Mexican migrant in Texas tragedy hoped to reach relatives in Ohio

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MEXICO CITY — About two weeks ago, the two cousins ​​returned to the small, harsh hamlet they grew up in in southern Mexico to say goodbye in what has become a rite of passage for generations of migrants from their remote, impoverished mountainous region of the state. Oaxaca.

After parting ways with the Cerro Verde community, Javier Flores López and Jose Luis Vásquez Guzmán began their journey north to the US-Mexico border and their final destination in Ohio, where construction and other work awaited.

Flores López is now missing, his family said, while Vásquez Guzmán has been hospitalized in San Antonio after surviving the stifling heat inside a tractor-trailer near the city of Texas, killing at least 53 people in the deadliest smuggling operation. ever in the US The perilous journey for migrants who climbed into what would become a death chamber for many reflects the increasing risks people face when fleeing abject poverty, violence and other desperate situations in Mexico and Central America to to seek a better life.

Cerro Verde is a community of about 60 people largely abandoned by young people. Those who continue to work earn a meager income by weaving sun hats, mats, brooms and other articles from palm fronds. Many live on just 30 pesos a day (less than $2).

“The truth is that people are leaving here out of necessity,” said Felicitos García, who owns a small supermarket in nearby San Miguel Huautla, adding that he saw the two men about two weeks ago. “Life is tough here. People survive by growing their own crops, such as corn, beans and wheat. Sometimes the land gives in and sometimes it doesn’t, when the rain comes late. There is no place for people to have other resources. People live from one day to the next.”

It wasn’t the first trip to the US-Mexico border for Flores López, now in his mid-thirties, who years ago left Cerro Verde for Ohio, where his father and brother live.

He was home to see his wife and three small children, said a cousin, Francisco López Hernández. Vásquez Guzmán, 32, decided to join his cousin for his first trip across the border, hoping to reach his oldest brother who is also in Ohio.

While everyone knew the risks, numerous people from Cerro Verde had crossed the US-Mexico border safely with the help of smugglers, so it came as a shock, López Hernández said, to learn that Vásquez Guzmán was among the 67 people. those in the trailer were found abandoned Monday near car salvage yards. The family believes Flores López was too, but they are still waiting for confirmation.

The driver, along with two other men from Mexico, remained in custody while the investigation continues.

Officials had possible identifications of 37 of the victims as of Wednesday morning, pending verification with authorities in other countries, according to the Bexar County Medical Examiner’s Office.

The dead include 27 people from Mexico, 14 from Honduras, seven from Guatemala and two from El Salvador, said Francisco Garduño, head of Mexico’s National Immigration Institute.

It was a challenge to identify them, as some were found without identification documents and in one case were carrying stolen ID. Outlying villages, such as Cerro Verde, have little to no phone service to reach relatives, and fingerprint data must be shared and matched by the governments involved.

Vásquez Guzmán’s mother, who is trying to get a visa to see her son in Texas, raised him and his three siblings alone after their father died when Vásquez Guzmán was 10. She is now the only one of the family remaining in Cerro Verde. Vásquez Guzmán left when he was 18 and joined the Mexican army.

His oldest brother, Eloy, went to the United States just over a year ago and settled in Ohio, said López Hernández, who grew up on the neighboring ranch.

“I imagine he was commenting on how the work situation was and everything and how he could make more money,” said López Hernández. “I imagine he called him so that he would also come and have a better life. That’s the draw why he went.”

Vásquez Guzmán, who has lived in Mexico City for the past six years, returned to Cerro Verde only to say goodbye to his mother, López Hernández said.

He knew it was an expensive and risky journey. López Hernández said most people depend on those who have reached the US to send them money for the trip, which usually costs about $9,000.

“There are many risks, but for those who are lucky, the fortune is there to be able to work and earn a living,” he said.

With so many leaving and heading for the United States, it’s easy to find a smuggler, and so far people have crossed the road safely, López Hernández said.

“I don’t know in this case if they changed or what happened, why they were abandoned,” he said.

López Hernández, who also has a brother who lives in Ohio, has been thinking about joining him. But he said family, work, school and other responsibilities have kept him in Mexico.

This week he asked his uncle if he had heard from Vásquez Guzmán. He told him he was in Texas.

“I said to him, ‘That’s cool, that’s that he’s trying hard and we’ll see him on his return,'” replied López Hernández before they lost their phone signal.

He later learned about the tragedy from the internet.

Watson reported from San Diego.

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