that I still had my children, that now they were my life mission, or that I should carry on for them, as any good mother would do, because being a mother is what matters most, and that that would give me strength to stand it all. Instead, what I really thought was that my best friend, my mother, my idol had left unexpectedly, and that was something I could not stand. I still couldn’t find the formula for that ‘maternal power’ to flow from within me, to give away that unconditional love she had given me. I felt ashamed for not giving it, not even being able to pretend I could, for just wishing to find myself.
She was diagnosed with depression, and her deportation ensued, with a number of papers to sign, a bunch of letters written in a language that was not her own, impossible to read and grasp in such a hurry. Paty goes on:
I asked for an explanation of what those sheets meant, at least a summary before signing them, but it never came. In that filthy, dark place, I met a girl from Guatemala. She was shaking, terrified at the prospect of returning to her country, and begged to be heard. I wondered then – so they don’t look into whether the reason you decided to come to this country may be related to being at risk in your home country, condemned to your future death? The answer revealed itself: the girl was deported.
Paty was also sent back to a country that felt really alien to her. After spending 20 years up North, the place she encountered had no girlfriends, nor people she trusted; only her father, whom she happened to adore! But after a short period living together, episodes and memories of drunkenness and perils re-emerged.
Paty, amidst periods of hope and just as many of desperation, has tried fourteen times to go back, alone, to a country -to the North– where she spent a great portion of her life, where people she loves and misses live, where she does not have to pay a fee to a criminal group every time she wants to go into her neighborhood.
Sometimes the trip itself is not that dangerous; rather, you have to make decisions constantly, decisions that might put you at risk or not. That is why the first decision I made was to embark on this journey alone. That way, my responsibilities are my own and, if I make a mistake, I won’t drag anybody down with me. In every trip -fourteen to date- I have been to shelters, governmental bodies, churches, etc. and what I’ve realized is that I have to complete this journey, and that I should do that on my own. El Salvador is my homeland, but it’s ‘crying violence’. I could die in this trip, I know that. But in my country, I know that’s a certainty.
With 4,025 kilometers left to her target, Paty has realized walking makes her stronger, drawing closer to and finding her-self… Snip, snap, snout, this tale’s told out.
Gender constructs permeate the migrant’s place of origin, migration route and destination, as well as the decision to embark on a journey, and the journey itself. Acknowledging migration from women’s perspective, acknowledging their efforts, and doing so through their own voice -or tale-, forces us to incorporate new elements into the analysis of this phenomenon, to question certain stereotypes (such as that of motherhood), and, in so doing, to look at migration with fresh eyes.
 Rossini, Carlos & Vericat Núñez, Isabel. (2007). Bajo el Tacaná: La otra frontera: México/Guatemala. Ciudad de México: Ediciones Sin Nombre.
 Trejo Velasco, Margarita. (2015) Transmigración centroamericana. Motivaciones, riesgos y estrategias en el trayecto hacia un sueño. MA dissertation. Universidad de Granada, España.
 Heilbrun, Carolyn G. (1988). Writing a Woman’s Life. New York: Ballantine. Books, 11.