Thursday, April 10, 2014

Oscar Martinez: The Beast

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If I hear about a book about the border, I read it. Apparently that even applies to translated books about the border (normally I stay well clear of translated books). When I picked up "The Beast," I realized that almost every book I've read about the border and people crossing the border deals with the border as if it only affected Mexicans. I know better: the US beats up on Mexico and Mexico beats up on Central America, and of course Mexicans aren't the only people crossing the border. But the literature about the border treats the subject like the partners on each side of the wall are the only countries and people involved. They're not. "The Beast" is a book about the travelers from the minute they enter Mexico all the way till they get across the border, and it isn't a pretty sight: a reminder that the mess immigration policies made in the US affect even more people than we normally think about.

"The Beast" refers to a train that runs north/south in Mexico that is one of the ways migrants (Mexicans and Central Americans) are traveling to el Norte. It's a hideously dangerous and painful travel method that I hadn't heard of. Basically, people run/jump/climb/sneak aboard the freight cars and cling to the top of cars as they ride along the spine of Mexico. People fall off and die or lose limbs. They get extorted by pretty much every possible kind of crook from cartels to members of the army to people who have no other source of income than shaking down the migrants for their money or the money of their relatives in other places. When the migrants aren't on the train, they're in towns that may or may not have shelters for them to rest. They might have to rest in ditches while they sleep with one eye open, hoping not to be kidnapped, hoping not to miss the next train. It's hideous.

Oscar Martinez travelled on the Beast with the migrants and documented their stories and the danger. He discusses the pinching effect that the "closing" of the border has had and how, even once the migrants reach the line between Mexico and the United States, it's no given that they've "made it." Once there, it's not just coyotes anymore- it's the coyotes and the cartel, and the border patrol is after the cartels and the migrants in such a way that the cartel are also after the migrants who might piss off the border patrol. It's a lose-lose situation for the migrants: if they screw up, they might get deported or killed. But the push/pull factors are still so great that daily people are riding on the tops and sides of freight trains and crawling through the desert and trying to outsmart heavily armed drug runners. The book is harsh and an important complement to other books dealing with the horrific situation we've created.


thb said...

Sin Nombre, fiction movie, and Which Way Home, documentary movie, cover this same experience. THB recommends Sin Nombbre, and is going to watch WWH