This Friday, I attended one of OU’s “Latin Americanist Lunches.” The speaker was Mexican author Nadia Villafuerte, most notably author of the book “Barcos en Houston.” I decided to attend this event in particular because I read Villafuerte’s short story “Chica Cosmo” for my Spanish literature class. Like all stories in “Barcos en Houston,” which means “Boats in Houston,” “Chica Cosmo” is about immigration. However, not exactly the type of immigration you would expect from a book by a Mexican author. Villafuerte was born in Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Chiapas, which is in the southernmost state in Mexico. Living so close to the southern border, Villafuerte grew up observing the largely illegal immigration from Guatemala and other Central American countries to Mexico. From how she described it in “Chica Cosmo,” it sounds as if Mexico (especially its large cities) is viewed as a place of great opportunity and social mobility to many people in other Latin American countries.
Reading “Chica Cosmo” and listening to Nadia Villafuerte’s presentation made me consider an aspect of immigration I was formerly barely aware of. Living in the US, it’s very common to hear about Mexican immigrants crossing the border to escape violence, corruption, and poverty in their home country. Because of this, I came to consider Mexico a poor, dangerous, and undesirable place to live. This is why Villafuerte’s perspective was such an interesting one to hear—it made me realize that there really is a spectrum of living conditions across the Americas. There are people in Guatemala who consider Mexico to be a land of opportunity, just as some Mexicans view the USA. Above all, this made me wonder what life must be like for those who risk everything to cross into Mexico.
In “Chica Cosmo,” a young woman attempts to cross the southern border of Mexico from Guatemala. She must make it through a series of identity checks in order to travel from Guatemala to Chiapas to Juarez, her final destination in northern Mexico. She comments frequently on the hopeful things she has been told about Juarez, such as its wealth, size, and opportunity. In Guatemala, she worked as a prostitute for years to save up enough money for false papers. She has little education, and mentions that there are no other secure jobs for her in her home country. The story centers on her decision to turn in another illegal immigrant who is jeopardizing her chances of making it across the border. Ultimately, it is a story about the personal risk and moral questions involved in coming into Mexico illegally.
Villafuerte’s testimony and stories reminded me of my family and their experiences with immigration. My father and his parents came to the US from Colombia legally when he was a child, as they were able to save up the money to do so. However, many of his aunts, uncles, cousins, and other relatives were not so lucky. Several of them travelled up through Mexico and attempted to cross the border into the US, but were caught. Many of them finally decided to settle in Mexico rather than returning to Colombia. From what my father has told me, life in Colombia was dangerous and unfruitful when he was growing up. Hearing stories from him has helped me to be more sympathetic to illegal immigrants, especially those coming from central/south American countries that are sometimes very dangerous places to live.