Waiting on a Train

Categories: Cover Story

Recently, I got a call from a public call center in Mexico. I could tell because the second after I answered, I heard a voice say in Spanish, “They will speak to you now,” the formal call center etiquette used anywhere from Laredo to Tierra del Fuego.

“Who is it?” I asked.

“Javier.”

I racked my brain. Javier? I couldn’t recall meeting anyone named Javier and figured he’d dialed the wrong number. But then he said, speaking in Spanish, “Ms. Feldman? I met you in Mexico City, remember? You were asking about what it’s like to jump the trains?”

Ah, yes. I did remember him. I’d met him in June in Mexico while reporting a cover story for the paper version of Unfair Park. I’d given him my business card while we stood near the train tracks on an overcast day in a gritty Mexico City suburb. A smart-looking twentysomething with a baseball cap and a backpack, Javier had been waiting to hop a freight train with a group of some 60 other young men from Central America. After a few hours, a train finally chugged by. They sprinted alongside it and pulled themselves up on the ladders, holding onto the metal as it started to rain.

I’d lost sight of him amid the crowd scrambling onto the train. Now, I wondered if he was somewhere in the U.S.

“Javier – where are you calling from?” I asked.

“Guanajuato,” he said. “I got stuck for a couple of months, ran out of money.” Some migrants traveling the nearly 1,500 miles from southern Mexico to the United States by train are able to make it in less than six weeks. Others are waylaid along the way or deported multiple times. The least lucky get killed.

“So where are you going?” I asked Javier.

“I don’t know,” he replied. “I don’t know how far I’ll get.”

I wondered if he was aiming for Laredo, featured in The Dallas Morning News as a place an illegal immigrant should avoid unless he wants to wind up in jail. But I didn’t have time to ask. Abruptly, he said he had to get off the phone. He was running out of coins. He said he would call later and tell me more about the journey. We’ll keep you posted. -- Megan Feldman


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