When Norma Romero and her sisters began feeding migrants riding freight trains that passed through Cordoba, their hometown in the Mexican state of Veracruz, their neighbors warned them about being charged for migrant smuggling.
“How is it a crime to give food to someone who is hungry? We didn’t understand,” said Romero. Their neighbors stigmatized Central American migrants out of their fear of the unknown. But the sisters just saw people who needed food, many who were young migrants traveling alone.
That was back in 1995, when the sisters founded the humanitarian group Las Patronas after a chance encounter. The women had to cross train tracks on their way home from the grocery store. They left just as the train whizzed by, so they waited to cross.
A rider yelled out that he was hungry, and the sisters didn’t think much of his comment. But then another passed and another, each professing their hunger to the women. For the first time, the women truly wondered who was passing through their town on the train.
They had always assumed their riders were Mexican citizens who jumped on to catch a quick ride from point A to point B. But the women soon realized the passengers were Central American migrants making the long and perilous journey north.
So the sisters began cooking rice and beans, a cheap staple food, to toss to hungry migrants. Before long, they were passing out water bottles as well. Twenty years later, their seemingly simple act has garnered international intention through a documentary called Llevate Mis Amores.
Since its start, the group has fed tens of thousands of Central American migrants and won over the support of their community in the process. Their work is not just about feeding migrants. They also work to correct stereotypes about migrants in their native Mexico and around the world. Their outreach helps them spread their message and funds their daily meals for migrants.
“A lack of opportunity”
“I do it because I’m a mother, but more than anything I do it because I understand the conditions that Central Americans live in and I understand the situation in my country as well,” said Romero.
“What I have heard from Central American migrants is that in their countries, there is a lack of opportunity, and that many of them are desperate because there isn’t work. On top of that, there is a lot of violence. In Mexico, we have the same situations as in Central America.”
The 14 women that make up Las Patronas are mothers and wives. After their husbands go to work and their children are off to school, Las Patronas begin cooking to prepare for the two trains that pass daily.
There are more than 3 million Central American immigrants in the U.S. Nearly 30,000 minors from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras were apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border last year. In 2014, more than 50,000 unaccompanied Central American minors made the perilous journey.
“We continue helping our (Central American) brothers because they are not to blame for the situation that their home countries have created.”