Mother’s Day in the Desert

He is sitting quietly at the long tables in the comedor staring at a plate of food before him. He doesn’t touch it. The smells from the little kitchen are intoxicating. Sister Lorena has cranked up some rockin’ salsa music and the mood is upbeat on this gorgeous spring day. There is definitely something wrong with the gentleman staring at his plate while those around him are inhaling the beans, rice and chicken stew with gusto.

High school students help with breakfast

Approaching this man I ask him if he is OK in my halting Spanish. He replies in perfect English that he is having a lot of stomach pain and was advised to only have liquids for a few days. His name is Jonathon and he was recently discharged from the hospital in Tucson after being lost in the desert for two days without food or water. He was traveling with nine others in the desert and could not keep up after developing stomach pain and vomiting. The coyote (guide) left him, and he tells me that he fell asleep on the desert floor and was awakened by the Border Patrol. “They saved my life.” He was taken to the University Medical Center in Tucson where he received treatment for two days.

Wearing the drawstring pants from the hospital and a well worn t-shirt, he holds his stomach and rocks back and forth at the table. His feet are bound in gauze bandages and his skin has a pale yellow caste. The man is ill and the beans and rice simply will not do this morning. The kitchen crew gives me a glass of milk for my new friend, Jonathon, and he takes some tentative sips telling me his story.

Jonathon and Samaritans

He has been working in Seattle for seven years as an electrician, a job that pays well and one that he enjoys. Money is sent home regularly to Veracruz, Mexico, to his wife, his three children, and his mother. His daughter’s quinceanera (her fifteenth birthday, a celebration of womanhood in Mexico) was coming up and she begged him to be there for this special day. He was given a four month leave of absence from his Seattle job and went home to celebrate.

Trying to get back to Seattle was a different story.  After his failed attempt to cross the border and his near-death experience in the desert, he was returned to a detention center in the U.S  where his clothes, wallet, I.D., cell phone and money “disappeared.”  The man had literally nothing but the hospital issued clothes on his back.

Passing out clothes at the comedor

He wants to go home to Veracruz, be with his family, and get well. And here is the silver lining to the story. The Mexican Consulate will pay for this man’s bus ticket home because he is disabled and is still in a fragile state. The Samaritans help get this man a bus ticket and expedite the transportation paperwork so he can return to Veracruz. And we find him a clean polo shirt for the trip home.

"You are more of a man when you respect a woman"

I think about Jonathon and this life-changing experience. All he wants at this moment is to go home to his wife and “live like a real family.” Risking his life in order to make the comfortable wages of an electrician in Seattle, well, it is not how he will live his life. He will figure out a way to survive economically in Veracruz and celebrate all of his children’s birthdays and quinceaneras.

So this is the weekend of Mother’s Day, one of those Hallmark events where our thoughts turn to our own mothers or the mothers we wish we had become. For me, Mother’s Day is usually tinged with a bit a guilt. Shoulda done it better, this motherhood stuff. (do mothers ever think they do it right?) It’s one of those times of nostalgia and memories of coffee in bed and maybe a breakfast tray with a couple of flowers in a vase.  My own children used to make crepes with strawberries and whipped cream on top. Whipped cream on the coffee too. The kitchen was a mess, but Mama was happy. And the kids were so pleased with themselves. And we were together, the kids and I.

Moms and kids

I’m missing my children today and will pick up the phone and talk with them. They are parents now, and we will talk about what they are doing with their own children. Is their kitchen a mess? Did they get whipped cream at breakfast? Do they even remember that today is Mother’s Day?

And I’m missing my own mother and wishing she could come with me on my treks down to Mexico each week. I think she would enjoy dishing up the beans and rice and listening to the stories of these pilgrims. My mother died several years back, but she is in my thoughts a lot. She would disapprove of the civil disobedience aspects of my immigration politics, but would be the first to lend a hand to the hungry and the wounded. My mother was a kissing mother and a scolding mother, and I got generous amounts of both. I think she would both kiss and scold at el comedor–scold the migrants for leaving their children, but kiss them and wish them god-speed on their journey.

To my Mother, Nogales cemetery

I try to imagine leaving my children in one country and traveling under the radar to another country knowing I am not welcome, am despised by many, and may never see my family again. To be totally vulnerable with little or no money, no job, trekking across the searing desert in May hoping for a chance to make a few dollars—it all sounds like a nightmare.

It is a nightmare. Jonathon survived the nightmare, barely.

I wish I could be in Veracruz when that bus pulls into his village and his family greets him. The whole scenario makes me smile.

His mother will kiss him and scold him. I just know it.

The Samaritans have a new website.  Check out:  for more information about our activities.

~ by Peg Bowden on May 12, 2012.

3 Responses to “Mother’s Day in the Desert”

  1. Thank you sooo much, Peg. It is so important to really see these faces and hear their stories. We forget that EVERY one of them who tries this harrowing journey has a family and a life story, has a mother, siblings, children. My Mom sounds like yours. Thank you.

  2. Oops, did we really leave the kitchen such a disaster?

    Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!

  3. Because I know your daughter, I think that as a mother you’ve done more right than wrong. 🙂 Thanks for sharing Jonathon’s story. And, gilocavt dedobas dghes! (Happy Mother’s Day! In Georgia, it is celebrated March 3.)

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