The reality for women, transgender and transsexual persons on the migrant trails of Mexico is, horrifically, that many have learned to expect rape and sexual abuse as part of the journey. Óscar Martinez’ book, Migrants Don’t Matter, brings to light both the fortitude and resilience of some of these victimized persons as well as the systemic impunity of their offenders. Warning: this article contains graphic descriptions of assault and the scene of a rape.
Disclosure/Translator’s Introduction: Below are excerpts from Óscar Martinez’ book Migrants Don’t Matter. The reality for women, transgender and transsexual persons (some of whom are fleeing sexual persecution in their country of origin) on the migrant trails of Mexico is, horrifically, that many have learned to expect rape and sexual abuse as part of the journey. What Martinez’ book brings to light is both the fortitude and resilience of some of these victimized persons as well as the systemic impunity of their offenders. Not only are the rapists and assailants very rarely brought to justice, but the women and other victimized persons, rightly scared to denounce abuses or rape, suffer and sometimes die in near-complete anonymity. The excerpts below reveal the violent and too often overlooked life of women, transgender and transsexual migrants in Mexico.
Photos: Toni Arnau / RUIDO Photo / Elfaro.net
Aquí se viola.
Aquí se mata.
Here they rape,
Here they kill.
Chiapas, May, 2009
The most dangerous part of the migrant trail through Mexico, where undocumented Central Americans have no protection and where the horrors seem ceaseless and locals seem deaf to cries for help, is La Arrocera. Over the course of a year of walking that migrant trail, I heard the stories of hundreds of attacks on migrants, of people beaten to a pulp, of murder, of women screaming while they were raped in the hills, while, just beyond them, Mexico refused to listen.
Luis Flores, as head of the International Organization for Migration in Tapachula, Mexico, leads community education projects in the area and case manages Central American human trafficking victims. Here, he explained to me, migrant women are turned into a product. “They come having already been raped, abused, they come from dysfunctional families in which, many times, it was their father or uncle who raped them. What many of them won’t tell you, is that they knew they’d be raped on this journey, while migrating, that they feel it’s a sort of bill that must be paid. According to the Guatemalan government, it’s estimated that eight of every ten Central American migrant women suffer some form of sexual abuse in Mexico. It’s six of every ten, according to a study done by Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies. They travel with that lodged in their minds, knowing that they’ll be abused once, twice, three times […] Sexual abuse has lost it’s terror. At a certain level, they know they’re victims, but they don’t feel that way. Their logic runs like this: yes, this is happening to me, but I took the chance, I knew it would happen.”
Of every 250 migrants who were raped, and who participated in a survey by the International Organization of Migration, only 50 accepted medical and counseling help. Many said they thought it would be pointless because they thought it would happen to them again, that there was still a lot of road left to walk.
There is, Flores says, an expression for the transformation of the migrant’s body: cuerpomátic. The body becomes a credit card, a cuerpomátic, which buys one safety, a little bit of cash and the insurance, though far from guaranteed, that your travel companions don’t get killed.
Paola, a 23-year-old transsexual Guatemalan, says that she expected to be attacked while traveling. “I’d been told this always happens to migrants,” she says. We are sitting next to a stalled train in Ixtepec, just a few miles north of where she escaped her attackers. Tall and dark, she wears heavy make up, a black, low-cut shirt and tight cowboy pants. She tells the story of her rape La Arrocera. She says that she tried to relax, readying herself to the idea of being raped. Her shirt had been torn by one of the men standing behind her, all of whom smelled of grass and looked like laborers. They had suddenly come out of the nearby brush with shotguns and machetes.
Calm, despite being, as she put it, in doggy position, Paola understood she had only two bets left: her wit and her will. She listened to the outlaws negotiating behind her. “You can give her a fuck first. I’ll go next.”
“Look here,” Paola interrupted them, “do what you want, but for your sake, I’d put a condom on. I’ve got some over there in my backpack. It’d be for your own good, you know, I’ve got AIDS. It’s just, I didn’t think I’d be running into this sort of problem. I thought you were all macho men, you know, the sort that only rape women.”
Paola said this matter-of-factly, though she’s identified as a woman for years now and would never answer to her former name. A short moment of silence passed. Paola imagines them staring at each other, dumbstruck, wide-eyed, but of course she doesn’t know. She still had her back to them. She was still on her hands and knees, her head raised high and her eyes steady, with all the dignity she could muster. “Just get the fuck up you fucking whore!” One of them said. “And go to hell.”
Paola doesn’t actually have AIDS. What she does confess to catching, after five years as a sex worker in Guatemala and Mexico City, is a life-saving swiftness around perverted men: her wit and her will. Mugged and jostled, without a cent in her pocket, she went on walking across unnamed roads toward El Norte. “But at least I was prepared,” Paola finishes her story. “I mean emotionally,” she says, referring to being warned that attacks like this one happen often on the migrant trail. She is a true survivor of La Arrocera.
La Arrocera. The place is stained red by migrants, some say. The place makes you whimper like a dog, others say. But most keep silent, only speak to define it, simply, by name—La Arrocera. Two hundred and sixty-two kilometers long, La Arrocera, is a network of 28 ranches scattered amongst thick overgrowth that stretches between Tapachula, the first big city one comes to on the migrant trail through Mexico, and the coastal city, Arriaga, which everyone must reach in order to catch the train, on top of which they’ll cling as stowaways heading north. At the end of this line of ranches lies a large abandoned rice cellar, which gives the place its name. La Arrocera means, simply, The Rice Cellar.
Paola now understands that the violence here is endless, unwavering. That this is lawless territory. Every one of the 45 others she traveled with to Ixtepec was assaulted or murdered. She knows the danger here, most migrants know the danger here, and all authorities know it, but Mexico has continued to turn a blind eye while women are attacked and murdered, their bodies often left among the desert scrub.
Because migrants are are often traveling alone, without identification, and through areas where they don’t have contacts, many victims are never identified. The body of one migrant woman, was found on November 20th, 2008, strangled in the Relicario neighborhood of the town of Huixtla. Those who met her before her death, in Tapachula, said she was Guatemalan. They met the man she walked with, too. He had a scorpion tattooed on his hand.
She was raped in the straw of a cardboard shack with crumbling walls. That’s all. No more details. At that time there wasn’t a police force dedicated to rural areas, and, really, it’s a sorry sight now that there is—seven men from the nearby towns standing guard with clubs in hand whenever they have the free time.
The picture of the Guatemalan woman who was killed was published in the small daily newspaper, El Orbe, and was splayed on a half-page with two other pictures of tortured bodies. It shows the woman with wide eyes, an open mouth full of dried grass, dirt and leaves, and a bloodied scalp with fistfuls of hair torn out. There’s no open investigation. What’s left of her are the few scraps of stories from people that had met her on the trail. Orlando, who works at Huixtla’s cemetery, has a story. He sticks his tongue out as far as he can to show what she looked like when he was finally able to get her shirt out of her throat. That story is all that’s left. That, and a small purple cross, lost amongst the many crosses in that graveyard. The epitaph reads: “The young mother and her twins died on Nov. 2008.” And her twins, it says.
Who knows why her murderer chose this place. Every day while on route to El Norte I saw, and began to understand, that the bodies left here are innumerable, and that rape is only one of the countless attacks a migrant confronts.
Óscar Martinez, a Salvadoran journalist for El Faro, spent over a year on the migrant trails throughout Mexico. This chronicle was originally published on ElFaro.net and part of the book ‘Los migrantes que no importan’ published by Icaria and ElFaro. The book will be republished in Mexico this year by SurPlus.