The migratory route for people from southern Mexico and Central America comes through Oaxaca, explains Melissa Harrison who is doing a year of volunteer work here at COMI El Centro de Orientacion del Migrante de Oaxaca.
Melissa, pictured on the right along with Xindy Li and Lair Martinez, finished her degree from The New School in New York and is in Oaxaca to hone her Spanish before going on to graduate school in the U.S. Her goal is to work in immigrant services and social advocacy in the U.S. southwest.
“My life is the way it is because there are people who are willing to do the jobs I don’t want to do. This is my way of giving back,” says Melissa.
We are at Nuevo Mundo, a cafe that roasts and brews their own organic coffee, located on Calle M. Bravo between Garcia Virgil and Porfirio Diaz. We meet just by the chatter that happens through enjoying good food and service. Melissa and her friend, artist Xindy Li, from Philadelphia, met here. Xindy is volunteering at the Espacio Zapata, where popular artists create murals, paintings, lithographs, street art and tee shirts.
There are two ways to go north from Southern Mexico and Central America — via free train (very dangerous) and by bus. People who can afford it take the bus because it is safer, more secure. Those who don’t risk kidnapping, rape, and worse. They go in search of work and a better life, the motivation for immigrants throughout the ages. To support themselves, they may stop and find jobs along the way. They may have been deported from the U.S. and are making their way south to go home. The migration stream goes both directions.
Melissa tells me that the people who stay at the shelter come for no more than a few days as they transit through Oaxaca. Many now are from Honduras and El Salvador. She notes that El Salvador is one of the most dangerous states in Latin America where civil war rages.
Her particular volunteer work is about locating missing people using a database for unidentified bodies.
COMI is operated by the Archdiocese of Antequera-Oaxaca in response to the U.S. and Mexican Bishops to help people caught in the migratory urgencies to seek a better life.