Forty students from a private university in Mexico City huddled together under an opaque sky waiting for orders from their coyote or guide. The evening was relinquishing its balminess to a breeze that was shuffling in ominous clouds. The students chattered and giggled, some with hands clasped in the moonless cloak of night, in anticipation of what they had gathered there for: their illegal crossing of the Mexican-American border.
“Should we light a cigarette?” one girl asked another as the wait dragged on.
The head coyote for the crossing went only by “Simon,” and when he finally climbed atop the short wall that surrounded the church behind which the students waited, he quickly drew the idling mass into a cohesive unit.
“I’m not sure if everyone here is Mexican.… ” he said.
“Yes,” the students answered meekly.
“Are you Mexican?” he bellowed.
“Yes,” they answered in unison.
“Do you feel proud to be Mexican?” Simon yelled.
“Yes,” they yelled back, growing animated.
“Tonight we’re going to address the question of migration,” Simon said. “But for us it’s not something rhetorical; rather, the exact opposite. Because we have suffered from hunger, from thirst, injustice, heat, cold—we’ve suffered everything.”
The border they were about to cross was not the actual border—this one lies roughly 700 miles away from the closest point on the actual 1,952-mile border between Mexico and the United States. This border existed only within the boundaries of the EcoAlberto Park in Hidalgo state, and did not threaten them with parched throats, as much of it runs along water. The students also knew they would safely return to their tents tonight. This crossing—which the park advertises as a caminata nocturna, or night walk—is one of several recreational offerings for tourists, mostly middle-class residents of Mexico City, which is about three hours away.
Titi is one of the park employees who works as a coyote during these night walks. Standing off to the side from the students, wearing a full face mask, he explained the park’s motivations. “People always say that it’s dangerous [to be a migrant], right? But from what we’ve seen, it’s just news, it’s words. We wanted people not just to receive news, not just to get commentary, rather for them to really realize that it’s difficult and dangerous.”
When Simon finished talking, the other coyotes yelled for the students to start running. The whole group careened down an unpaved road in complete darkness, a cloud of dust trailing the aspiring “immigrants” as they fled into the brush.
EcoAlberto Parks sits on land belonging to the HñaHñu indigenous community. The park’s staff is entirely HñaHñu community members, the local contingency of which lives on-site. Since the 15th century the HñaHñu—members of the Otomi linguistic group—have supported themselves through agricultural production, which included corn, beans, amaranth and other crops. According to Maribel García, who works in the park’s administration department, that wasn’t bringing in much income lately. A small sign at the Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City attributed the Otomi’s move away from agriculture to “trading problems, such as transportation from their place of origin to consumption centers, the drop of prices and the different intermediaries they have to deal with.” Those “intermediaries,” as García explained a bit more bluntly, are like a Mafia that doesn’t let the HñaHñu trade their crops fairly.
LO RES FEA Photo Fake Border Crossing 02 by Irina Zhorov IMG 1863 270×180 Mexicos HñaHñu Community Battles Illegal Immigration With Simulated Border Crossing, Complete With Gun Shots
Participants get stopped and harrassed by fake agents.
Many young HñaHñu headed north—mostly to Las Vegas and Arizona—to look for work. They are now part of the roughly 11.5 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States, more than 60 percent of them from Mexico. Hidalgo is one of the top three Mexican states in terms of population loss to the U.S. The HñaHñu have lost 80 percent of their population. Only about 300 permanent residents remain.
The students and their coyotes crouched on the ground behind bushes. The howl of sirens and the glare of flashlights swept through the air on the slightly elevated road and a recording of a dog barking played mercilessly on repeat until even the tape seemed to grow hoarse.
“We’re gonna get you! We have you surrounded!” a voice from a loudspeaker shouted, first in English and then in Spanish, mimicking a perfect gringo accent.
“Don’t look at the light,” Simon instructed his charges. And as the sirens started to fade away, as though the Border Patrol agents were driving away, he let out another urgent war cry: “Let’s go!”
Again the students ran, the sound of footsteps mixing with hard breathing.