Las Patronas Visit


Karen LarkeMy name is Karen Larke and I am a current Master’s in Migration Studies candidate for 2019. Part of our cohort recently returned from an exchange semester in Mexico City at La Universidad Iberoamericana. My research focuses on educational opportunities of newcomer, mainly immigrant and refugee, youth and the methods employed in assisting newcomer youth in education.

We arrived at the meeting spot in front of the Sevilla metro station on a still dark and sleepy morning in La Ciudad de Mexico. Our group – the USF cohort, students from the Ibero University MiMs program, and Gina, our guide on this excursion – piled into a stuffed van and set off to the state of Veracruz. It was a visit many of us had been looking forward to. We were going to an organization, a family really, called Las Patronas or “the saints”. The organization is known for its work with migrants riding La Bestia, the train which snakes from Mexico’s southern states to the border with the US, the destination of many Central American migrants.

Las Patronas Mural

After a journey past Puebla city and one of the highest peaks in Mexico, Mount Orizaba, we arrived in the town where Las Patronas sits. The building, as we came to learn, is the home of a family and the matriarchs of the whole organization, sisters Norma and Bernarda Romero Vázquez. Before a day of work, we first needed to hear the story of Las Patronas. We sat in a wide circle, still tired from the journey and listened as Norma recounted her experiences as a young woman and how it led to the creation of Las Patronas.

Las Patronas MuralMural of train routes

Back in 1995, the Romero sisters were walking home with some bread and milk for their breakfast. The train, located no more than a few hundred meters from their home, was passing as they stood to cross. The sisters noticed the men on top of the train and heard them yell out, “tenemos hambre”, “we’re hungry”. As Norma and Bernarda would tell us, they didn’t know where or why these men were riding on the train but they did understand they were hungry. With the help of their formidable mother Doña Leonidas (memorialized after her passing in a mural) they made a plan to assist those riding La Bestia in a way so simple and yet so necessary, by making food that would nourish their bodies and souls in order to continue the journey north. They would make food that migrants might have in their homes, comida casera, like beans and rice, or pan dulce and very importantly provide water. Because the train is passing without stopping, the family needed to make food and water that they can pass to people without putting them in more danger of falling off. They devised systems of tying bags and bottles of water so they could be easily grabbed.

This is where we came in. After a generous breakfast prepared us for a day of work, we set to packing the bags. In the just big enough dining space, we sorted pan dulce and bread into plastic bags and learned how to tie them properly. Next, we helped pack and clean the kitchen and the whole dining, living and working space. While living in Mexico, this process became familiar to me, cook, clean and work without stopping, without rest, without complaining. Many industries in the US could learn from these women and the work ethic I witnessed all around Mexico.

Photo of students

We anxiously awaited news about the train arriving and if we’d be seeing the Romero sisters and the other volunteer staff in action, handing bags of food and bottles of water to people speeding by on La Bestia. The train did not come while we were visiting that day. However, we did walk over to the tracks to learn about their hand-off system, which had evolved to be as safe as possible for both those handing off and the migrants on the train. We learned that the train, La Bestia, or “the beast”, has served as both a vessel of hope and a moving nightmare. Migrants can lose limbs by not jumping on or off the train properly and many trains have increased their speed to discourage riders. In addition to the dangers of the train itself, other dangers exist of a more human-kind. Migrants are vulnerable to violence from police and gangs who will steal and even extort money from family members back home. The journey on La Bestia holds many unknown and potentially horrific experiences. Las Patronas, the family and the volunteers, seek to give the migrants a chance to eat, feel the comfort of home-made food and the generosity of loving and devoted people.

The Romero sisters and the volunteers they inspire are greater than their simple home by the train. This is why they’ve gained international attention, including a documentary “All of Me”, available on Amazon. They are also often visited by students seeking to learn more about their work. This is their life’s work. It is inspired by true human need, faith and the incredible ingenuity and love of their dear mother. The work we saw was meant to inspire us, to remind us that what is difficult, dangerous and hopeless is surmountable. For the last 23 years a family has devoted itself to this one cause: giving a piece of home to those who are so far from it.

photo of studentsphoto of students

MIMS Students Featured on the USF Law School Blog

Three of our Master in Migration Studies students, Corie Schwabenland Garcia, Melanie Shelton, and Valeria Vera, have been featured as guest bloggers on ImmigrationProf Blog! This blog is edited by USF Law School and Master in Migration Studies Professor Bill Hing.

Corie Schwabenland Garcia’s post takes a look at Temporary Protected Status (TPS). Check out her piece “It’s Time We Talk About TPS”.

Melanie Shelton writes a book review focusing on the work of author René Colato Laínez, a U.S.-based, Salvadoran immigrant whose body of work depicts young children in immigrant families interacting with the U.S. legal system. Read more in Book Review: Children’s Author Focus: Introducing René Colato Laínez.


Valeria Vera examines the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Explore more about this topic in her post titled: Hold Accountable DHS Officers and Authorities Denying Protection to Asylum Seekers.

