Honduran child refugees: What Woody Guthrie would say

American journalism has begun to catch up with the news about child and young adult refugees from Central America, about 57,000 of whom have tried to find a new life in the U.S. this year, in many many cases to escape murder and terrorization by the the gangs who dominate their neighborhoods. 

An excellent story in the LA TImes this week on the subject began this way:

By the time Isaias Sosa turned 14, he'd already seen 15 bullet-riddled bodies laid out in his neighborhood of Cabañas, one of the most violent in this tropical metropolis. He rarely ventured outside his grandmother's home, fortified with a wrought iron gate and concertina wire.

But what pushed him to act was the death of his pregnant cousin, who was gunned down in 2012 by street gang members at the neighborhood gym. Sosa loaded a backpack, pocketed $500 from his mother's purse, memorized his aunt's phone number in Washington state and headed for southern Mexico, where he joined others riding north on top of one of the freight trains known as La Bestia, or the Beast.

Crossing the Rio Grande into Texas, Sosa was apprehended almost immediately by Border Patrol agents as he desperately searched for water.

After a second unsuccessful attempt to enter the U.S. last fall, he now spends most of his days cooped up at home, dreaming of returning yet again.

"Everywhere here is dangerous," he said. "There is no security. They kill people all the time."

"It's a sin to be young in Honduras."

Last month a deeply informed New York Times story on the wave of young people from these regions found kids leaving these different countries for largely different reasons. From Honduras, they left to avoid being murdered. 

“Basically, the places these people are coming from are the places with the highest homicide rates,” said Manuel Orozco, a senior fellow at the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington-based research group. “The parents see gang membership around the corner. Once your child is forced to join, the chances of being killed or going to prison is pretty high. Why wait until that happens?”

A confluence of factors, including discounted rates charged by smugglers for families, helped ignite the boom, he said. Children are killed for refusing to join gangs, over vendettas against their parents, or because they are caught up in gang disputes. Many activists here suggest they are also murdered by police officers willing to clean up the streets by any means possible.

The trauma makes the hatred shown to these youngsters all the more painful to bear.

A friend named Rain Perry, a classy singer/songwriter, for her wonderful monthly semi-improvisational Song Game, rewrote Woody's classic on the same subject, Deportee, for today, and touchingly so. I'll post the full lyrics below, for the curious, but here's the chorus and a concluding verse, which just kill me. 

Is this the best way we can secure our borders?
Is this the best way we can fight the drug war?
Screaming at children who have crawled through the desert
In a country build by…refugees.

Fleeing the streets of my Chamelecon
Was like jumping from the window of a building in flames
They're sending the first ones back to Honduras
All I can think is to try it again 

[I'll also post or link to a basic recording of her singing her version of Woody's "Deportee," backed by JB White.]

And, in tribute to Woody Guthrie in his 102nd year, here is a page of Woody's notes. Jeff Tweedy of Wilco fame, who was part of the Mermaid Avenue group that put to music some of the many songs Guthrie never finished, told NPR that being allowed to go through his diary and notes was like being allowed to touch a sacred historical object, comparable to the Declaration of Independence.

Woodyguthrienotebook
 

 Here are Rain Perry's full lyrics to the song — and here's her site.
 
My father would take me to the Rio Bermejo
In the beautiful forests of El Merendon

But seven young schoolgirls were found there last winter
Face down in the water with their backpacks still on

San Pedro Sula is no place for children
We flash our headlights to show we belong on our street
My brother’s wife Linda was shot on the sidewalk
Spray paint on my door – I took my daughters with me

Hasta Pronto Abuelo y Tia Lucia
I’m coming back home with my little familia
From this overfilled room near the Mexican border

On a big chartered airplane we are returnees
We slept in the churches — we slept under buses
My little girl brave holding my hand
600 miles till we’re crossing the border
A door in the distance like a lake in the sand

“Send them back with birth control”
“When they jump the fence, they’re breaking the law”
“mi casa no es su casa”
“Return to Sender” were the signs that we saw

Chorus

Fleeing the streets of my Chamelecon
Was like jumping from the window of a building in flame
They’re sending the first ones back to Honduras
And all I can think of is to try it again

Is this the best way we can secure our borders?
Is this the best we can fight the drug war?Screaming at children who have traveled the desert
In a country that was built by refugees

chorus

Comment (1) Add yours ↓
  1. Rain Trueax

    My issue on this with liberals who want to have these children come with no restrictions– how do you prevent American predators from using them as badly as they were from where they came? If there is a good plan for keeping them safe, giving them a chance, I am all for it but reality is there better be a plan. We already know the reason for the change in the immigration law from those areas was due to exploitation and child slavery. So we know the predators are there. What plan prevents them from doing it now? I find annoying platitudes and pious words– from whichever side they come unless they also come with practical ways to make it work.

    August 22, 2014 Reply

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