I’m Here Because I Went to the USA
This testimony is by a Honduran migrant
whose life changed abruptly
when he suffered amputations after falling from a train
he had dreamed would take him to the United States.
It shows the real face of irregular migration,
which often ends in tragedy,
and demonstrates that going to the USA
is not always the best solution.
José Luis Hernández
I first set out for the United States when I was 16. I had no idea how to get there. They hadn’t told me anything else, but I wanted to see whether everything I’d heard was true. And from the moment I crossed the Honduras-Guatemala border I was illegal, because they don’t let you cross there. That’s where my route started. We had to skirt the Aguascalientes border crossing because I didn’t have my identity card. Then I went right across Guatemala with no problems. After that, I arrived in Tapachula, Mexico, where I was assaulted. They took all my money. From there, I went all the way by train to Ixtepec in Oaxaca, where they caught me again and sent me back to Honduras.
To show them I couldI saw many sad things that time, but I still wanted to go back. I don’t know why other people do it, knowing what happens along the way, but in my case it was because when I got back to my country, my friends said, “Weren’t you going to the United States? Didn’t you think you knew it all and were going anyway? And look, here you are again without a dime, without anything!” And I told them, “Just so you can see that I do know it all, I’m going again. And this time I am going to get through because I know the route now.” And that was what motivated me to go again, because I wanted to prove I could get through.
About a year later I set off again. I was 17 when I crossed the Aguascalientes border, and like the first time I had to go around the border post because I didn’t have my identity card. It was when I reached the border between Guatemala and Mexico that my Calvary started. This time I wasn’t the one who got mugged; it was a friend who was carrying all the money. Like the last time, we had to go all the way by train to Tapachula.
We went really hungry getting to Tapachula. I remember once there was a lot of yelling that they were raping a Honduran girl. That’s horrible, because you want to do something, to be like Superman and have super powers. But those groups are armed to the teeth and you wouldn’t get anywhere if you tried to help; they’d just kill you. I don’t remember where it was that a youth gang had killed a guy. All of that’s really tough.
And you get so hungry… Sometimes you go two days without eating, because the train routes between one city and another take a long time. So you have to put up with hunger and a lot of cold. I followed the route enduring the cold and seeing people fall off the train and having a leg cut off. Finally we reached Torreón, where they gave us some food and I was able to get some sleep. A train was leaving for Juárez the morning and we took it.
I didn’t fall asleep, Just as we were pulling in to Chihuahua I was taking off my shoes sitting where the train cars are coupled, because my feet were killing me from travelling and so much walking. Sometimes when they say there are migrants in such and such a part of the train, you jump off and walk to dodge the immigration police. If that happens to you, you end up walking for a day or two. That’s why my feet were all swollen up. So I was taking off a sneaker, and fell off as I was going to take off the other one… But I didn’t fall asleep, I passed out! You take care not to fall asleep so you don’t fall off… but I didn’t take enough care.
I passed out…
I never imagined I’d pass out, but it happened because I was so hungry and thirsty. My body was so weak. I remember that just as I leaned over to take the second shoe off everything went dark and I fell to the ground. Then the train pulled me this way, towards the wheels. And they amputated this leg, my right one. Then, I don’t know how, I put out an arm and the train got hold of the arm and just crushed this hand. I was left in the middle of the two tracks and all the cars rolled over me. My friends on the train couldn’t jump off because it was going really fast. All they could do was shout out that a guy had fallen off. Luckily a man was nearby and he came up to me, but didn’t know what to do. He asked me what he should do because he was so nervous, seeing a leg over there and an arm over here. I was just shouting, “Help! Help!” because I couldn’t even talk. He reacted and called the Red Cross. If he hadn’t have done that I’d have bled to death. Thank God I fell off just after we’d entered the town.
I couldn’t see any reasonSome people suffer the same thing and they bleed to death. Sometimes the train just cuts off a hand or a leg, but they die because there’s no one to help them. I got taken to hospital and I remember the doctors saying, “Who knows what mission he’s still got to do in this world, why that train didn’t kill him…” Even I’m impressed that the train didn’t kill me when I fell across the tracks and a whole load of cars ran over me without dragging me along. It really is a miracle, isn’t it?
to carry on living
I had one whole hand, but it seems they didn’t treat me in time so it went… it was another hard blow. I remember that when I woke up the next day I thought I was only missing one leg, because my body gave the feeling that the other leg and my two hands were normal. But when I looked at myself like this… I just remember thinking about my parents, my family, because you go to the United States to help them and now I was going to be a burden, and that was really tough.