Congratulations MIMS Class of 2018

We are proud to present our first cohort of graduates along with descriptions of their research and applied projects.  We are honored to be part of their visions and calls for improved human and immigrant rights.



Andrea Portillo

Dreams sin Fronteras: Exploring the Lives and Experiences of Five Returned Migrants in Mexico

Due to an unprecedented number of deportations in the last decade, coupled with a recent fall in net migration from Mexico, return migration from the United States to Mexico has made its way to the forefront of the immigration discourse. Andrea’s research draws on the experiences of five Mexican migrants who have returned to Mexico, “voluntarily” or through deportation proceedings, to argue that the stories and experiences of returned migrants can provide insight into the challenges/successes of life post-return.

In doing so, her article draws parallels between the personal experiences of these five returnees and the broader discourse on return migration, to highlight the significance that eliminating policies like DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) can have for the undocumented community within the United States. The experiences shared by returnees highlighted that upon return, many struggle to “reintegrate” into Mexican society, grapple with financial instability but manage to further their education, and in general remain hopeful about their futures. These findings suggest that while life for returnees is difficult, many continue to strive to achieve the same dreams they have been working toward.



Eric Beasley

Overlooking Men and Boys in Forced Criminality at the Border: A Content Analysis of Human Trafficking Training and Awareness Materials

In the Post 9/11 era, where American security is intimately linked to a militarized border management system designed to protect the United States and its territories from threats of terrorism, illegal drugs, and illegal immigration, the media continues to perpetuate the “Latino Threat Narrative” for national consumption. Eric’s research explores how the ‘Latino Threat Narrative’ and inherent gender biases shape how the Department of Homeland Security understands vulnerability and identifies human trafficking victims, particularly men and boys from Mexico and Central America, who are victims of forced criminality.

Drawing on current literature and by conducting a content analysis of human trafficking training and awareness materials made publicly available on the website of the Department of Homeland Security, his research explains how and why men and boys are looked upon with suspicion and are overlooked as victims of human trafficking and forced criminality. He concludes by offering recommendations for improving reporting procedures as well as best practices for raising awareness about these important and harmful issues.



Karina Castro

On the Front Lines: Service Providers Respond to the Haitian Refugee Crisis

Long known as a city of migrants, with its diversity of peoples and interlacing cultures, Tijuana was still unprepared for the arrival of Haitians to Baja California in 2016. At that moment, Tijuana faced the unforeseen and unexpected arrival of approximately 15,000 Haitians to the region, which immediately became a humanitarian crisis. While the Mexican government denied the severity of the situation, service providers understood its gravity. Thirty-six shelters, some well established and others newly improvised, took action upon themselves to help the arriving refugees.

Karina’s research explores the role policies played in the work of service providers as they worked to integrate this population by addressing their immediate needs, such as food and shelter, but ultimately lacked structures and vision to address their long term needs as they settled in Tijuana instead of being able to reach their final destination across the border to the U.S. and incorporated into shelter systems developed to serve other migrant populations including daily deportees and internally displaced people.



Kathryn Rose Gaines

The Power of Story: Digital Storytelling with Migrant Women in the Era of Trump

Working in partnership with StoryCenter in Berkeley, California, Katy was able to facilitate a three-day workshop in which five migrant women came together to share their experiences and transform their memories into short audiovisual projects in a series they call Stories of Resistance. The premise of the workshops is that sharing first person narratives gives storytellers the opportunity to build solidarity within and between migrant groups, as well as educate non-migrant populations and policymakers about the realities of the transnational migrant experience. This methodology allows for a greater democratization of media technology that she believes is necessary to change the discourse on migration and add to the archive of positive and humanizing migration stories. She aims to encourage multimedia activism, education and creative expression through this scalable, grassroots model.

Katy plans on continuing Stories of Resistance through 2018 and into 2019. As an applied project, she submitted an application to secure further grant funding to continue to build upon the program which would allow storytellers from the pilot program to receive training to co-facilitate workshops within their own communities. Upon completion of this series, all of the stories will be shared with the public in both community screenings and gallery exhibits.



Maria Silva

Case Management, Resources and Support (CARES) for Asylum Seekers: An Applied Project of and with the Kino Border Initiative 

According to the Department of Homeland Security, the backlog of asylum claims surpassed 200,000 in 2016. A total of 63,773 defensive asylum applications were filed in 2016 alone; 158 attempts to file a claim that year occurred at the Nogales, Arizona port of entry with the assistance of the Kino Border Initiative (KBI). The KBI provides comprehensive services to deported and in transit migrants in Nogales, Sonora.

Maria set out to help develop the CARES (Case Management, Resources and Support)  Project in response to the KBI’s expressed need to expand support services to individuals seeking asylum at the Nogales port of entry and uphold the rights of asylum seekers by providing resources, assistance and accompaniment throughout every step of the process. Aside from providing asylum seekers information regarding the application process, CARES was designed to increase the KBI’s capacity to provide adequate follow up and integration resources upon admission to the United States. CARES serves the additional purpose of collecting data regarding immigration patterns and practices at the Nogales border. KBI can utilize this data to influence comprehensive local, national and international immigration policy.



