Fatima del Carmen Castro: A Voice from the Caravan
By Mario A. Cortez
The sound of Fatima del Carmen Castro’s boots on Tijuana’s beach boardwalk gets lost between norteño guitars and waves crashing on the sand beneath. Even after making her way across three countries, she is still walking, looking to make a living selling grilled shrimp skewers as she waits for the opportunity to present her asylum case to U.S. authorities.
Fatima is from Puerto de la Libertad del Majahual, a popular tourist destination in El Salvador. In her home country, she and her daughter devoted themselves to baking traditional Salvadoran bread. Salpores, cheese bread, and pineapple cakes were her favorite things to bake.
Fatima arrived in Tijuana on the night of Nov. 15 along with members of the Central America migrant caravan seeking asylum protections in the United States. Crime and death threats from gang members who wanted to kidnap her daughter and kill her son in law displaced her from her home country.
“My family life was very calm until this group of criminals threatened to kill us,” Fatima said to La Prensa San Diego.
Without thinking twice, Fatima fled north along with her daughter and son in law, leaving behind two adult sons and her bakery. At the time of her departure, the migrant caravan would not leave its starting point in Honduras for another month.
While she waited to receive documents showing her approved legal stay in Mexico and a work permit, the migrant caravan caught up to her in the city of Tapachula, near the Mexico-Guatemala border.
“And well, the caravan passed through there and we joined it. I never went to pick up my papers,” she recalled.
After becoming part of the traveling group, Fatima began to traverse the migrant route which winds through western Mexico, no matter what hardships lay along the way.
“We have endured storms, endured heat, and have had to walk for entire days without stopping only to sleep on a sidewalk at night,” she detailed. “But we also found people who gave us rides and good people who have given us gifts, given us food, and a shelter to rest.”
Fatima remembers only a few names of the places through which she has passed along her way. She said she remembered names such as the state of Nayarit and the city of Guadalajara but not much else.
“I don’t remember all of the names of the places I have passed, but we arrived in many towns,” she noted.
On the night she and her relatives arrived in Tijuana, Fatima was surprised by the noise coming from a plaza where migrants slept, just steps away from the border with the United States.
“(Tijuana residents) assaulted many people who slept there. They had not done anything, but they came to attack them and a mess broke out,” she said.
The following day, while the rest of the caravan’s members left for a shelter at a sports complex near downtown Tijuana, Fatima chose to remain in Playas de Tijuana, where she had found a migrant shelter to take her in and had a feeling she could find a job in the neighborhood.
“I went out to look for work and found the gentleman who sells skewers and told me if I wanted to try (selling them). I left with 10 skewers and sold them all and then I came back for more because I liked being able to work already,” Fatima shared.
For each skewer sold at a price of 50 pesos ($2.50), she takes a 10-peso cut (about 50 cents).
“These days I have been making up to 300 pesos ($14.75) selling shrimps and for me that will help while I stabilize myself with a formal job,” she pointed out.
Despite the hostility being displayed by groups of Tijuana residents and the words of rejection from U.S. President Donald Trump aimed at those seeking asylum protections, this migrant says she feels comfortable in Tijuana with a roof over her head and a job. However, her ultimate goal is to be granted asylum in the United States, where lifelong friends are waiting for her in Los Angeles and in Nuevo Laredo, Texas.
Although the way to the border has been unforgiving, and the wait to make her asylum plea will be long, Fatima extended her gratefulness to the people of Mexico.
“Thanks to God, Mexicans have treated us well and have treated me well, with too much generosity. Mexicans have not had to feed us or give us a place to go to the bathroom but they have done so. I am eternally thankful to the people of Mexico,” Fatima stated.
She also extended some words to those who see this exodus as a plague.
“Not all of us are bad, but there have been some bad people for which we have all had to pay the price even though we are not all guilty of anything. The majority of us are hard working and good people and we look for our dream of getting ahead in life with our families,” she declared.