The son of Mexican migrants, José Hernández grew up picking fruit on farms. He always dreamed of becoming an astronaut, and finally achieved his goal—after NASA rejected him 11 times. In 2004, he became part of NASA’s 19th class of astronauts.
Yesterday, journalists discovered that the Trump regime had deleted the president’s infamous press release from 2015 that called for a ban on all Muslims traveling to the United States. But it wasn’t just the Muslim ban. Every single press release from before January 1, 2017 has been erased from donaldjtrump.com.…
Mami Slut is one of the only dance parties in Mexico City with a mission of "desculonialization," the liberation of culos with Latin beats. Since it was started a year and a half ago by DJ Travieza (Jovan Israel) and La Mendoza, the monthly celebration at Bahia Bar has become a premier gathering point for queer folks looking for a safe space to grind to reggaeton, cumbia, dembow, and basically anything other than the house music and Madonna songs that dominate the city's gay parties.
Like many of the revelers who come to the celebration, La Mendoza and DJ Travieza are artists who push boundaries with their creativity. La Mendoza identifies as a "travestí," a word reclaimed by activists that embodies an anti-colonial spirit and rejects Western gender constructs. When La Mendoza's not turning up at Mami Slut, she's designing clothes and teaching people how to vogue. DJ Travieza, on the other hand, is well known for his genderqueer drawings. When he DJs, it's almost always in drag. The two often coordinate their outfits, from candy-colored wigs in Sailor Moon–style buns, ripped fishnets, and wild décolletage to imprudent heels worn with carefully, hyperbolically lacquered pouts.
Their emphasis on style has spread to the attendees and helped turn Mami Slut's dance floor into a runway. Kitty ears, studded dog collars, and several dance partners at once are all popular accessories. Drag queens and twinks come out in full force to pay the 50 peso ($2.61) cover. Still, a large percentage of Mami's attendees are straight girls, who feel free to body roll without the persistent male douchebaggery they face at other local reggaeton parties. Travieza and La Mendoza are not the kind of people who would discourage this—their resident DJs Mataputos and Rosa Pistola project a distinct girls-first atmosphere.
Some might say that gender equality on the dance floor won't change the world. But I know that having a positive, communal space like Mami Slut can change someone's life, because it changed mine. At Mami Slut, I'm a better, more brazen, and somehow more gracious version of myself.
I remember one recent night when my friends lifted me onstage for the party's monthly twerk contest, which had a prize of 250 pesos (approximately $13.30 USD). I was wearing a long blue wig and an ominously short dress. Right when I hit the stage, I assumed the perreo position. The competition eventually came down to a final round between my ample hips and a boy whose rock hard six pack fought for attention with his piston-like go-go moves. I'm not going to lie, the kid was athletic. But don't believe what they tell you about potheads having weak lungs: My cheering section went hard.
In the end, Travieza had a difficult time judging the crowd's winner from the screams of the audience. It didn't seem fair that the Mami Slut crowd was going to have to decide between me and the go-go guy, two visions of perreo perfection. So I leaned over to my dance foe, put my mouth next to his ear, and asked, "What if we tied?" Go-go babe's eyes lit up, and he grabbed the microphone. "We're going to share the prize!" he shouted. The crowd squealed triumphantly. We were the conquerors of the night, our hang-ups, and reggaeton gender essentialists. Thanks for sharing the love Mami Slut, air kisses, and perreo duro para ti, siempre.
Scroll down for more photos of Mami Slut by Erin Lee Holland.
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See more photos by Erin Lee Holland.
The first time Gerardo, originally from El Salvador, came to the US, it was 1994. He crossed the border into Texas, then moved around the country to wherever he could find work until 2001, when he was deported home for not having papers. He didn't stay south long, however. After a month working in Reynosa, Mexico, he decided to catch a taxi across the border.
"I bought a bottle of tequila and drank half of it," Gerardo tells me, "and I got a taxi and told him to take me across. I spoke in English and I told him I'm an American citizen." The driver took him across the Puente Internacional, where he told the customs officers that he was an American citizen and that his papers were stolen in the bar. "Finally, they believed me," he says, "and gave me a paper that they stamped." The taxi driver left him at his in-laws' house in McAllen, Texas. At least for a time, Gerardo was home free.
