The other Dreamers: 48,000 Central American children ride the rails looking for their mothers

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A small boy with a practiced eye makes his way along the ridge of a mountain of trash , alert to the contours of a landscape that changes daily. When he hones in on a promising spot, he works swiftly to retrieve everything of use, tossing or shoving aside peripheral mounds. Large buzzards perch nearby or get tired of waiting for him and depart with a loud squawk  for a neighboring mountain.

The huge city dump outside of Tegucigalpa, Honduras plays a central role in the subsistence economy of the city’s poor. Children spend hours a day climbing its slopes, searching for wood, bricks, edible food, rags, broken cookware, discarded clothing, plastic, paper, tin, and glass. Life has grown a lot  harder for Honduras’ poor families over the past twelve or so years. More and more of them are single-parent families headed by women, who can’t even count  on  earning enough to supply their children’s basic needs, let alone  afford  textbooks and  school supplies.


One of the first public signs that a mother has left  Tegucigalpa and found work in the United States is the retirement of her children from work at the dump – and their immediate enrollment in school. Tens of thousands of Honduran children are raised by relatives, as more and more single mothers cross neighboring Guatemala and make the dangerous trek up the length of Mexico to seek work in the U.S. Most of them lack the paperwork required by Mexico and, directed by coyotes, bribe officials along the route.

Mexico returns several busloads of Hondurans and Guatemalans to the border every day.


        And every year,  thousands of Honduran and Guatemalan children, some as young as nine,  disregard the terrible warnings of their elders and risk their lives on the long treacherous journey to El Norte, determined to find their mothers. Some do not survive; more are sent home with missing limbs, lost beneath the wheels of the Train of Death that carries them north, pursued  by Mexican police, railroad agents, gang members and bandits.  In some areas, the local  police rob and beat them as regularly as do the gangsters, and they go without food and water for two, sometimes three days at a time.

But the children  will not be stopped: the L.A. Times photographer who took these photos met a 15-year-old boy who finally crossed  the Rio Grande after his eighteenth harrowing journey up the length of Mexico on the tops of crumbling freight cars.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~ ~.~.~.~.~.~.~.

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As the light fades in southern Mexico, a Honduran boy leaps from car to car as the train approaches a village in the state of Chiapas. Like the other riders, he’s preparing to position himself to leap from the train about a mile before it reaches the stop, hoping to avoid the police and bandits who await the train in the village. The travelers will circle widely around the community and wait for the train another mile up the tracks. They know that if they make it through Chiapes, they can count on welcome, protection, and food from the villagers of the neighboring states of  Veracruz and Oaxoca. There, people routinely defy the police, warning the migrants, surrounding them with protests if they are arrested, sheltering them in their tiny homes and opening their churches.

As the trains slow down to pass through these villages, some of the poorest people in Mexico wait beside the tracks to throw bags plastic bags of tortillas, beans, fruit, cheese, bread and sandwiches. They toss bottles of lemonade and tea, blankets and clothing They shout'”Bless you! Bless you!” and the travelers often cry as they shout “Bless you!” back, before the train whisks them along the tracks and out of sight.

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A fifteen-year-old Honduran boy named Enrique has reached the Rio Grande at last. He spends another month sleeping under a large bush near the river’s edge in the Mexican border town of Nuevo Laredo,  earning enough pesos to buy a phone card to call his mother, begging for food, and avoiding the authorities. Here he washes cars on a Nuevo Laredo night.

 When Enrique wades across the border river at last, he joins one of 48,000 Central American children who enter the United States unaccompanied by an adult each year. Almost all are looking for their mothers.

They are Dreamers too.


The above material is taken from  2002 Los Angeles Times series “Enrique’s Journey” by Sonia Nazario.

                                    All photos except last one (below) / Don Barletti / LA Times


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We should not look for the child Jesus in our beautiful pictures. We should look for him amongst the malnourished children that have gone to bed tonight with nothing to eat, or amongst the children that sell the newspapers in our streets and will sleep on the same streets covered with what paper is over.  

If somebody gives a loaf of bread to the hungry, he’s called a Saint. But, if he starts asking for the reasons causing the famine then he is called an atheist communist. Yet there is nothing more dangerous for the people than capitalism, as it turns human beings into material objects and material objects into idols. 

Above two quotes: Bishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, who defied a furious Vatican and a ruthless CIA  when he stood with the peasents and revolutionaries against the atrocities of the US – backed military takeover.  Romero was murdered at the direction of the CIA, but his presence is lovingly expressed throughout the daily life of present day El Salvador.


4 thoughts on “The other Dreamers: 48,000 Central American children ride the rails looking for their mothers

  1. It’s a side of the story you don’t hear much about. Thank you for bringing it out in the open. Bless your heart.
    Thank so you very much for subscribing and opening the door to your world! Eddie


  2. Oh Claire, I cry for the children! Oh how I cry!
    For the children!

    May You Never Know

    “May you never know what makes life so dark and gritty.
    May you never know the mean streets of every city.
    May you never pay the price for what you did not buy.
    May you never wonder why your mother has to cry.

    May you never leave a shelter, just to go to school.
    May you never know why the world can be so cruel.
    May you never go to bed with an empty belly.
    May you never ask why your home is often smelly.

    May you never know hate from those who have too much.
    May you never know the stench of poverty from its touch.
    May you never know the sordid, seedy side of life.
    May you never know only hunger, pain and strife.

    May you never know….”

    All these things, I wish they ‘never need know!!!

    Thank you for posting this Claire! It is eye opening and so very heart wrenching!


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