Last year 23-year-old Pedro Aguilar left his home in Honduras to take the perilous journey north to the United States. His dreams for a better life in the north ended in central Mexico when the dilapidated freight train migrants refer to as “the beast” ran over him. Aguilar was saved by a fellow traveler from El Salvador who called an ambulance. Doctors were able to save Aguilar’s life, but he lost his left leg below the knee.
Aguilar and 25 other travelers, including Father Alejandro Solalinde, arrived in Austin Wednesday to raise awareness about the dangers that migrants like Aguilar face as they travel north. They are also advocating for immigration reform in the United States that they say will lessen the suffering of immigrant families. The travelers arrived in Austin in a caravan of several cars and vans they call the “Caravan of Hope.” It’s modeled after Mexican peace activist Javier Sicilia’s highly publicized “Caravan of Peace,” which traveled through the United States last summer.
Aguilar said that he, like thousands of other Central Americans, left his country because of growing poverty and violence. Aguilar said his 29-year-old sister was robbed and killed for a pair of tennis shoes in 2011. His 35-year-old brother was killed that same year by gunmen. “ I don’t know why they killed him. The authorities did nothing,” he said. “There’s so much impunity.”
Their murders finally convinced Aguilar that he should leave Honduras. “Since I was 9 years old, I had the idea of wanting to be in the United States,” he said. “I had seen how people who went to the United States, if they worked hard, they could get somewhere. In Honduras you kill yourself working from dawn to dusk, and you have nothing to show for it.”
The caravan arrived at the Mexican American Cultural Center in downtown Austin Wednesday evening for a screening of the documentary “El Albergue” about the migrant shelter run by Father Solalinde in Oaxaca that offers refuge to Central American and South American migrants. The screening was followed by a panel that included Aguilar and other caravan members as well as a brief speech by Father Solalinde, whose work protecting migrants has resulted in several death threats. The priest now travels with four bodyguards in Mexico.
Sixty-four-year-old Mercedes Moreno left El Salvador shortly before civil war broke out. She left behind two young sons in the care of her mother. “I had always thought I’d go back but then the war started,” she said.
After several years, Moreno was finally reunited with her sons in Los Angeles. Her oldest son, Jose, was deported after being ticketed for jaywalking. He was returned to El Salvador but had no identification. The police picked him up, and he was tortured for several months, Moreno said. When he was finally released, her son fled El Salvador to reunite with his mother in California. He never made it. Her 22-year-old son disappeared in Mexico in 1991 and was never heard from again.
“There’s no closure,” Moreno said. “I don’t know if he’s alive or dead. At night, I wonder if he’s gotten something to eat or if he’s been hurt. I’ve searched everywhere for him in Mexico.”
Father Alejandro Solalinde urged the audience of more than 200 people at the cultural center to embrace humanity instead of material wealth. Greed and corruption fuels organized crime, which preys on the poor, he said. “We are living through one of the worst crises in humanity because we have put God to the side and put money in his place.”
On Wednesday, Pedro Aguilar said he still couldn’t believe that he had finally made it to the United States. Just 11 months ago, he had been lying in a Mexican hospital at the lowest point in his young life. He never could have imagined that he would be an invited speaker on a caravan crossing the United States to promote immigration reform. Now Aguilar works in a nonprofit bakery in central Mexico that employs migrants who were maimed during their journey north. “I am trying to do my part. I feel like I carry the weight of other immigrants. Those who never made it. So I try to carry on with bravery and courage. I know that in this life you can make it. Under whatever circumstance you have to keep going.”
Pedro Aguilar has been unable to afford a prosthetic leg. Anyone interested in helping can contact him at [email protected]