Today, though, Gerardo doesn't think that scheme would work. The last time he attempted to cross from Mexico to the US, three years ago, he was arrested. He spent two years in federal prison before being deported once again. Gerardo is now living in Casa Tochán, a migrant shelter in Mexico City. Many of the guests at the shelter have ample experience in moving between the US, Mexico, and Central America as undocumented immigrants. Amid a political climate plagued by sensational discussions of migration, these migrants have unique insight into the challenges of border-crossing. Gerardo is currently seeking to regularize his migration status in Mexico rather than heading north to the US. He's one of many Central American migrants who have decided it's easier to build a life north of home, but south of the US border.
In the last several years, Mexico has seen an increase in migrants from Central America. The UN High Commission for Refugees reported in 2016 that asylum requests in Mexico from migrants from the "Northern Triangle"—El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala—increased by 162 percent between 2013 and 2015. Some of them plan to pass through Mexico on their way to the US and stay because they run out of money or fall victim to crime or injury. Others flee violence in their home countries and hope all along to stay in Mexico.
Many of these Central American migrants have already been to the US and back several times. For these people, Donald Trump's anti-immigrant stance represents a change in degree, not in kind. Like Gerardo, they know what it is to cross the border. They've traversed deserts and rivers, some being arrested in the process, some returning to attempt yet again.
Osman, another guest at Casa Tochán, first entered the US in 1989 hidden in the trunk of a friend's car. Now, he says, the border is more formidable. He's not particularly fazed by President Trump's promises of a border wall, though. The presence of organized crime around the border poses a greater deterrent. "There's not much difference with the wall," he tells me. "They can't keep watch everywhere."
Still, border crossings have dropped dramatically since Trump's election. According to an April 2017 report from US Customs and Border Patrol, arrests of border crossers dropped dramatically in this year's first quarter. The number of migrants arrested in March 2017 decreased by 30 percent from the prior month and by 64 percent from March 2016.
Marvin lived in Boston for 20 years, and he's crossed the US-Mexico border three times, spending a year and a half in prison after his last attempt. After leaving prison in November 2016, he was deported back home to El Salvador. Shortly thereafter, he began the journey north again. He, too, is regularizing his status in Mexico, but he hopes to return to the US again.
"It's the luck of every person," he says. "Now it's really hard to cross, but it's always possible." He's heard, though, that crossings are down. "I have friends who are coyotes, and before, they were taking across 60, 70 people every week. Now they're taking across eight or nine. And they used to charge $7,500 or $8,500. Now they're charging $10,000."
Osman isn't planning on returning to the US either. He lived in the US from 1989 to 2000, when he left voluntarily to go back to his home in Honduras. In 2015, Osman left Honduras again with the idea of working close to the US border, where he could make more money and take advantage of his English skills. He spent some time working in Nogales, and later came to Mexico City to fix his papers. There, he saw opportunities to build a life. He's regularizing his immigration status and starting a car detailing business and he hopes to bring his son after he earns enough to move out of the shelter.
What dissuaded Osman from going back to the US wasn't increased security at the border, but what life would be like beyond it: The threat of deportation looms greater than ever. "They take you out of your apartment now," he says. "Before they didn't do that." He's heard, too, that it's getting harder to make a living as an undocumented immigrant. "There aren't opportunities in the US anymore," he says. "My family there, my friends and cousins and uncles, they tell me it's hard to get work now."
Being undocumented has always been a precarious way to live, but the increased targeting of migrants under Trump has further impeded building a stable life. "Before, it was pretty calm," Gerardo says. He spent a total of 14 years in the US between 1994 and 2014. "Then, you could get a domestic flight, a Greyhound bus, rent an apartment without needing papers." Now, Gerardo says, his family and friends tell him that fear of arrest severely limits daily activities. Still it's always been hard to make it—but there's always been a way. "Trump is the cat and we're the mice," Gerardo tells me. "And mice will always find a way to get in."
Jesse Salgado doesn't remember much about the Mexico of his childhood. He was about seven years old when his uncle picked him up from his grandparents' house in the state of Guerrero. The next thing he knew, they were in Chicago. In November, however, 25 years after he and his family first left the country, Salgado returned to Mexico for good upon being deported to the border town of Matamoros after an arrest for a DUI. He' planned to stay near the border, but government officials warned him he'd be "fresh meat for cartels," Salgado told me. So he bought a bus ticket to Mexico City, there joining a population of several thousand Mexican citizens who have been deported from the US and don't quite know what to do.
