The two cousins returned to the tiny, hardscrabble hamlet they grew up in southern Mexico about two weeks ago to say goodbye in what has become a rite of passage for generations of migrants from their remote, impoverished mountainous region in Oaxaca state.
After the farewells in the community of Cerro Verde, Javier Flores López and Jose Luis Vásquez Guzmán began their trek north to the U.S-Mexico border and toward their final destination in Ohio, where construction jobs and other work awaited.
Flores López is now missing, his family said, while Vásquez Guzmán is hospitalized in San Antonio after surviving stifling heat inside a tractor-trailer near the Texas city that killed at least 53 people in the deadliest smuggling episode ever in the U.S. The perilous trip for migrants who climbed into what would become a death chamber for many reflects the growing risks people face in fleeing abject poverty, violence, and other desperate situations in Mexico and Central America to seek a better life.
Cerro Verde is a community of about 60 people that have largely been abandoned by the young. Those who remain work earning meager livings weaving sun hats, mats, brooms, and other items from palm leaves. Many live on as little as 30 pesos a day (less than $2).
“The truth is people leave here out of necessity,” said Felicitos García, who owns a small grocery store in nearby San Miguel Huautla, adding that he saw the two men about two weeks ago. “Life is tough here. People survive by growing their own crops like corn, beans, and wheat. Sometimes the land gives and sometimes it doesn’t when the rains arrive late. There is nothing in place for people to have other resources. People live one day to the next.”
It was not the first trip to the U.S.-Mexico border for Flores López, now in his mid-30s, who left Cerro Verde years ago and went to Ohio, where his father and a brother live.
He was back home to see his wife and three small children briefly, said a cousin, Francisco López Hernández. Vásquez Guzmán, 32, decided to go with his cousin for his first trip across the border and hoped to reach his oldest brother who is in Ohio as well.