Migrant women in transit through Guadalajara, Mexico. The case of the ‘El Refugio’ shelter

By Eduardo González Velázquez
egongalez@itesm.mx

Teaching practice should take place in a multiplicity of spaces that surpass by far the limits of a classroom. Therefore, I teach my students the theory of the migration phenomenon dynamics at school, but also include field work in which we visit the shelters and soup kitchens where migrants receive aid on their way through Guadalajara. In this way, we have managed to achieve the perfect combination of theory and practice that offers a more far-reaching knowledge that favors the students’ comprehensive education.

The current impact of the topic of migration on education is extensive, not just because of the Mexicans who are forced to emigrate since they don’t have access to education, but also because in the current context of migrants returning to Mexico, we urgently need to create appropriate mechanisms to meet their education needs. Therefore, teaching about the topic of migration is absolutely necessary, which is how this article on women migrants passing through Guadalajara emerged. Women who nearly always travel alone, who leave their communities without anyone to guide them across the desert, motivated mainly by their desire to build an independent life project, to undergo a process of empowerment.

For many women, finding the doors of a shelter can mean the difference between life and death.

In their field trips, my students witnessed first-hand the feminization of migration, as well as the violence suffered by women in their communities of origin and across the migrant routes. They also observed the women’s strategy of staying in Guadalajara for a few days before continuing on their northward trek. The violence experienced along the migrant routes is an extension of the difficult circumstances in their hometowns. Assault, rape, abuse and systematic harassment by the authorities, the police and members of the armed forces; in fact, the violence doesn’t stop even when the migration adventure comes to an end. On the contrary, when they reach their destination, they still find themselves in a violent environment.

Photo by Peter Haden

Photo by Peter Haden

In the midst of the vicious territoriality of the migrant routes built by the exiles of war and poverty, the network of shelters and soup kitchens emerge to humanize the constant flight of human beings. For many women, finding the doors of a shelter can mean the difference between life and death, and between coming to the end of the road or continuing to dream of reaching the northern border. These places where migrants are given assistance teach my students significantly more about migration.

Of the population that the El Refugio shelter has received since 2013, 5% are women. Of the 133 women on the register, 40 are Mexican, 58 come from Honduras, 13 from El Salvador, 21 from Guatemala and one from Nicaragua. Seventeen of the women, including 4 Mexicans, 11 Hondurans, 1 Guatemalan and 1 Salvadorian, were travelling with their children. Only 12 were accompanied by a man. Fourteen were returning to their communities. The average length of stay at El Refugio is two days. The oldest woman was 57 years old and the youngest 21. Of the children, the youngest was a four-day-old baby boy.

Advancements in the study and teaching of migration, in the classroom and through fieldwork, have enabled teachers and students to gain greater insight into the migrant phenomenon.

Female migration is reshaping overall relationships in the family, work, gender and power, as well as consolidating female autonomy. Central-American and Mexican women who experience “obligatory migration” owing to indescribable violence, become “vulnerable exiles” as a result of an excruciating reality awash with extreme violence that curbs the exercise of their citizenship, trapping them in a practice of “pending citizenship”.

Female migration is reshaping overall relationships in the family, work, gender and power, as well as consolidating female autonomy.

Of course, advancements in the study and teaching of migration, in the classroom and through fieldwork, have enabled teachers and students to gain greater insight into the migrant phenomenon, and, in this way, obtain better theoretical-empirical tools to propose holistic solutions to the extensive issues generated in migratory contexts.


About the author

PhD Eduardo González Velázquez is a Research Professor at the National School of Social Sciences and Government of Tecnológico de Monterrey, Campus Guadalajara.