According to researchers from the Mexico City-based organization IIPSOCULTA, which recently released a report analyzing attention to deportees in Mexico City, the city's Benito Juarez International Airport receives three flights of deported Mexican citizens each week. The flights arrive from Otero, New Mexico, where detainees are brought from all over the United States. Around 135 people step off of each plane. Once in Mexico, they receive the possessions confiscated at the time of their arrest in the US, are greeted by Mexican government agencies, and get offered, among other things, a bagged lunch and information about enrolling in public programs. Then they're released into the largest city in North America.
IIPSOCULTA estimates that about 10 percent of returnees flown into Mexico City stay in the capital. (The rest are repatriated to their city of choice, wherever they have family or prefer to put down roots.) That adds up to about 1,500 returnees in Mexico City each year, in addition to those who make their way there after being deported to other cities.
Many returnees who end up in Mexico City lack much affinity to or knowledge of their new home. Some stay there because they don't have any ties anywhere in Mexico—perhaps their families are still in the US, or they've lost touch with their original hometowns. Some figure they have a better chance at finding opportunities in the capital than in a small town where they have tenuous connections. Even in Mexico City, though, returnees face significant cultural, social, and economic boundaries to reintegrating into a country some of them barely remember.
Ana Laura Lopez was deported to Mexico in September after living in Chicago for 16 years. She encountered a persistent stigma against migrants in general—who are seen, she said, as taking the "easy way out"—and returnees in particular, who are stigmatized as criminals. "In my 16 years in the US, I never had as much as a traffic ticket," Lopez told me. "But I've faced more discrimination in the last five months here than I did in 16 years in the US."
Even relatives weren't necessarily a comfort to her. "Your family doesn't like you so much now that you're not sending dollars," she said. "The woman who went to the United States is a completely different woman from the one who came back."
Watch the VICE documentary on migration through Mexico:
Returning migrants also find it difficult, if not impossible, to access aid from the government or from civil society organizations. In the wake of Trump's inauguration, the Mexican government began touting pro-returnee rhetoric, and President Enrique Peña Nieto recently met a flight of returnees at the Mexico City airport. But Lopez told me that the government's gestures toward returnees seem to be mostly empty promises. "They say we can get unemployment insurance of $2,200, but we have to enroll within five weeks, and we need our credencial de elector"—an official identification card—"and a proof of residence," Lopez says. "We come here without a house or proof of residence, and it can take us five weeks to get our identification."
Without ID or an address, returnees can't apply for jobs, rent apartments, receive money transfers, or take money out at a bank. Additionally, most civil-society organizations that work on migration issues limit their mandate to foreign nationals. Even migrants' rights organizations in the US seem to forget about Mexican migrants once they're deported. "When someone's deported, they think, We lost them," Lopez said. "But we need to keep fighting for our rights."
To that end, Lopez, who worked as a labor organizer in Chicago, has founded the collective Deportados Unidos en la Lucha. The group consists largely of returnees with US-born children, and they're seeking legal resources to continue to fight their cases in the US. Most of the members hope to return to their families: Lopez, for instance, has a 13-year-old and 15-year-old in Chicago. All of the collective's members were deported before Trump's inauguration, but the current political climate has further dimmed their prospects of returning to their families.
Most of them have few legal recourses for returning to the US, but building a life in Mexico can seem an equal challenge.
Jesse Salgado has worked on and off in restaurants in the US since he was 15, and he considers himself a sous chef at heart. When he arrived in Mexico City after being deported in November, though, he quickly discovered that he couldn't survive off of a kitchen salary here. "I got a dishwashing job and they told me it paid 3,000 [pesos], so I assumed, cool, that's 3,000 a week," Salgado said. "When I got the first paycheck, it was 1,500"—about $75—"and I quit because I couldn't support my family on that."
His fiancé and three-year-old daughter—both born in the US—had joined him in Mexico shortly after he arrived. Salgado soon found a job at a call center. There, he earns the equivalent of $600 a month providing tech support in English over the phone. Still, he finds it nearly impossible to achieve the quality of life his family had in Chicago.
