Las Patronas: selfless women along a hard journey

Las Patronas: selfless women along a hard journey

By now, everyone is clearly tired of hearing about immigration, and 2012 has already proven to be another frustrating year for advocates of immigration reform.

Between Marco Rubio’s pathetic, watered-down DREAM Act and the several versions of the bill that were voted down in states like Colorado and Florida earlier this year, immigration reform has proven to be a real obstacle in American politics.

Still, immigration is a particularly relevant issue for many Latinos, and since Mitt Romney needs at least 40 percent of their votes in November to even have a shot at the White House, you can bet on immigration reform being a key topic of debate consistently this year.

So when we find ourselves fed up with ramblings about anchor babies and economic incentives, let’s remember the very real human lives affected by systemically oppressive immigration law and foreign policies. Let’s remember the Central American migrants riding cargo trains north in search of work who expose themselves to kidnap, robbery, rape and murder during their long and perilous journey.

The 2010 documentary El tren de las moscas tells the story of Las Patronas, a group of women that, for the last 17 years, has handed out food and water to the migrants riding the trains in Veracruz, Mexico.

Leonila Vazquez Alvizar, her five daughters and a handful of other volunteers wake up early every morning and cook beans, rice and tortillas. They collect used plastic bottles, wash them out, and refill them with fresh water. Then, as the trains pass by, they give it all away, not even knowing the names of the people they’re helping or asking for anything in return.

In the beginning, the women used much of their own food and cooked a few meals in their own homes. Since then, their aspirations for helping the train-riding migrants have grown. Now they get much larger quantities of food donated and work together in a large kitchen built on donated land near the railroad.

“The poor people,” Leonila describes, “all of them say, ‘Madremadre, thank you!’ This is the satisfaction that we keep in our hearts. They give us thanks.”

The saint-like actions of these women are truly selfless. They don’t politicize the issue, but instead contribute what they can to those in need. Accepting the circumstances in a world where migration is an inevitable reality, they have voluntarily worked to leave their own legacy in the immigration debate.

Aside from a couple of migrant shelters in Mexico, the passage through Veracruz is one of the very few bright spots on the migrants’ long and arduous journey.

The mainstream media and politicians jump at the chance to talk about border security and electric fences, yet they don’t even bother to address the latent human rights issues within those immigration policies. That is why, before we grow weary of the immigration debate, we should stop to consider the very real human struggle behind immigration – just like Las Patronas have done.

To them, from the bottom of my heart, I say thank you.


This article originally appeared in Being Latino.