When Mrs Adriana Caravanillo got off her first plane ride to New York City’s John F Kennedy International Airport she felt flushed and her heart was racing with anticipation. But not because of the flight or the long interrogation by immigration officers.
This indigenous grandmother was excited to see her daughter — after 30 years of separation. Mrs Caravanillo’s daughter left their mountain community, helped by older brothers and uncles, to escape structural poverty and growing violence.
Family separation is one of the highest costs of forced migration caused by economic hardship and it doesn’t always come with a happy ending. Death often arrives before those who have left have a chance to see loved ones again.
Four million Mexican families have one or more relatives in the US. And there are around six million Mexicans immigrants in the US who can’t legally travel to Mexico and back to visit their families.
Migrants often live isolated lives in a new reality they don’t feel entirely connected to. Understandably, they miss their loved ones and the lives they had back home. Those who’ve stayed behind miss their loved ones and carry the burdens of caring for children and elders alone.
Stress and depression caused by family separation is a genuine public health threat in towns like Santiago, Puebla, where Mrs Caravanillo comes from.
The story of how Global Exchange got involved in helping people like Mrs Caravanillo to see their families again began 18 years ago, in another small town in the mountains of Puebla.
Back then, a small Mexican non-profit called IIPSOCULTA, that had been inspired by the indigenous uprisings of the 1990s, began working with local residents to explore ways to overcome their geographical separation from loved ones. They worked together to raise travel funds, but one of the first challenges they faced was discrimination at the US Embassy in Mexico City. People from poor and indigenous communities have a much harder time getting visitor visas than wealthier, urban applicants.
IIPSOCULTA joined Global Exchange in the 2012 Caravan for Peace with Justice and Dignity that carried 100 Mexicans to the US — drug war survivors — to forums, rallies, and protests in 27 cities coast-to-coast.
In the wake of the Caravan, IIPSOCULTA invited Global Exchange to co-sponsor NYTLAN, an annual gathering that started in 2008 with just ten women. NYTLAN has now become a tradition that celebrates and gives life to heritage both ancient and contemporary: food, dance, handcrafts and indigenous language.
Since then, Global Exchange has worked with IIPSOCULTA to address the root causes of and the human consequences of migration. We’ve sought to support their projects, art and culture in the US and the community that grew into the Migrant Families Popular Assembly, (Apofam) a network of collectives, cooperatives and projects that includes over 150 women, including Mrs Caravanillo, from 6 indigenous communities in Mexico.
In 2019, despite the hostility of the Trump Administration, we welcomed 23 women from Mexico to NYTLAN. Their stories add to those of the 200 women who’ve travelled to participate in NYTLAN since 2008. They’ve inspired us with their strength, their resilience, and their dignity even as they suffer harsh economic and immigration policies they have little control over.
When Mrs Caravanillo saw her daughter, they both ran into the love of each other’s arms.
Love makes a family.
We dream of and work for a day when love can flow unrestricted across our borders with policies that help millions of workers in immigrant families to share their love in person.
Love knows no borders.