Salgado and his fiancé are now thinking about leaving Mexico City for Cancún where, Salgado hopes, he and his fiancé—a US citizen who doesn't speak Spanish—can get jobs in the tourism industry and send their daughter to a bilingual school. Eventually, they'd like to return to the US, where Salgado's immediate family has legal status. Even after he and his fiancé are married, though, he'll still be banned from returning for up to 20 years. That leaves him with few options, since he doesn't want to risk returning illegally again.
Lately, he's noted a new tenor of fear when talking to his undocumented friends in Chicago. "Lots of them are deciding whether to come back on their own," Salgado said. "If you get pulled over and ICE finds out, they'll put you in jail and then deport you. Even if you're caught crossing the border to come back here, they put you in jail to get money off of you first. So they might as well come back on their own."
All photos by author.
Laura Avila has dedicated her life to helping migrants who pass through Guadalajara, Mexico's second largest city on the infamous train line known as "the beast" on their way to America.
La Bestia, also known as "el tren de la muerte" or the death train, is a network of freight trains running from central America, traversing Mexico to the United States.
Walk along the tracks in Guadalajara, and you will encounter an endless stream of migrants from Guatemala, Honduras, and southern Mexico. Most migrants travelling on the beast through Guadalajara have already spent days or weeks holding onto a freight train for dear life.
They hop off the moving train near the market in Guadalajara to find enough food to sustain them for the next leg of their trip, often selling or trading whatever they can find to survive.
When the migrants are strong enough for another leg of the trip, they will run and hop onto a freight train as it slows down to pass through heavily populated areas of Guadalajara, gradually making their way to the US.
Although the 64-year-old Avila has lived in Guadalajara all of her life, she sets up camp along the tracks as well, living with new neighbours every day.
"I do whatever I can to help people," said Avila, who lives on a pile of salvaged trash near the train tracks. "It's why I'm here on earth."
Avila spends her days salvaging usable trash from a nearby open market, and giving the goods to migrants who can use them.
Avila is not alone in the fight to help migrants in Mexico. A thousand kilometers east of Guadalajara, in the state of Veracruz, there is a network of women known as "las patronas."
These women stand by the tracks every day as the beast runs through town and toss groceries to the hungry men, women, and children.
Although this group of women is widely known across Latin America, Avila is part of a lesser known tradition of women living along the length of the tracks to the US who help out migrants in whatever way they can.
"Sometimes, for example, I will find a perfect shoe box. I know there are always migrants trying to sell shoes around here to get some food. I will give them a shoe box to make them look more professional, and maybe they will have an easier time selling their shoes," said Avila.
Avila speaks unbroken English, despite a lack of traditional education.
"I wanted to study languages in my youth, but my father forced me to marry and have children when I was very young," she said.
Avila's husband worked in a factory making clothing for decades.
"He worked in very poor conditions, it was horrible. He began huffing cement at work with his colleagues to cope. He died at the age of 30," she said.
After the death of her husband, Avila was left to fend for herself, without an education to fall back on, she decided to start collecting junk and trading it for food.
Avila has three daughters, two of them in Mexico City, and one who lives a hundred yards from Avila's bed of junk in Guadalajara.
"I could live with my daughter in those apartments over there, but I am used to living outdoors. I love nature and I love the people who come through this part of town looking for a better life."
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Twice a day, Myra Cazares walks over the Gateway to the Americas International Bridge that links the border city of Laredo, Texas, with Mexico. Cazares, 22, belongs equally to both countries. She was born in San Antonio and works and studies in Laredo, but lives across the Rio Grande in Nuevo Laredo with her parents.
"The guards get to know you because you cross every day," said Cazares.
Although there is a hard line on maps where the United States ends and Mexico begins, the reality in Laredo is blurred. More than 6,000 people walk into Mexico across Laredo's pedestrian bridge each day, according to the City of Laredo, which only tracks southbound traffic. About 14,000 vehicles daily also make the crossing, including more than 4,000 semitrailers that ferry goods into Mexico.
The vast majority of Laredo residents have Hispanic or Latino heritage, and the barrier between Laredo and Nuevo Laredo has been porous for a long time. But now the city has found itself in a state of limbo as the Trump administration threatens, in the name of national security, to restrict the movement of people and goods across the border. Will a wall divide two cities that are so close they share a name? What will become of NAFTA, the free trade agreement between Mexico, the US, and Canada, which has allowed manufacturing and other industries to thrive in border towns like Laredo? How will changes in immigration and border security impact the flow of people across the city's four international bridges?