All I could do was cry. I couldn’t see any sense to my life any more. The doctors there gave me injections so I could sleep. By the third day I couldn’t move anymore because my body was a mass of blows. You know you’re running this kind of risk when you leave your land, but being like that, the way I was, you think more about your folks, about your family… God! My parents always looked after me when I was little. They’re the ones who advise you not to go, but you don’t take any notice… You think about all of this. My aim had been to buy my own house and car and above all to help them. And to think I was going to be a burden to my family, not a blessing any more… that’s horrible.
Two years to get They took me from Juárez and from there to the Federal District. Thank God they gave me a prosthetic there, which is the leg I now walk on. I feel fortunate because other people in the same situation only get first aid in Mexico and then get sent back to their country of origin. But they kept me in Mexico for almost two years. I wouldn’t have been able to buy that prosthesis they gave me in Mexico back home in my country: it’s worth 50,000 Mexican pesos.
my strength up
Then came the consequences… I didn’t want to go back to Honduras because I didn’t want people to see how I’d ended up. But in the end I went back because the family stuck with me, through thick and thin. They looked after me, showed their love for me, and as I got a bit more strength I felt better.
But people are very, very hard in my country… maybe because they have so little education… I’m in Honduras now, but I’m not worth anything. And that’s all really hard… My friends, at least those who said they were my friends, have distanced themselves now. And you can no longer give yourself the luxury, for example, of going to eat at a diner, because people look at you like they’re thinking “Look who’s coming… he’s going to drive away my customers…” On top of people looking at you like that, you have to fork out for a taxi… And that’s really hard.
My guitar doesn’t sing any moreI’d played guitar since I was six, and my friends and older people really liked it. They were struck by the fact I was so small… When I got back to my country, I thought about how I wouldn’t be able to play anymore. It’s really hard, looking at my guitar in my room and thinking I’ll never play it again. My family decided to sell the guitar so I wouldn’t feel bad when I saw it. I sometimes dream I’m playing the guitar, because I‘ve got my whole body when I dream. But it’s a different reality when I wake up.
It’s incredible. In El Progreso, where I live, there are 26 guys who are amputees… and all by the same train! That’s really hard, because I’d like to be the only one the way I am and not have to see others in the same condition, since I know how much they’re suffering. I ask myself what’s going to happen to so many people like this in El Progreso alone? It’d be a good idea to increase people’s awareness, to see how we can help young people and make them understand that going to the USA isn’t the best idea.
My story’s a sad lessonThis is my story. You only believe people’s advice after you end up like this, in my condition. There are peasants from the countryside who go the United States, who think they can’t get ahead here. If they lose their harvest, they give up and all they can think about is going to the United States. But the truth is different; it’s all about using your head.
So I hope you get the message I’m trying to put across here. That’s the mentality in our countries, the Central American mentality: we can’t get ahead, I can’t build my house here in my country, I can’t make any money here in my country, so I’d better go to the United States... I hope my story has been useful in some way and helps us reflect and above all raise people’s awareness; so we start thinking about why so many people go to the United States and what can be done to stop them going.
Most of us go because we can’t find any work. I have a lot of dreams and hope to God that they come true. At least I have the courage to talk, to face people. But most people like this, the way I am, are very withdrawn, ashamed to hold their head up. They don’t even want to leave their houses because they’re afraid of facing people, of being seen this way…
At least I’ve got the courage and would like to do something.
This idea came to me during another congress we had. I don’t know a lot about migration, but I want to learn a lot more about it, and who better than me to talk about the risks run by people who go to the United States. I want to go to the university—with special permission—to give talks, and give classes at schools. Then at the end of the talk, I’d say: “I’m here because I went off to the United States.”
José Luis Hernández is a former honduran emigrant. He presented this testimony at the researchers’ congress organized by the Jesuit Migrant Service in Guatemala in November 2008.