News and Views

UCC group collaborates with Las Patronas in Mexico

30 Jul 2019
The UCC group helped at a shelter run by a group of women called Las Patronas in the state of Veracruz, Mexico.

A group of UCC staff has visited a migrant shelter in the state of Veracruz, Mexico, as part of a collaboration with one of UCC’s partners in the region, the Universidad Veracruzana.

UCC's Professor Nuala Finnegan, Centre for Mexican Studies; Dr Margaret Brehony, IRC Caroline Post-Doctoral Fellow; and Cliona Maher, International Office, helped at a shelter run by an extraordinary group of women called Las Patronas (or ‘the Bosses’) in a tiny rural village called El Patron.

For many years now the state of Veracruz on Mexico’s beautiful gulf coast has functioned as the main transit corridor for Central American migrants thousands of whom travel on top of the infamous freight train known as La Bestia (the Beast).

The shelter is run by Las Patronas and staffed entirely by volunteers; they have been preparing and distributing food parcels to ‘passengers’ on the train since 1995. Running alongside the train as it passes through the village, they throw parcels of rice, beans and water to help the migrants on the journey.

The humanitarian crisis currently being witnessed at the US-Mexico border is the result of thousands of citizens fleeing poverty and violence in Central America to undertake the 3,000-mile perilous journey North in search of a better life.

Images of distressed children from this region have become part of global consciousness and there are troubling accounts of conditions in the many detention facilities on the US side.

Mexico is a central player in this harrowing human drama and with the threat of tariffs hanging over it from the US, the newly-established Morena government, led by Andres Manuel López Obrador, has launched a series of initiatives aimed at curbing the number of migrants transiting through their country.

With donations from UCC's School of Languages, Literatures and Cultures, the International Office and the Mexican Community in Cork, the UCC team purchased a large supply of rice, beans (frijoles) and oil, delivering them directly to the women and working alongside them to pack the food into parcels for distribution.

Professor Finnegan said, ‘it was inspiring and also humbling to meet with people who provide such extraordinary selfless support to the most vulnerable and impoverished of the world’s citizens.”  

Coverage of this particular crisis has been intense in the last few weeks in the global media amid concerns about the deaths of some children in custody and continuing outrage over the separation of families and its impact on vulnerable young children.

The group was in Veracruz as part of their participation in a Summer School entitled Faces of Migration, which examined issues of migration, sanctuary and asylum and their human impact.

The Universidad Veracruzana has led initiatives to advance understanding of the refugee crisis and Summer School organizer, Aranzazu González Hernández, coordinates a programme specifically dedicated to returning migrants with academic, financial and psychological supports.

The number of migrants returning from the US, both voluntary and deported, has risen exponentially in the last five years and they face enormous linguistic, economic and social challenges on their return.

The collaboration with the UCC team and Las Patronas is envisaged to continue, "shaped by the memories of conversations with Norma Romero, the formidable co-ordinator of Las Patronas, who spoke with passion about our common, shared humanity and the responsibility of all individuals to show solidarity."

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