Michell Figueroa

Cuisjleños in Santa Ana: Exploring Identity and Blackness Among the Costeño Afro-Mexican Migrant in California

Mexico is one of the countries within Latin America that is continuously denying the existence of people of African descent in their borders. The legacy of slavery in Mexico has caused people of African descent in Mexico to suffer constant violations of human rights and structural inequality. These conditions keep Afro-Mexican people invisible, isolated, and in deep poverty along the Costa Chica of Guerrero and Oaxaca. For most, the only option to get out of that deep poverty is to emigrate.

Since the 1980s Afro-Mexicans have built intimate migrant communities in California, Illinois, and North Carolina. At first glance, many Americans and non-black mestizo Mexicans do not recognize Costeño Afromexicanos as Mexican. Afro-Mexicans are often mistaken for other groups of African heritage, like Afro-Caribbeans and African Americans. These experiences add to the feeling of invisibility that Afro-Mexican communities experienced in Mexico and demonstrate that their invisibility continues when they arrive in the United States. Michelle’s ethnography gives detailed account of Afro-Mexican migrant life in Santa Ana, California and sheds light on the strategies they have created to maintain and reproduce their identity.



Nadia Naghedi Basradaran Hajjar

“Unwanted in My Own Country”: Testimonies of Identity and Belonging-Negotiations in a Post-Trump America

Through an ethnographically informed study, Nadia investigated how significant political events in the recent history of the United States have impacted the lives of first and second-generation Middle Eastern Muslim women. Nadia was able to conduct 11 in-depth interviews with women ages 19 – 65, living in the greater Los Angeles area over the course of 2017. The interviews involved three distinct topics: the aftermath of 9/11, the 2016 U.S. presidential elections, and President Trump’s “Muslim” travel ban executive orders.

Positioned in a framework that would allow her to examine the role that racial and ethnic discrimination has had on the lives of this particular niche community, her research data showed the diverse perceived personal impact felt of these events on the participants’ lives. Themes that developed over the course of her research included topics relating to the participant’s ethnic and religious identities, their sense of belonging, and overt and underlying xenophobic and Islamophobic pressures felt within their communities, as well as diverse reactions and coping strategies based on generational differences and how much they follow the news and social issues.



Nora Alicia Castañeda

Mexican Roots; U.S. Dreams: Mexico’s Response to the Enrollment of U.S. Citizen Children in their Education System

Increased deportation orders and arrests along with a hostile political climate have led more Mexican nationals to return to their home country and they are taking their U.S. citizen children with them. The first part of Nora’s work analyzes the change and continuity of U.S. immigration policies which have led to this return migration. The second part of her research focuses on Mexico’s response to the enrollment of U.S. citizen children in their education system. Working exclusively with the Programa Binacional de Education del Migrante (PROBEM) in the border city of Tijuana, Baja California, she was able to conduct interviews with educators and volunteers from support groups coordinated by PROBEM.

Her paper highlights five major themes. 1) The language barrier between students and educators due to inadequate English training 2) Lack of bilingual education 3) Teacher insensitivity towards migrant students 4) Student invisibility 5) Lack of diffusion of information from the Secretary of Education to the individual school districts. Such themes indicate that the Mexican government continues to lack capacity in managing the integration of U.S. citizen children in the Mexican education system.



Rita Ewing

From Davao City to Daly city: Examining Translanguaging and Transnationalism in the 1.5-Generation Fillipin(a/o) Americans of Daly City

Applying an intersectional framework of post-colonial narrative and linguistic anthropology to transnational migration, Rita’s research investigates how the transnational immigrant deploys language and place value on their heritage and second languages, and reflexively deploy their language sets to reflect their unique positionality. Her thesis is a case study examination of five adult members of the 1.5-generation of Filipin(a/o) American immigrants, who immigrated to the US before the age of eighteen and have academic, employment, or residential affiliation with the Filipin(a/o) diaspora of Daly City, California.

Through data analysis of oral histories collected through in-depth sociolinguistic interviews, her study uses these nostalgic perspectives to better understand how the relationship between language and identity formation is affected by socio-spatial experiences. By examining the intergenerational, post-colonial and transnational interplay of the narrator’s language ideologies, her study uses the archive to demonstrate the transformative power of memory to project the immigrant experience to show how  translanguaging, or the cognizant, situational deployment of a multilingual repertoire, reflects transnational identity formation.

Something That Can Be Very Similar to a Home

Smiling student at deskI 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



Welcome to the University of San Francisco’s Migration Studies Blog! Immigration is a complicated and dynamic field. Our approach to educating and empowering leaders and thinkers is as diverse and open as the graduate students who commit two years to exploring the issue through deep academic and community engagement. With so many different ways to connect and update our community about our work and program, we still felt we lacked a way to give you a deeper understanding of who we are and what we do, until now.  We will use this space to share the work of past and present students and introduce you to Migration Studies faculty and community partners, in the U.S. and in Mexico. We will also post announcements and invitations to relevant events, talks, and rallies, on and off-campus.MstrMigrationStdies_c_3c_rgb