A statue of Jesus Christ welcomes Enrique to Veracruz. It is April 2000, and Enrique has made it one-third of the way through Mexico. Many of his fellow migrants attribute their success to God. They have prayed for guidance and protection, and carry their Bibles wrapped in plastic as a source of validation. They relate particularly to the Twenty-Third Psalm, which reads, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me." Enrique does not ask God for help, as he believes he has committed too many sins. He expects the worst, but is surprised by the reward he receives in Veracruz and Oaxaca.
Unlike the people of Chiapas, those of Veracruz and Oaxaca are friendly toward migrants. They shout to signal if police are nearby, giving the migrants time to react. Women and children run along the sides of the train with small bundles, which they throw up as gifts. Enrique receives several loaves of bread from woman and a boy. He is overwhelmed by their generosity.
In fact, residents of Veracruz are known for their kindness. One migrant says, “We could never keep going forward without people like this” (104-105). Although poor themselves, the townspeople give sweaters, clothes, bread, water, lemonade, and more to the migrants as they pass on the trains. Marìa Luisa Mora Martin is over a hundred years old, but she and her daughter regularly throw bags of food and supplies to migrants.
In interviews with Nazario, the residents provide their philosophies on kindness. One person says, “I don’t like to feel that I have eaten and they haven’t” (105). Others say it is rewarding to help the suffering migrants. They are all encouraged to give by the local bishop, Hipólito Reyes Larios, who quotes the Gospel of Matthew to encourage mercy and compassion for strangers. Local priests, in individual towns, also compare the journey of the migrants to that of the baby Jesus as his family fled from Israel.
The Church is also active in protecting migrants from police abuse in Veracruz. Nazario tells how migrants often claim sanctuary in churches, and how priests facilitate releases if they are arrested nearby. One town turned its church into a permanent sanctuary and shelter. Another church, Maria Auxiliadora, allows migrants to stay in the courtyard where they are served daily meals. For over two decades, the church members and priests of Veracruz have fought for the rights of the migrants, holding public protests outside of any hospital that allows la migra to deport injured migrants before they are healed.
Individual citizens also offer protection to migrants. Some residents offer migrants protection from the police by allowing them to stay in their homes or hide in their gardens and backyards. The police have threatened to arrest church members who aid the migrants; some have even been charged and released only after paying thousands of pesos. Though the police respect the sanctuary of church grounds, individual citizens are liable to smuggling charges for housing migrants.
Whole communities have stood up to police abuses. Nazario tells of an incident in 2000 when drunk police shot at migrants who had left the train, sending them fleeing into the hills. In the chase, a young, pregnant woman was shot in the arm. The police chased her up the mountain, where he beat and kicked her until she collapsed. The townspeople then confronted the police, and chased them away. Afterwards, a local man was found dead, presumably having been shot in the confusion. The next day, five hundred residents of different towns marched to city hall in Nogales to demand retribution for the man's death, and the release of any migrants arrested in the raid. Eight police officers were fired over the incident.
As Enrique departs Veracruz on another train, he befriends two boys going to America - one is seventeen, the other thirteen. He relishes their companionship. Soon, they arrive in Mexico City, where all hospitality vanishes. People are hostile here, on edge. Churches hire armed guards to stand watch during mass so that parishioners are not robbed. The attitude toward migrants is the opposite of that in Veracruz. One woman tells of a local man who was beaten, robbed, and raped by migrants. As a result of this fear, people in Mexico City offer little charity.
Enrique begs for food, but finds only one woman willing to give him any. He then hides in a three-foot-wide concrete culvert in a field just north of the station. There, he times the arrival of a 10:30am northbound train to the Texas border. He and his two friends board the train and find room in a boxcar as they travel away from Mexico City. Enrique sleeps well, but is eventually awakened by police officers who escort the boys from the train. Instead of deporting them, however, the police take them to their jefe (boss), who feeds them and gives them toothpaste. The jefe warns them to leave the train before the next security guard station, which is notoriously harsh.
