Sunday, September 21, 2014

"I never wanted to leave..."

Maverick being a goofball in the kitchen
     Maverick is 24, Honduran, and one of the spunkiest, quirkiest people I know. He is incredibly smart, an avid reader (had just finished The Portrait of Dorian Gray when I met him), a collector of many things, extremely outspoken, ‘un poco loco’ - ‘a little crazy,’ and a devoted music fan. From Drake to Dido, Maverick perpetually played music, either from the common computers in Tochan or on his new telephone. Every once in a while he would walk up to me, put an earbud in my ear and make me listen to the latest song to strike his fancy. On a daily basis, Maverick told me “Me fascina esta canción!” - “I’m obsessed with this song!” He explained that music transports him to another world. It’s not only his passion, but his diversion and escape.

     Maverick’s migration story started about two years ago when his previously stable life in Honduras took an unexpected and irreparable hit. In Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Maverick was a student at the university, studying marketing, and living in his own apartment. Then, on November 26th, 2012 Maverick and seven other young men were secuestrados (kidnapped) by the gang that controls the neighborhood where he lived. They were suspected of having information about a woman working against gang activities. After being interrogated, the eight of them were released. However, just days later, four of the young men who had been kidnapped and the elderly woman who had opposed the gang were found murdered on the street.
Part of Maverick's coin collection

     Maverick immediately fled the area, staying with his mother for a period, while he hoped the risk would go down and he could go back to school. However it wasn't long before he received word that the gang was looking for him too. Despite the fact that he never wanted to leave Honduras, Maverick had no choice but to flee his beloved country, going to Mexico as a refugee in search of protection.

Speaking about his journey at International Day of the Migrant

     After entering Mexico, Maverick was detained by Migración (immigration officials) and placed in custody of the Migration Station in Chiapas – the southernmost state of Mexico. “Migration Station” is a nice way of saying detention facility, or temporary prison for migrants in Mexico. According to official rhetoric, these stations are “a place for migrants to stay” while their migration statuses are determined. However they are notoriously neglected, dangerous, abusive places, which often do more harm to the migrants than any ‘protection’ they could ever offer. During the 90 days that Maverick was detained in Chiapas, he endured physical aggressions from fellow detainees and Migra officials. When he defended himself they threatened to use tranquilizers and then put him in solitary confinement. His cell was such a dusty compartment that he suffered several severe asthma attacks, none of which were treated. He is now filing a human rights suit against Migración.

     All the while, Maverick had to manage his own application and legal case for refugee status. He cannot go back to Honduras because there is a very real, imminent threat to his life due to individual persecution (which is the requirement to attain refugee status in any country). However, after reviewing his case, the United Nations High Commission on Refugees in Mexico (UNHCR), declared his fear was “subjective” and therefore unfounded. He was denied refuge and complementary protection.

A time of reflection at Parque Alameda
     That was when he came to us. When he first entered Tochan, Maverick only had 3 days left to be in Mexico legally. He was passing through Mexico City on his way north, confused, scared, and angry. More than anything, Maverick wants to go home. One day, after watching the screening of a documentary about migrants who have ‘disappeared’ in their trajectories through Mexico, Maverick gave a speech that left all of us, himself included, in tears:

“Most migrants don’t leave their countries because it struck their fancy. They leave because they can’t be there anymore. I never wanted to leave my country. I have endured things here that I had never experienced in Honduras. I never had to endure hunger in Honduras; I have never felt exhaustion like having to cling to the top of a train for my life. I love my country. I would give anything to go back, to see my mom, to give her a hug for Christmas. But I can’t.”

     The psychological consequences of the abuse, violence, and rejection that he has endured are clear and profound. Although he is a definitively positive, outgoing person, there are moments when the scars of his trauma become visible - you can see the sadness and the anger touch him. To manage these moments, Maverick retreats into himself, sometimes with meditation or prayer, and often with music, until he can calm down and come back to us as himself.

Winning at foosball
     While he was with us at Tochan, a group of lawyers and legal advocates helped him appeal his case for asylum. However, after two months’ worth of hard work finding as much concrete evidence as possible and even harder work testifying to what happened, Maverick’s case was rejected yet again. This meant that he had to flee further north and try again to apply for refugee status in the United States, turning himself in to immigration officials in Tijuana and awaiting a decision on whether he will be a refugee in the U.S.

     Maverick’s story isn't one of triumph or justice, and for that reason I believe it is incredibly important to share. Many people hold the belief that migrants leave their homes simply because they feel like it or because they want to pursue that ethereal ‘American Dream,’ and that is not true. Whether it is a specific traumatic event like what happened to Maverick or a series of micro-events and situations that coalesce, migrants leave their homes because of necessity. There is nothing Maverick wants more in this world than to go home to his country, his family, his friends, and his university - his Honduran life. But he can't. He is not allowed to belong anywhere. And that is the tragedy.

     Yet, there is hope here. The beautiful thing about Maverick is his perseverance. No matter what happens to him, he doesn't give up. He struggles, has doubts, and suffers, but he does not give up. Knowing Maverick is an inspiration, and I honestly believe that I have been blessed every day I spent in his company. Whether he taught me the lyrics to a new song or how to make Honduran desserts, Maverick constantly, and probably unknowingly, showed me what the human spirit is capable of. And that is a beautiful, life-altering lesson.

A classic Maverick smile as he promotes our craft fair at the Museum of Memory and Tolerance