Mujeres Got Me Over the Mexican Border
I think we all have our own COVID-19 story to share. Mine begins in Guatemala. Picture this: I’m sitting on a swing over Lake Atitlan, gazing at surrounding volcanos and mountains, the sun is big, the sky is clear, the water is blue and endless, and there I am acting as a grateful spectator enjoying the nature, peace, and my life. I’m in a pink bathing suit and I leave the swing to go kayaking in the water with my friend. As we kayak, we bask in the light, and then paddle back to shore to enjoy coffee and organic fruits and vegetables from the nearby garden. We sit down afterwards sweaty, refreshed, and happy as we are completely sheltered from the pandemic that is making its way across Latin America. And then I get an email that abruptly brings us back to the reality:
“Your flight has been canceled. Guatemala will be closing its borders tonight by 11:59PM. Borders will be closed for at least 15 days. No one can enter or leave after this time.”
We look at the time and it is two in the afternoon. We look at available flights that day to anywhere: The United States, Nicaragua, Mexico, Spain — all are canceled. I then remember that Mexico borders Guatemala, but I don’t know anything about the border town, how to get there, or how to get out. I call my friend who grew up in Mexico City, and ask her if she knows anything about the border I want to cross or the city I hope to escape to called Tapachula. It’s like asking someone from NYC if they know anyone in Almo, Idaho. I know it’s ridiculous, but I’m desperate. At that moment, she knows no one there and has no information about the border. But time is rapidly decreasing, and we don’t have the luxury to wait for all the answers before we make a decision.
So my friend and I take a boat across the lake to Panajachel and that’s where we begin a six hour drive towards the border of Mexico. The drive is long, up and through cliffs, there are broken down trailer trucks along the road, and we have no idea if the border will be open when we get there. We have no clue if it will be safe, and we are unsure if we will be able to get to a nearby airport in time. But, one thought keeps me calm: Latina networks.
As we make our way towards the border my friend from Mexico calls her mother. Together they go to group chats from middle school, high school, work, college. They open up old facebook groups. Women across Mexico on these channels call up other women, log in to their separate group chats, ask other women more questions: do we know anything about this border? Are the taxis there safe? Will taxi drivers accept Guatemalan cash? Do we know anyone who lives in Tapachula? Do we know anyone who drives a taxi? As we drive — Latinas across Mexico reach out to their mothers, sisters, and friends to help us across the border.
Unfortunately, our driver drops us off at the wrong border. We were supposed to cross at a safer passage way, but instead we arrive at the most dangerous border between Mexico and Guatemala. Indeed, it’s known as one of the major routes for drug trafficking. But our driver refuses to take us to the safer border. Instead he recommends we have a man on a bicycle drive us over a dark bridge to the immigration center. We have to get across the border, so I travel through this unknown space not completely sure what will happen to me when I get to the end or what will be waiting for me when I get there.
But I am fortunate. Latinas have spent hours gathering intel, sharing resources, and moving mountains for a fellow mujer. They arrange for a taxi to pick us up at the other side of the border. My friend’s mother talks to the driver on the phone the whole journey there as we are taken to a safe house in Tapachula where a kind woman waits for us. She opens up her home, gives us her master bedroom which is the only room with A.C., makes us pancakes, hugs us. The taxi driver is her good friend and he takes us to the airport the next day where we catch a flight to Mexico City and then another to Chicago.
There are a lot of lessons we are all learning from a global pandemic: what we value, our connections to strangers, the deficits of our healthcare systems, etc. In times of crisis we learn so much about ourselves, our surroundings, and the people around us. For me, as I fled Guatemala to the Mexican border I was reminded of the power of Latinas: how resourceful, powerful, resilient, strong, compassionate, and determined they are. Someone might call me reckless for getting in a car that day and driving to the border — but that person doesn’t know Latinas the way I do. I don’t have a lot of faith or trust in a lot of things, but I never doubted that Latinas would get me home.