When Victorina agreed, she was already perched on a tyre tube crossing the waters of the Rio Grande. The shouts of the other migrants brought her to her senses. What time was it? Maybe it was 1 or 2 a.m., but how could she tell if the sky was clouded over, maybe it was around 3 a.m., the time when the roosters crow in her native Honduras. Neither the cold of the time nor the freezing water dazed his senses as much as the shock of seeing so many terrified families, not knowing how to swim, trying to cross the river. He saw many carrying inflated plastic bags as lifejackets because they couldn’t reach a tyre tube. She had never seen so many children in a river, not even in the immense Choluteca River.
A native of El Tulito, Choluteca, Honduras, Victorina went with one of the caravans of migrants who fled the hunger and violence of the government, violence that was repeated by the Guatemalan police who rounded them up a few kilometres from the Basilica of Esquipulas, during the days of the celebration of the Black Christ. They hunted them down like criminals, as if they were going to take something away from them by setting foot on Guatemalan soil on their way to the United States. Were not, those five fingers forming one hand as the hymn to Central America says, were not the Guatemalans their brothers and sisters as they had been taught in primary school? But if they were even physically similar, why did they treat them like that? Isn’t there hunger in Honduras and hunger in Guatemala? If Guatemalans also migrate in the same way and ask for respect in Mexico, Victorina asked herself many times in anger, running to try to escape the beatings of the police who threatened to shoot them if they didn’t stop.
She was the third of eleven children born to a widowed mother. Their father, an artisanal fisherman, was murdered one day when he ventured to sell his catch at the market in Choluteca, where the pay was a little better than in El Tulito; the assailants attacked him and killed him with two shots after robbing him of his catch. The little brother and sister were only ten days old, their mother did not die of grief, but her milk ran out, and since then they have had to feed him with rice and barley water. They tell the story every time they are asked why the child is so malnourished, much more than the other siblings.
She spent the whole journey from El Tulito to the Texas border in limbo, with her pulse racing, anguished, unable to sleep a wink, watching out for assailants, those who take migrants away and disappear them. Hungry, her feet numb and skinned from so much walking, the skin on her face bursting from the sun. Without pills for their menstrual cramps, without sanitary towels, without money to buy even a plate of beans that people went out to sell when they saw the procession of migrants.
Even there in the cold water of the river she came to her senses and remembered her mother’s voice crying to her from the courtyard of her house, “Don’t go, you ungrateful woman”, but she left because she could no longer bear the poverty. She could no longer bear to see her mother washing other people’s clothes and collecting cans in the street to raise her siblings, she had to help her and the only way to work cleaning houses and for that money to pay for raising her siblings was to go to the United States, in Honduras there was nothing to be gained, only humiliation and exploitation.
Victorina never dreamed of going to school, it was too much, but her mother forced her and pushed her until she got her third year of primary school, she wanted her to go to university and not to get married afterwards, to enjoy her bachelorhood, she told her, to buy things, to go out to eat, to travel, but not to screw up. Most of the men had migrated from her village and now the women were starting to leave, leaving only the grandparents to take care of the grandchildren. In recent months, houses had been padlocked shut because entire families had left in caravans. Victorina couldn’t take it any longer and one day she swallowed her breath, put two changes of clothes in a backpack, told her mother she was leaving and started walking, promising to send her money from the United States. No matter how hard her mother ran to catch up with her and shouted and cried, she could do nothing to change her mind, she left without a penny in her purse. On the way out of the village an acquaintance gave them a ride to the meeting point where people gathered to leave in the caravan.
Victorina is 16 years old, she has not told anyone that she was raped twice in Tapachula, in the crowd of people, they covered her mouth and pulled her into a field, she could not do anything to defend herself, there were two guys, that was the first time. She got up and continued with the caravan. Nothing happens, she said, nothing happens and continued on her way. The second was in Saltillo, when she went to the bathroom of the community centre where they were staying with other migrants. They had already heard that among the migrants there were rapists, muggers, police officers, people who worked for the drug cartels and organised crime and who pretended to be migrants in order to pass themselves off as migrants to bring information to their superiors. Which women were travelling alone, who were carrying children and who had family members waiting for them in the United States who could pay a ransom. When she went into the bathroom, they covered her mouth and threw her to the floor, there were three men, two held her down and a third abused her, they left celebrating, it was hard for her to get up, but she got up too, it’s okay, she said, it’s okay and she went to lie down on the pieces of newspaper lying on the concrete slab. She is not going to collapse, she needs to get to the United States to send money to her mother to raise his siblings.
There, in the waters of the Rio Bravo, all her images have been stirred up and she wants to scream, shout with all her might and cry, but she can’t, everything gets caught in her throat: anger, tiredness, desperation, anxiety and the first pangs of what will be the stigma that will accompany her throughout her life. They finally reach the other side where the Border Patrol awaits them, Victorina collapses on the cold earth of the US border, she has arrived in the country from where she plans to send dollars to her mother, the news of the pregnancy resulting from the rapes will be given to her by the doctor at the juvenile detention centre on the same day that the first female president in the history of Honduras is sworn in and speaks of gender rights and the eradication of poverty in the National Stadium in Tegucigalpa, which is far, far away from the road travelled by Victorina.