"Along the entire border with Mexico, there is anxiety and, to an extent, fear as to how these things are going to play out," Pete Saenz, Laredo's mayor, told me.
Talk of dissolving NAFTA has put Laredo in "a holding pattern," said Aldo Ochoa, a Mexican-born American citizen. His job in automotive manufacturing often takes him across the border. On a Wednesday afternoon, he was waiting to pick up a colleague who was walking over the border. Dozens of others were doing the same, a line of cars wrapping around the Spanish-style San Augustin Plaza in the heart of downtown Laredo.
"Some people don't understand the dynamics of the border," Ochoa said. "The crossings between the two towns makes [NAFTA] so critical."
Laredo businesses rely on NAFTA to bring in customers. Siete Banderas, a new restaurant with a rooftop bar, is also looking to attract Mexican patrons with cosmopolitan dining, said manager Louis Romano. An outlet mall that opened on Friday could also boost Laredo's economy. Who the mall is trying to attract is pretty clear. It sits on the Rio Grande, the giant marquee lettering "Outlet Shoppes" points toward Mexico.
Laredo was once a popular town for Americans day-tripping into Mexico for shopping and margaritas, but "with the outlet mall, it is going to be opposite. The coin has flipped," said Romano.
Watch a VICE News Tonight segment on the existing border "wall":
Initiatives like the mall, a decade and millions of dollars in the making, is why talk of a border wall comes at a bad time for Laredo. A wall would be offensive to Mexicans, said Saenz. Instead, he is pushing a "virtual wall" of more border guards, a greater use of surveillance technology, and removing invasive plant species that grow along the river and can conceal people who are crossing illegally.
Hillary Clinton won 75 percent of the vote last November in Webb County, where Laredo is located, so it's no surprise that most of the residents I spoke with did not favor a border wall. (Many did support greater border security.) Proximity to Mexico can have an impact on how a wall is perceived—the closer Republicans are to the border, the less likely they are to support a wall, according to the Pew Research Center, though Democrats who lived within 350 miles of the border were slightly more likely, at a low 12 percent, to support one.
Saenz told me that when Donald Trump visited Laredo in the early days of his campaign, he asked the mayor if it was safe to get off the plane
Sofia Solis, 31, who was born in Laredo but lives a few miles downstream in the town of San Ygnacio, is one of the people here who wants a wall. A few times a month, Solis sees people swimming across the river into the US. Currently, border guards sit in pickup trucks at the river bend, floodlighting the area at night. "It's safer for them, and it's safer for us," she said, of a wall. "You never know who is bad and who is good."
Laredo's relative safety has become a controversial subject. Right-wing media outlets have highlighted the brutal cartel violence playing out in Nuevo Laredo, which is under a current State Department travel warning. Saenz told me that when Donald Trump visited Laredo in the early days of his campaign, he asked the mayor if it was safe to get off the plane; during his speech there, he talked about the "danger" in town, confusing residents. But the perception of the US side of the border being unsafe isn't limited to conservatives: When I told a New York friend I was heading to the area, she responded with, "Stay away from that border." Another friend pictured the border as something like a demilitarized zone.
"You just kinda roll your eyes," said Andrea Ordoñez, 30, who was born in Laredo and grew up in Nuevo Laredo. She now works for the Republic of the Rio Grande Museum in Laredo.
"Compared to other cities this size, it is very safe," Ordoñez said. NeighborhoodScout, a website that compiles national statistics, put Laredo's crime rate as average when compared with cities of a similar size.
The current political conversation had brought at least one tourist back to Laredo. A few decades ago, Mary Margaret Hansen, a writer and photographer, would come to the city for day trips over the border to stock up on Mexican crafts and drink a few margaritas. When I visited, she was back to see the town for herself.
"We needed to see where this supposed wall is going and to talk to people and see what they think about it," said Hansen, a 74-year-old who opposes Trump. She drove down from Houston and was staying at the historic La Posada Hotel, which has a view of Mexico and two international bridges. From the balconies, you can watch the US Border Patrol fly low in helicopters and zoom up the river in air boats.
"We [Texans] don't have this incredible fear of the border," said Hansen. "We are used to it. It is who we are."
Serena Solomon is an Australian freelance journalist based in New York City.
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