An altar for migrants who have lost their lives crossing the border

Alongside many families across the Rio Grande Valley will honor their ancestors in their Día de Los Muertos celebrations, Fuerza del Valle Workers Center’s altar elevates those who have lost their lives crossing the U.S./Mexico border and victims of domestic violence.

Both groups of people, members of the Center say, are overlooked and victimized by the state.

“In order to transform our realities and have less deaths and people not dying, we need systemic change in the way people see violence, the whole patriarchal aspect of society that allows for this to happen, the lack of response from the authorities, the lack of action,” listed Hector Guzman Lopez, coordinator for the Workers’ Center.

Members of Fuerza del Valle around the altar

“All that, and also how Eddie (Canales of the South Texas Human Rights Center) says, it’s death by policy. Migrants are purposefully being pushed to go through the brush, through the more dangerous areas. Most of them make it, but some of them don’t. “

Guzman Lopez is referring to the vast brushlands in Brooks County, which many immigrants travel on foot with the help of a coyote or smuggler to avoid Border Patrol’s checkpoint located just outside Falfurrias, Texas. Often Border Patrol agents are called out to rescue migrants who have lost their way and are in serious danger out in the elements. Sometimes they do not find a lost migrant in time.

In recent years, the South Texas Human Rights Center has tried to aid migrants by providing water barrels in the brush area with cooperating landowners. But despite these efforts, there are migrants who still succumb to the vast land, and so efforts to find and identify their remains fall on Brook County local officials and anthropology students from several Texas colleges.

But the reason they are dying is because migrants, like victims of domestic abuse, are not a pressing priority for state officials, the Center said.

“Who suffers from violence?” Guzman Lopez asked. “Whose bodies are destroyed? Our bodies. That’s the connection here: migrants for society are obviously significant, but they don’t matter and it’s the same thing with women in Texas and everywhere pretty much. Femicides are happening. 146 women killed, that means what? Every two days. Every two days (a woman was killed last year) just in Texas.”

During the ceremony, members called out the names of all the women killed by their partners in the border counties of Texas. They also called out the locations of where the remains of 44 unidentified persons were found, as well as the dates of when they were found.

For some members, the ceremony was personal.

“I’m here for my sister, who died due to domestic violence,” said Fuerza del Valle member Maria Romero. “Sometimes in these anti-domestic violence workshops, it’s hard for me to talk about my experience because I lived through that violence with her since I was living with her, and it’s a cycle.”

While some people are inclined to define domestic violence or a migrant dying as an unfortunate occurrence in one person’s journey, Guzman Lopez sees it part of a larger mechanism that creates a fertile environment for these deaths.

“There is something systemic about it. There’s the whole environment that allows this horror, and not only allows it but promotes it and generates it. Same thing with labor trafficking and super-exploitation. It’s not just one bad employer who wants to keep workers enslaved. It’s all these factors that contribute to that environment that not only allows this to happen but generates it.”