2003Feature Writing

Enrique's Journey; Chapter Two

By: 
Sonia Nazario
Times Staff Writer
Don Bartletti
Times Photographs
September 30, 2002;
Page 1

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Badly Beaten, a Boy Seeks Mercy in a Rail-side Town

His quiet vow to villagers: 'I'm going to find my mom'.

The day's work is done at Las Anonas, a rail-side hamlet of 36 families in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico, when a field hand, Sirenio Gomez Fuentes, sees a startling sight: a battered and bleeding boy, naked except for his undershorts.

It is Enrique.

He limps forward on bare feet, stumbling one way, then another. His right shin is gashed. His upper lip is split. The left side of his face is swollen. He is crying.

sirenio gomez fuentes

Near this spot in Las Anonas, Mexico, Sirenio Gomez Fuentes was startled to see Enrique, bleeding and nearly naked, stumbling toward him.

Gomez hears him whisper, "Give me water, please."

The knot of apprehension in Sirenio Gomez melts into pity. He runs into his thatched hut, fills a cup and gives it to Enrique.

"Do you have a pair of pants?" Enrique asks.

Gomez dashes back inside and fetches some. There are holes in the crotch and the knees, but they will do. Then, with kindness, Gomez directs Enrique to Carlos Carrasco, the mayor of Las Anonas. Whatever has happened, maybe he can help.

Enrique hobbles down a dirt road into the heart of the little town. He encounters a man on a horse. Could he help him find the mayor? "That's me," the man says. He stops and stares. "Did you fall from the train?"

Again, Enrique begins to cry.

Mayor Carrasco dismounts. He takes Enrique's arm and guides him to his home, next to the town church. "Mom!" he shouts. "There's a poor kid out here! He's all beaten up." Carrasco drags a wooden pew out of the church, pulls it into the shade of a tamarind tree and helps Enrique onto it.

Lesbia Sibaja, the mayor's mother, puts a pot of water on to boil and sprinkles in salt and herbs to clean his wounds. She brings Enrique a bowl of hot broth, filled with bits of meat and potatoes.

He spoons the brown liquid into his mouth, careful not to touch his broken teeth. He cannot chew.

Townspeople come to see. They stand in a circle. "Is he alive?" asks Gloria Luis, a stout woman with long black hair. "Why don't you go home? Wouldn't that be better?"

"I am going to find my mom," Enrique says, quietly.

He is 17. It is March 24, 2000. Eleven years before, his mother had left home in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, to work in the United States. She did not come back, and now he is riding freight trains up through Mexico to find her.

Gloria Luis looks at Enrique and thinks about her own children. She earns little; most people in Las Anonas make 30 pesos a day, roughly $3, working the fields. She digs into a pocket and presses 10 pesos into Enrique's hand.

Several other women open his hand, adding 5 or 10 pesos each.

Mayor Carrasco gives Enrique a shirt and shoes. He has cared for injured immigrants before. Some have died. Giving Enrique clothing will be futile, Carrasco thinks, if he can't find someone with a car who can get the boy to medical help.

Adan Diaz Ruiz, mayor of San Pedro Tapanatepec, the county seat, happens by in his pickup.

Carrasco begs a favor: Take this kid to a doctor.

Diaz balks. He is miffed. "This is what they get for doing this journey," he says. Enrique cannot pay for any treatment. Why, Diaz wonders, do these Central American governments send us all their problems?

Looking at the small, soft-spoken boy lying on the bench, he reminds himself that a live migrant is better than a dead one. In 18 months, Diaz has had to bury eight of them, nearly all mutilated by the trains. Already today, he has been told to expect the body of yet another, in his late 30s.

Sending this boy to a doctor would cost the county $60. Burying him in a common grave would cost three times as much. First, Diaz would have to pay someone to dig the grave, then someone to handle the paperwork, then someone to stand guard while Enrique's unclaimed body is displayed on the steamy patio of the San Pedro Tapanatepec cemetery for 72 hours, as required by law.

All the while, people visiting the graves of their loved ones would complain about the smell of another rotting migrant.

"We will help you," he tells Enrique finally.

He turns him over to his driver, Ricardo Diaz Aguilar. Inside the mayor's pickup, Enrique sobs, but this time with relief. He says to the driver, "I thought I was going to die."

An officer of the judicial police approaches in a white pickup. Enrique cranks down his window. Instantly, he recoils. He recognizes both the officer and the truck.

The officer, too, seems startled.

For a moment, the officer and the mayor's driver discuss the new dead immigrant. Quickly, the policeman pulls away.

"That guy robbed me yesterday," Enrique says. The policeman and a partner had taken 100 pesos from him and three other migrants at gunpoint in Chahuites, about five miles south.

The mayor's driver is not surprised. The judicial police, he says, routinely stop trains to rob and beat immigrants.

The judiciales--the Agencia Federal de Investigacion--deny it.

In San Pedro Tapanatepec, the driver finds the last clinic still open that night.