“It is important tonight that we open our hearts and we feel it directly from our guts,” Maria Christina Herrera from Caminante Cultural Foundation said in her initial remarks when explaining the items on a table set symbolizing courage, suffering, love, family, and strength.

On May 23, the leaders from local and national organizations gathered to mourn and commemorate the lives of migrants. The event, held at the Mission District bookstore Medicine for Nightmares, was co-sponsored by the National Lawyers Guild San Francisco Bay Area chapter, Global Exchange, Peninsula 360, Haiti Action Committee, and Caminante Cultural Foundation. 

Francisco Herrera from Caminante Cultural Foundation broke the ice by performing his song “Caminando” and making the audience sing along in English and Spanish.

Camilo Perez-Bustillo, director of the SF Bay Area chapter of the National Lawyers Guild and moderator of the event, started by recalling the fire at the detention center in Ciudad Juarez in Mexico, where 40 migrants, from six different countries, died. 

“We want to emphasize today that sadly what happened on March 27 in Juarez epitomizes what is unfolding at the border as we speak: prevention through detention,” Perez Bustillo said.

Perez-Bustillo highlighted two recent cases of underage migrants who died in the past few days. Ángel Eduardo Maradiaga Espinoza, a 17-year-old from Honduras, died in a shelter near Tampa, Florida, where his medical needs were identified and ignored, and Anadith Tanay Reyes Álvarez, an 8-year-old born in Panama — whose family is from Honduras — died in border patrol custody in Harlingen, Texas.

“Nobody leaves their country because they do not like it; they do it because they have no other option,” said María Christina Herrera, executive director of the Caminante Cultural Foundation. She explained to the audience the symbolism of a pair of shoes, a jacket, an empty plastic gallon of water with some drops left, and a backpack.

Christina then handed out candles and jointly we lit them up, sending them to every migrant that is now leaving their homes, and to the ones who have fallen. After a few seconds of silence, Francisco started playing his guitar and singing: “ya no vivo, pero voy, en lo que andaba soñando, y otros que siguen peleando, harán brotar nuevas rosas.” 

Terry Valen from the International Migrant Alliance (IMA) continued after the song, calling on everyone to act and to organize against one of the root causes of forced migration: neoliberal economic policies.

“The border is not something distant from here, is not something exotic, or on another planet, it is inherently here in the Bay area,” Valen said.

An altar commemorating migrants was set up in the gallery of Medicine for Nightmares on May 23, during the event “The Border is Everywhere: Stop the Militarization of the Border, Defend Asylum and Migrant Lives.” Photo: Mariana Navarrete

Valen explained airports are part of the systematic fortification of the border. He described how a Filipino human rights activist was detained and tortured at Customs and Border Protection of SFO. The activist, Jerome Aladdin Succor Aba, was held for 24 hours, and IMA was there protesting to make sure he was sent back safely to his homeland.

This November, the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation is coming to San Francisco, and Valen invited everyone to join IMA’s front against it at the Moscone center.

“Come out and join us against these neoliberal free trade policies that are devastating our homelands, workers all over the world, and the environment,” Valen said.

The Chiapas Support Committee, who Carolina Dutton represented, was also at the event. The Committee provides solidarity to the Zapatistas, a political and militant group in Chiapas who rose up against the North American Trade Agreement in 1994, which deregulated tariffs and allowed corporations to buy land from indigenous communities to produce cheap exports.

On the 26th of every month, the Committee stands in front of the Mexican consulate, with the demand for justice, not just for Chiapas but human rights throughout Mexico. On May 26, they passed around a letter asking for signatures, with the intention of presenting it to the Mexican consulate and to the Department of Homeland Security, demanding accountability and justice for the fire in Juarez.

Caseworker from Instituto Familiar de la Raza, Carlos Izaguirre, agreed on what Herrera said about migrants not having another option in their homelands because of the flooding crime and lack of opportunities for the most vulnerable and marginalized. Izaguirre stated we need to educate the privileged Latina/o/x community that think they don’t have to care about immigration policies because they have a regular immigration status here.

“Even seeing those tragedies [such as the fire in Juarez] as something that could prevent them from coming here, they are still going to try it,” Izaguirre said.

Izaguirre’s voice started cracking when commenting about the fire in Juarez. In the back of the room, there was an altar set with monarch butterflies that had the names of the 40 migrants who died.

“I wish I could be helping those names, making an intake, providing case management, or any other service, but it is not the case,” Izaguirre said. “We are here instead remembering the fatalities they had to suffer.”

Global Exchange was present too with Ted Lewis. He recalled how in 1998, Global Exchange organized a ‘parade’ in San Jose, honoring the lives of lost migrants. To remember those migrants, the marchers held crosses. 

“When you take a number and then actually put names to it and see the piles of crosses and the multiple vans we had to have for just carrying the crosses, you realize this is such a holocaust,” Lewis reflected.

Francisco Herrera plays his guitar during a candle-lit ceremony, commemorating migrants who have crossed the US-Mexico border. Photo: Mariana Navarrete

Leslie Judith, from Witness at the Border, had similar conclusions as Lewis, regarding the inhumanity people at the border have to experience. In December 2022, they passed through every port of entry along the U.S.-Mexico border with the “The Journey for Justice.”

“It is U.S. foreign policies, military intervention, coups, support for authoritarian regimes, land and resource exploitation, neoliberal agenda, that is really forcing people to migrate in order to survive,” Judith said.

Judith stressed that more deaths are inevitable as the U.S. implements a new anti-immigration policy that eliminates all legal avenues to asylum. Even though Title 42 is over, the government keeps creating tools of metering and exclusion, when instead they should provide asylum for anyone who arrives the border according to international law, no matter where or how or in what country, whether they cross legally or illegally.

Even though the stories and commentary shared in the event were not precisely joyful, what all the leaders pointed out was that seeing all these people and organizations advocating for migrants gave strength and hope, which are indeed needed to continue fighting for justice.