Traveling Soles – The title phonetically is a play on words on “Traveling Souls.” | Photo by Veronica G. Cardenas

There was a sharp increase of refugees that would arrive at the bus station in McAllen, Texas, in the summer of 2014 after being released from the detention center. This led to Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, to organize to provide them a place where they could eat, shower, and change clothes before continuing with their journey and reunite with their family members or friends in the United States.

Her philosophy is to, “restore human dignity,” and that is why these services are provided for them. Some of their clothes and shoes are washed and then donated to other refugees. That year, the highest number of refugees that they have received in one day was about 250.

Traveling Soles is a series that invites the readers to learn about the story behind some of the shoes that belonged to these refugees who crossed borders fleeing from violence or simply to have a better life. These 250 pairs of shoes are part of these images representing the refugees that arrived at the Humanitarian Respite Center in the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in McAllen, Texas.

At the end of November of 2016, the highest number of refugees that arrived at the Humanitarian Respite Center increased to 433.

Damaris, Honduran, 12 years old

Photo by Veronica G. Cardenas

Along with her mother, her 14-year-old pregnant sister and her son that was the product of rape when she was only 12 years of age, Damaris and her family fled from their country fearing for their lives. They boarded La Bestia that is the cargo train that some migrants take in order to get to the northern part of México. In northernMéxico, where they were kidnaped by the zetas, a Mexican drug cartel, and were released after their family members paid the ransom.

Fernando, Guatemalan, 4 years old

Photo by Veronica G. Cardenas

Fernando and his mother left their country to seek a better life since they had lost their home and his father left them. They were able to escape alive after the federales, Mexican police, shot the trailer where they were being transported. He spent his fourth birthday hiding from the Mexican immigration agents in the bush lands.

Dacia, Salvadoran, 7 years old

Photo by Veronica G. Cardenas

While she was in the womb, gang members beat Dacia’s mother. She was born hydrocephalic and with scoliosis. Her older brother was kidnapped, and after a year, her mother has accepted the fact that he is more than likely dead. While they were traveling to the U.S., they were kidnapped by the zetas, a Mexican drug cartel. It took them a month to finally escape from them after they peeled off half of the skin from her mother’s foot.

Alondra, Honduran, 3 years old

Photo by Veronica G. Cardenas

There were complications while Alondra was born and as a result, she cannot walk. Her father lost a leg when he was run over by a vehicle. Alondra’s mother along with her older sister moved to the U.S. three years ago. Her father did not tell her mother that he would embark on this journey along with their youngest daughter. Despite their physical limitations, they were able to get to the U.S.

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Milagros, Honduran, 4 years old

Photo by Veronica G. Cardenas

It took Milagros and her mother about three months to get to the U.S. since she had to get small jobs throughout México and ask for money in the streets. Her mother left the country fearing for her life. Milagro’s father had brutally beaten up her mother and broke her hip. Three years later, she is still in a tremendous amount of pain. She decided to leave the country after he threatened to kill her.

Luis, Honduran, 8 years old

Photo by Veronica G. Cardenas

Luis’ mother left him when he was only two years of age. According to his father, “violence gets worse every day.” As early as 10 years of age, gang members start recruiting them to work for them. His father opted to give him a better future by taking him to the United States. Since they did not have the economic means, they had to board La bestia, The Beast that is the cargo train that some migrants take in order to get to the northern part of México.