What does migration mean to migrant girls?

By Rodrigo Barraza García | February 5, 2020 | The Americas | Freedom from Violence & Exploitation, Gender Equity, Youth Empowerment

Program Officer Rodrigo Barraza shares the voices of migrant girls and young women from Guatemala, Mexico, and the United States, as they reflect on what it means to migrate and the impacts that migration has had on their lives and families.

“I started to migrate when I was 6 years old, accompanying my parents to plant coffee. Since I turned 13, I’ve been traveling alone so I can help my family and so my brothers and sisters can study. And although I miss them a lot, I feel happy that I can support them. For me to migrate is sacrifice a little for the people you love.16-year-old from San José Ojetenam, Guatemala

“We left El Salvador because bad people were threatening my dad. I was very afraid because we left at night and we left many of our belongings. But now I feel calm and I want to study. Now I know I deserve a better life. Migrating for me is that – fighting for your right to happiness and tranquility.” – 19-year-old from San Salvador, El Salvador

“We migrate to have a better life, because in Mexico there are almost no opportunities. My parents wanted us to have a better education, they wanted to buy a house and have nice things. They wanted us to speak English to have more opportunities. To migrate for me is to seek to be better, to pursue a better life and to lift others.” – 15-year-old from Los Angeles, California, United States

“The first time I migrated was to escape my family, because they wanted me to marry a boy I didn’t even know, so I fled to the city and started working.

“Although I suffered a lot and they mistreated me because I didn’t speak Spanish, when I migrated, my life changed. Now I am studying and I’m helping other women in my community. Migrating is fighting for what you want. To be free and not afraid of being a woman.” – 24-year-old from Chiapas, Mexico

© Rodrigo Barraza

“I migrated because I wanted to live the adventure of living in another country, eating different food, visiting other places. I wanted to get stronger knowing that I had to see for myself and not depend on anyone. In the years that I lived far from my country, I learned to value my family and to be more tolerant of people who are different from me. Migrating for me is opening the mind.” – 21-year-old from Mexico City, Mexico

“When I told my parents that I am gay they took me to a place to “exorcise me,” because they said I had the devil inside. In that place they beat me and mistreated me, so I ran away and now my dream is to reach the United States. I have some friends there who are going to help me look for work and who don’t judge me for who I am. Migrating is the hope that everything will be fine if you have the courage to be yourself.” – 16-year-old from Honduras

“I did not migrate. I fled my country. Because my partner beat me and beat our son. One day he hit him so much that my boy passed out for a while. He wasn’t moving. I thought he had killed him. So that same day I took my things and left. I crossed to Mexico to ask for asylum and to find work so I can take care of my son. I migrated to save me and my son’s life. Migrating for me is surviving.” – 17-year-old from Cuscatlán, El Salvador

“I migrated to reunite with my family, because I missed them so much. My dad went to the US when I was a baby girl and whenever we talked on the phone, he told me that one day I would be with him.

“When I finished high school, he gave me permission, so he paid a coyote and I left. I was very tired and scared; I remember that while walking I could hear screaming and dogs in the distance. Now I am very happy to be able to hug my dad. Migrating is being with those you love. No matter what.” – 17-year-old from Oaxaca, Mexico

© Rodrigo Barraza

“I did not want to leave my country. But my mom forced me. I was in bad company, I started to hang with a local gang and I started doing bad things. I started doing drugs and stealing in stores. One time the police chased us. My mom got really scared and told me we were going to Mexico. Now I’m clean and I’m looking for a job to help her. I like living here. Migrating is like starting over.” – 19-year-old from Chalatenango, El Salvador

“I began to hear that a caravan was being formed to go to the United States and I thought: “I’m leaving too.” So I grabbed my backpack and left. On TV I had seen that in the United States you can buy very nice things and it is easy to get a job. Here there are few opportunities, especially if you are a woman. On the road people helped me, but in Mexico they arrested me and treated me very badly. They gave us rotten food and didn’t let us communicate with anyone. In the end they returned me to my country, but I know that at some point I will try to cross again. Migrating is being brave and risking everything for a dream.” – 17-year-old from El Progreso, Honduras

“I am from Haiti. I first arrived in Panama and from there I started walking. I was very tired. I felt like I was going to die. But I’m already in Mexico and getting closer to the United States. I left because my country is very poor, and me and my family have almost nothing to eat. I want to learn English and get a good job. Migrating is escaping poverty.” – 26-year-old from Haiti

“I arrived in the United States with my parents when I was 5 years old. I grew up, lived, studied, made friends there. I hardly knew how to speak Spanish and had never traveled to Mexico. But we didn’t have legal residency and although we wanted to get it, we never could.

“One day I was on my way to university and ICE arrested me. They only let me talk to my parents once and deported me to Mexico with a cell phone and 20 dollars in my hand. That’s it. And I had to start my life from scratch. Sometimes migrating is forgetting who you are.” – 22-year-old from Mexico City, Mexico

Girls and young women have multiple reasons to leave their countries of origin: to escape violence, seek a better life, reunite with their families, or simply to search for new opportunities.

Regardless of their motives, they have the right both to remain in their countries and to have a dignified and rights-based migration that allows them to multiply their sense of belonging and build happy lives.

And they are not alone.

GFC views gender equity as a fundamental human right that affects the ability of all children and youth to reach their full potential. Through the Adolescent Girls and Migration project, with support from the NoVo Foundation, GFC is partnering with leading migrant service and advocacy organizations in Guatemala, Mexico, and the US to build a transnational movement addressing migrant girls’ needs and rights.

GFC is proud to partner with organizations creating opportunities for and with migrant girls journeying north, who have been detained, who have returned home, or who remain in Mexico or the US and must adjust to a new life. Since the launch of this project in 2017, partners have created or expanded more than 20 community-based initiatives directly benefitting migrant girls and youth.

And you can help them too. Learn about our Adolescent Girls and Migration initiative. Donate. Get informed. Collaborate with shelter and local organizations and start collective action in your school or neighborhood to contribute to the construction of inclusive, multicultural, and positive communities.

Come closer.

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