Stories From a Mexico City Migrant Shelter

Faiza Mohamed, contributor

Casa Tochan, taken Oct. 2 by Audrey Buturian-Larson

As students on campus in Minneapolis are finishing up their classes, I am nearing the end of my study abroad experience here in Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico. Over the course of these last few months here in Mexico, migration has been a major topic of conversation, and one that hits close to home for me as a first generation Somali-American immigrant. Augsburg brings together a wide variety of people, many of whom are immigrants like myself. I would like to share a particular experience from Casa Tochan, a migrant shelter in Mexico City, in hopes of generating a greater sense of understanding, empathy and solidarity with migrants from all over the world. 

Casa Tochan provides housing to migrants for a few months at a time. In addition to housing, they offer language classes and programs that teach important skills such as cooking, screenprinting, woodworking and painting. They are active in their community about political advocacy for immigrants and passionate about migrant rights. While visiting, we heard testimonies from people staying at the shelter about the difficulties they faced in their home countries. One such migrant is Daniel, now 18, who left El Salvador with his brother when he was 15 to escape gang violence. A major reason why people migrate from El Salvador, and other countries in Central America, is due to gangs recruiting young children to join them. These gangs followed Daniel to and from school, threatening his life and eventually forcing him to drop out. Without any money, Daniel and his brother fled to Guatemala, and soon after, Mexico. 

Another migrant, whose name is also Daniel, is 22-years old, and fled Honduras when he was 18. He never knew his mother, so his grandmother took care of him until she died when he was 13. He went to live with his father, where the gangs in that town pressured him to join, but he refused. Honduras was no longer a safe place for him, so he migrated to Mexico City, where he was given a Visa for six months. Later, his sister from Honduras joined him, and together they crossed the northern border into the USA. They turned themselves over to immigration authorities in the United States and asked for asylum. Unfortunately, only his sister was granted asylum and Daniel was detained for seven months. They deported him back to Honduras, but eventually he returned to Mexico and went through a two-year process to get his papers sorted. 

The stories of the two Daniels are important to me because as a first generation immigrant and refugee, their story connects with my own. I was born in a refugee camp in Kenya. My family sought safety in America, fleeing their war-torn country, Somalia. I know that stories of many Somali-American first generation students in Minnesota are similar to mine. While each immigrant story is unique, at their core, we share a similar experience, no matter the country we flee. The process of immigrating is scary, the adjustment process is difficult, and there is little empathy for immigrants in the United States. 

I hope that readers will join me, along with Casa Tochan, in siding with migrants by working as an advocate for immigrant rights through the pursuit of political reform, exercising empathy, and encouraging others to do the same.