Translated by Katrina Hassan
When Victoriana came to, she was already perched upon an inner tube crossing the Bravo River. The screams of other migrants brought her back to her senses. What time was it? One or two a.m? How could one know if the sky was dark and cloudy? It could even be 3 a.m, time for the rooster’s call in her native Honduras. Not the cold or the almost frozen temperature of the water could stun the senses of the surrounding commotion of seeing so many terrified families. They didn’t know how to swim and they were trying to cross the river. She saw how many had plastic bags instead of life jackets because there weren’t enough inner tubes. Victorina had never seen so many children in the river, not even in Rio Choluteca, and that was a huge river.
A native of El Tulito, Choluteca, Honduras, Victorina left with one of the migrant caravans. They left Honduras fleeing from hunger and violence from the government. Violence that the Guatemalan government repeated a few kilometers away from the Basilica de Equipulas which was celebrating the Black Christ festivities. Hondurans were hunted down like criminals, as if they would actually take something by the mere act of stepping on Guatemalan soil on their way to the USA. Are there not five fingers that shape a praying hand, the hymn to Central America? Weren’t the Guatemalans their brothers and sisters like they had been taught at primary school? We even look similar. Why are they treating us like this? Isn’t there hunger in Guatemala like there is in Honduras? Why? She asked herself, if the Guatemalans migrate in the same way as them and ask for respect in Mexico. She asked herself this as she grew angry, trying to run from the police batons and the threats of shooting if they didn’t stop.
Victorina was the third out of 13 children to a widowed mother. Her father was an artisanal fisherman. He was assassinated one day when he dared to sell his fish in the Choluteca market, where they payed a little bit better than El Tulito. The assailants ambushed him, shot him twice, then stole his gains from the fish sales. This is all they know, the police never found the culprits. The youngest of Victorina’s siblings was only ten days old when this happened. It was by pure miracle that their mother didn’t die of sadness, although she did stop producing breast milk. The baby had to be nursed with rice milk and barley. This is the story that was told every time people asked why the child was so malnourished compared to the rest of the siblings.
Until that moment, Victorina had not reacted. She was floating on the Bravo River. The whole way from El Tulito, to the border with Texas, she was in limbo, with her pulse racing, feeling angst and without a wink of sleep. She was looking out for robbers or those who take migrants and disappear them. She was hungry, her feet numb and blistered to oblivion from walking, and her face sunburned to a crisp. She had no pain killers or feminine products for her period. She had no money for even a plate of beans that the locals tried to sell to the migrants.
Until then, in the cold water, when she came to, she remembered her mother’s voice crying “Don’t you leave, ungrateful one!’’ She left because she couldn’t deal with poverty anymore. She couldn’t stand to see her mother washing people’s clothes and picking up tin cans to try and raise her siblings. She had to help in any way she could. That was by cleaning houses and going to the USA. In Honduras you couldn’t make any money. You only got humiliation and exploitation.
Victorina never dreamt of going to school. It was difficult but her mom pushed and forced her into finishing middle school. She wanted her to go to university, not to get married too young, enjoy single life. Her mom wanted Victorina to buy herself nice things, go out to eat, travel and not to get pregnant at a young age. Most of the men from her town had migrated and now the women started going too. The only ones left were the senior citizens raising the grandkids. In the past months, houses were left padlocked because the whole family had migrated. Victorina had enough one day. She packed two changes of clothes into her backpack and told her mom she was leaving. She started to walk and promised her mom she’d send her money from the US. As much as her mom tried to catch up with her, yelling and crying, she couldn’t change her daughter’s opinion. She left without a penny to her name. At the road leaving her hamlet she met an acquaintance that pulled her to the meeting point where more people were leaving as a caravan.
Victorina is 16 years old. She hasn’t told anyone that she was raped twice. The first in Tapachula. There were a ton of people and two guys covered her mouth and pulled her away and into the grassy plains. She got up and kept walking with the caravan. The second time, she was in Saltillo, when she went to the bathroom in the community centre where migrants were sheltering for the night. This time it was three guys. Two held her down while the third abused her. They left celebrating. She went to sleep on a bed of newspaper atop a slab of cement. She cannot crumble, she needs to get to the US to send her mom money for her siblings.
There, in the waters of the Bravo river all the images in her mind have been scrambled. All she wants to do is scream with all her might, and cry, but she can’t. Everything becomes a knot in her throat. Anger, fatigue, desperation, anxiety and the first pulses of stigma that will accompany her as long as she lives. The migrants finally arrive on the other side where the Border Patrol awaits. She collapses onto the cold border land that is the USA. She has arrived in the land where she believes she will make money to send to her mother. The news of the pregnancy as a result of rape will be given to her by the doctor at the detention centre for minors. This is the same day that the first woman elected president of Honduras is sworn in and talks about gender rights and the eradication of poverty in the national state, Tegucigalpa, far, far away from the road already travelled by Victorina.
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Ilka Oliva-Corado @ilkaolivacorado