I am currently studying abroad in Mexico City under the Masters in Migration Studies program at Universidad Iberoamericana. My research focuses on how drug and crime organizations have affected migration, specifically exploring how this phenomenon impacts women in their migratory journey. Over the course of this spring semester, I have been volunteering at CAFEMIN once a week, working closely with adolescent migrants and offering them English classes.
I first reached out to Estela L. (interviewed below) because I was looking for ways to volunteer at CAFEMIN. She was very welcoming and interested in finding ways in which I could best help at this organization. As the volunteer coordinator, she is very dedicated to making sure extra-curricular activities offered throughout the day run smoothly.
Esmeralda Cardona: How did you start working in CAFEMIN and with migrants?
Estela L.: I have been here a year and two months. I was first invited by the director to systematize their direct service model. So, let’s say that all last year, I had no responsibility over the direct services; I was methodizing the work, recovering the whole history of CAFEMIN, the description of the model, and learning how the model has been configured. However, this year, starting in January, I became responsible for directly working with the population.
So, well, what do I do? I am supporting the functioning of the team, coordinating activities, especially the training activities. CAFEMIN’s model has as its main objective to provide, in addition to offering humanitarian assistance, the means to strengthen the individual so that they can resume their life project and be integrated locally, either here in Mexico City, any other place in the country, or in their final destination—that is usually the United States. So, what we are looking for is to give them tools in the psychosocial, legal, and educational realms, as well as in workforce training. My job is to coordinate all these activities that are being carried out so that we are really taking care of the needs of each person that arrives here.
What is difficult about your work in working with migrants?
Having a balance. Being able to constantly organize activities under the contingency of the phenomenon of mobility. Here, plans have to be made and must be fulfilled so that there is structure, and so that the work is as effective as possible; but there are constantly changes because people arrive in very different situations. Sometimes a large number of people arrive, sometimes they are very few. The stories, the needs, the trajectories are very different …how can we give the right attention to the person, to their circumstances, to their needs, when you cannot provide individual attention? You have to generate spaces and means that allow you to care, even in small groups, but not everything can be individualized. So, that is the most difficult part and that this same phenomenon sometimes requires a lot of time of you. For example, services can be 24 hours, 365 days a year and that is the hardest.
Another difficulty is the particular situations of vulnerability of the people. How can we offer them effective aid? It is also difficult, especially with this type of population, to help them have structure. When we talk about children or adolescents, it is very common for them to have a hard time organizing their lives according to goals. They have to complete the stages that they have to fulfill, give themselves time and be interested in their education for their own development. Because they come from contexts where everything is unstructured, that part is complicated; understanding their history and understanding their difficulties. How do you not make this situation a justification for not trying and instead, find ways to occupy their time in a useful way: to think about their future and have a larger life project, in which they work to create a different future for themselves and do not simply leave it to the next day to see what comes out.
What is inspiring in working with this population, or your work in general?
With migrants, it is inspiring that they can feel that even in a country that is totally foreign to them, or even a country that has lavished very painful experiences on them, or that has been marred by a continuation of risky experiences—even in those circumstances—they can find other spaces, other people who provide something that can be very similar to a home. That they can feel safe and that they can resume such things as the joy of living, and that they can return to having dreams or ways of realizing their dreams. I think that’s what drives us the most, and sometimes that also helps us not to wear ourselves out completely as direct service providers: to also have a horizon, because the services themselves, although they must make a lot of sense and must have a lot of value, become mechanical, exhausting work, if you do not have a horizon that is beyond.
What do you think about academic programs such as migration studies?
It seems very interesting to me that you, as students who live in North America, are interested in these types of studies, and above all look for the way to make contact with the other part of this story: come to Mexico, or in your case you could go to Central American countries, and from there reflect, review, think, and take the pulse of that other reality. I believe that when you do research, when you get into theory but combine it properly with social intervention, you have another perspective—you have possibilities to generate some solutions more relevant to social problems. So, it seems to me that this combination is very good, and I think it is very classic of the Jesuit system.
What do you see that will happen with this phenomenon of migration in the upcoming years?
Quantitative trends of about 6-7 years here will be marked by an increase in the flows of the number of people; also an increase in the risks, that then have many human rights violations implications. I see that there is an increase also in the degrees of violence—of severity— of the violations. I also see that the studies are also being strengthened, the specialization of civil society organizations not only in Mexico, but also of a more bi-national nature, of trans-migratory studies. That capacity is also being strengthened by academics, activists, human rights defenders, and organizations that are dedicated to the humanitarian issue of understanding and proposing alternatives. What I see little work on, is this question of how to strengthen the creation of social networks of the migrants themselves. While this is a difficult proposition, because of the same type of phenomenon that we are talking about, I believe that if you do not work with this in mind, it is very difficult because finally the subject, who is the migrant, has to also take on the construction of alternatives for themselves. So the generation of these networks seems to me to be very important in the dynamics we are in: to those of us who provide direct services, sometimes it is very difficult because people move fast. When they are here, they demand a lot of attention because the same flawed migration policies suggest that they return to the places they are trying so hard to put behind them. If we don’t really have the conditions as societies to welcome and integrate them, then that all makes social networks indispensable but more difficult to build.
On the subject of migration studies, is there something where there are gaps or needs?
What civil society organizations can do, even if we specialize in effective models and everything –I still think this work is very important—but it remains at a very small scale. If these models do not become integrated with public policies that work effectively, it can be very difficult for those whom we help. How effectively can we really solve the issue of access to rights? We do what we can but and because we cannot replace the work of the