The first caravan of migrants has split up: 2,500 people have arrived in Tijuana, while 1,300 are in Mexicali and another 1,700 have stopped in Sonora for the time being. Two other caravans of 2,000 people each are still crossing through Mexico, inching toward the US border.
The migrants had been promised buses to go from Mexicali to Tijuana, but these never materialized because, officials claim, there is not enough space to accommodate new arrivals in the border town. If the people don’t manage to get to Tijuana and if they are unable to exert their collective force—gathered over the more than 3,500 kilometers they have travelled—at the US border, their collective endeavor risks fizzling out.
In an op-ed in La Jornada, Luis Hernandez Navarro recently wrote that “those who are running from their countries today in search of the American dream are leaving behind the ruins that the Empire has wrought”—which is why barbed wire and anti-migrant sentiments are the reality on the border of said Empire.
Ernan Josué Martínez is one of those who made it to Tijuana, born less than 20 years ago in a village in the district of Colón, in northeastern Honduras. Like many, he decided to join the caravan after hearing about it on TV. Although he has a brother and sister who have been living in the US for some time, he had not been making plans to leave. A fence made of wide metal bars separates the Mexican territory from that of the US, continuing on into the river until it disappears below the surface. On the American side, Latino workers are currently working to add barbed wire on top of the fence, which Clinton started building in 1994.
“Last night was pretty bad,” Josué told us. “They told us to leave. They started to insult us. They wanted us to go sleep on the beach, where it’s even colder. I don’t think we’ll be staying here tonight.”
Carlos Enrique Aguilar had a similar account of events: “We were calm, we weren’t responding to provocations. At one point, they started to come towards us, throwing a garbage bag at us. Then we started to fight back by throwing stones. What could we have done?”
On Wednesday, a group of around 60 Tijuana residents attacked the newly arrived migrants. On a video published on social media, the group can be seen waving Mexican flags and chanting “El pueblo unido, jamas será vencido” (“The people united shall never be defeated”) and other slogans glorifying the homeland, such as “Mexico! Mexico! Get out of here!” and “Mexico for Mexicans!”
The person who posted the live video is part of the Latinos for Trump group, and she describes herself online as “an American loving activist, born in Mexico,” who “came to America legally as a kid at 10 years old.”
Latinos for Trump is not the only opposition the migrants face. The mayor of Tijuana, Juan Manuel Gastelum, has earned the nickname “Tijuana’s Trump” for his calls for the city to stop accommodating the migrants, calling them “a horde” of “bums” and “pot smokers.”
Tijuana is host to many thousands of people who have been waiting to enter the United States legally for months or even years. Since 2016, thousands of Haitians have come to Tijuana, attracted by the possibility of requesting political asylum offered by Obama and later blocked by Trump; they ended up building their own community here. The city is divided into two: one side showing solidarity, the other spouting anti-migrant rhetoric.
On Sunday, this split played out in the form of two marches, one against the caravan and one against discrimination. In Tijuana, the inherent permeability of borders is counteracted by the presence of a wall and of the US Army: it is unlikely that the migrants will achieve a collective breakthrough. It is even less likely that anyone could manage to cross over illegally here. In the suburbs, however, there are places where the barriers are weaker.
However the events play out, we are witnessing a qualitative transformation in terms of migration stories. An entirely new game is playing out on the strip of land that separates Mexico from the United States: on one side, there are the failures of neoliberal policies and the short-sighted belief that walls and neo-nationalism could turn the clock of capitalism back 20 years to when the Western middle classes were feeling rich and powerful. On the other side, there is the humanity that is making a public and—finally—collective attempt at building a future for itself, by seizing the opportunities it has been denied.