Before they board the next train, Enrique decides to find a job. He does not want to arrive in the U.S. penniless. He works for a bricklayer and earn 80 pesos, shoes, and clothing. His employer tells him to take a combi (minibus) through the next checkpoint, since vans are not searched by la migra. He is then advised to take a bus to Matehuala, where he may be able to hitchhike on a truck up to the Rio Grande. Enrique follows the advice, and soon arrives in Matehuala, where a kind truck driver gives him a ride. As they near the Rio Grande, the driver tells the police officers at Los Pocitos checkpoint that Enrique is his assistant, and they do not question him.
The driver drops Enrique off in Nuevo Laredo, and Enrique uses most of his money to take a bus into the heart of the city. There, he meets a Honduran man who takes him to an encampment near the Rio Grande. Here, Enrique can see the United States. He feels overwhelmed, having spent forty-six days traveling, but the proximity reminds him of how much emotional distance remains between him and his mother, and he admits a sadness mixed in his excitement.
A statue of Jesus Christ greets Enrique and others as their train enters Veracruz. It is a symbol of the unexpected charity that the migrants will receive. When Enrique sees a woman and a boy running alongside the tracks, he fears they will throw rocks. Such pessimism makes sense, considering his negative experiences so far in Mexico. So when the family throws not rocks but gifts, they give him more than food; they give him hope.
Hope, a recurring theme throughout the text, is most apparent in this chapter. The status of Jesus Christ, a universal symbol of faith and hope, opens the door for an abundance of charity from the men and women of Veracruz. Although Enrique does not believe he is worthy of God’s goodness (a result of his abandonment issues and guilt over his own sins), many of the migrants are bolstered by their Christian faith. They pray together, or read psalms like the Ninety-first, which reads, “There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling. For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.” Another favorite prayer of the migrants is La Oració a las Tres Divinas Personas, which is a prayer to the Holy Trinity that asks for guidance from the saints.
Whether the kindness of Veracruz is inspired by prayer or not, it is undeniably a selfless charity. After all, the most a person can expect for his or her gift is a quick 'thanks' as the train continues to rush by. Though these people are extremely poor - Nazario goes into detail in describing their poverty - they are nevertheless moved by the suffering of those who have less than them.
Nazario also indicates that their kindness is inspired by a particular bishop, and the local priests under him. This is one of many indications in the book of individuals who inspire great kindness by fostering institutions devoted to charity. Nazario's book is unique in refusing to offer easy solutions to the immigration problem and its complicated institutions, but she does often implicitly suggest that individuals can make a large difference by basing institutions around their own kindness. Olga, in the previous chapter, is another example.
Mexico City is the opposite of Veracruz. Hope is difficult to justify here. Enrique does meet one woman who is willing to share her food with him, but only after many others have turned him down. Suffering, a continuing motif, is evident in many ways in the Mexico City section. Firstly, Nazario points out that Enrique continues to harbor scars from his terrible beating weeks before. There is a suggestion that he is given charity sometimes because his appearance inspires pity. Secondly, Nazario does not judge the residents of Mexico City for their animosity, but instead suggests that they confront their own suffering. Mexico City is one of the most violent cities in the country. Migrants have not necessarily been kind to residents there, both in terms of the economy and safety. Hence, they are reticent to be too open.
Kindness, an uncommon theme in the text, is found in unlikely places for Enrique. Some examples are the jefe who helps him, the bricklayer who hires him, and the truck driver who gives him a ride. Kindness translates to hope through the friends Enrique makes on the train. At this point, the number of migrants has dwindled since so many have been captured or killed, and so intimacy is easier to achieve. This happens with the young boys, and the three share food, conversation, and solace. Although they do not travel together for very long, this brief moment of normalcy and companionship helps to bolster Enrique’s spirit. Like the bread that he received in Veracruz, his friendship with the two boys enables him to push forward to the final great challenge: crossing the Rio Grande into the United States.