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Amplifying the Voices of the Silenced: Central American Immigrants

by Kimberli Mejia Quito

It very well might be astounding to consider xenophobia even within marginalized communities, however xenophobia exists and harms specific individuals from these communities. This xenophobia often obscures the voices and experiences of targeted individuals and contributes to their persecution. When discussing Latinx issues, many Latin Americans are regularly excluded, especially Central Americans. Central American erasure has resulted in the suppression of Central American voices, cultures, and customs.

When one hears the term “Latinx,” many immediately think of Mexican culture and identity. Frequently, Central Americans are excluded from discussions despite being disproportionately affected. The truth is, the Mexican narrative can be central and dominant over all Latinx experiences in the U.S. While solidarity in our community is vital, solidarity is incapable of happening without addressing the issues that continue to persist and harm Central Americans.

Erasure of other Latin Americans is consistently seen, particularly when the term “Mexican” and “Latinx” are utilized interchangeably. Using the term “Mexican,” when in reality, one infers “Latinx,” is an illustration of erasure that is routinely seen. Assuming all Latin Americans are Mexicans is simply one more form of erasure. The Latinx community isn't a monolith, it's diverse and consists of people of different racial backgrounds and nationalities.

It’s imperative to be inclusive to abstain from perpetuating the cultural erasure of the rest of Latin America and amplify the voices of non-Mexican Latinxs.

The subject of immigration is often centered on the Mexican community and disregards the manner in which immigration excessively affects Central Americans. It likewise adds to the erasure of other racial and ethnic groups that face violence from the U.S. immigration system. During the 2019 fiscal year, immigration authorities apprehended a record-setting of 76,020 unaccompanied minors in the U.S.-Mexico border.

In “U.S. Detention of Child Migrants” by Amelia Cheatham, it’s highlighted that rampant poverty and violence has “driven young people from Central America, with Guatemalans, Hondurans, and Salvadorans accounting for 85 percent of detained unaccompanied children.” Central American countries of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador face extreme levels of violence, drug trafficking, gang violence, and homicide rates. There are a lack of reliable education systems and depraved law enforcements which make these countries harsh to live in, especially for women and children. The U.S has played a major role in creating the violence in Central America, yet the Central American immigration experience is persistently disregarded or concealed.

While addressing Central American mistreatment, it’s fundamental to address Mexico’s role as well. Central American erasure is simply an aspect of the cultural, economic, political and military dominance of the Mexican nation state over its Central American and Carribean neighbor states. The Mexican government and media has worked diligently to separate and discriminate against Central Americans, Black, and indigenous Latinx folks. Central Americans who have fled their homelands, don’t only face violence from the U.S government both due to historical interventions as well as the present immigration system, but from the Mexican government as well. In 2018, a group of Mexicans in Tijuana staged an anti-immigration protest against the Central American caravan. As indicated by the article, “Tijuana First!: Protests Grow Against Migrant Caravan in Mexico” by Sarah Kinosian, anti-caravan protesters chanted, “Out Hondurans, we don’t want you here,” “Tijuana First,” “Make Tijuana Great Again,” and “Long Live Mexico.” Protesters waved Mexican flags and signs reading “no to the invasion” and “no more migrants.”

Tijuana residents expressed hostility and antagonism towards Central American migrants and even injured them. Central Americans are often raped when they travel north through Mexico to get to the U.S. The rapes are part of the general dehumanization and humiliation of Central Americans in Mexico, where “migrants are viewed as less than because they come from less developed countries,” says Olivia Ruiz, a cultural anthropologist at El Colegio de la Frontera Norte in Tijuana. The targets can be “either women or men,” she says.

In a 2012 report, Human Rights Watch said that approximately 18,000 Central American migrants were being abducted every year crossing into Mexico. Those who don't have money are killed. American journalist, Sonia Nazario, divulged that 72 migrants, most from Central America, were shot and executed individually by the Zeta narco-trafficking organization in 2010. The migrants were on a bus on a Mexican highway leading to the Texas border prior to being pulled off the bus and taken to a ranch by the Zetas. Later that year, 193 migrant bodies were found in graves close by. In December 2010, about 50 Central Americans were abducted after the train they were on was stopped and held up by gunmen in Oaxaca.

Something similar occurred two years later to 40 Central Americans in Veracruz. Amnesty International, a global movement campaigning for human rights, called on the Mexican government to protect migrants. However, Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission found that almost half the victims it interviewed say public authorities were involved in their abductions. Nazario also reported that between 2001 and 2004, the number of Central American migrants detained and deported each year by Mexico “nearly doubled, to more than 200,000.” Most came from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.

Central American erasure is attached to systemic oppression and discrimination inside our community. The systemic murders of Central Americans are perpetuated from both the U.S. and Mexico. Nationalistic mentalities that effectively conceal the experiences of the individuals who are affected at disproportionate levels must be dismantled. Xenophobia against Central Americans is still mainstream. It's transnational. The xenophobia has no boundaries, it exists in Mexico and it exists in the U.S.

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