EL ALBERTO, Mexico — Gunshots ring out and sirens shriek, mixing with the ragged breath of muddy, panting humans. Suddenly, the full moon sweeping the ground like a searchlight reveals a disturbing scene: a group of illegal immigrants being handcuffed and led away by U.S. Border Patrol agents.
But the U.S. border is 700 miles from this rugged municipal park in Hidalgo state, a three-hour drive north of Mexico City. The spectacle unfolding here isn’t an actual border crossing attempt but a live simulation-adventure that attempts to give participants a taste of what it’s like for the thousands of Mexican and other Latin American undocumented migrants trying to enter the promised land of “el norte.”
Dubbed the “Caminata Nocturna” (Night Hike), the three-hour simulation is a combination obstacle course, sociology lesson and PG-rated family outing. Founded in 2004, it’s run by members of a local village of Hnahnu Indians, an indigenous people of south-central Mexico, whose population of about 2,500 has been decimated by migration to the United States.
Every Saturday night, dozens of the remaining several hundred villagers take part in the Caminata. Many work as costumed performers impersonating Border Patrol agents, fellow migrants and masked “coyotes” and “polleros,” the Mexican guides who escort migrants for a fee.
The 7 1/2-mile hike, which involves quite a bit of running, costs about $10 per person. The money raised from the Caminata, and other park activities such as cabin rentals, rappelling and boating trips, is shared evenly among the villagers.
Hell, it’s even become a tourist attraction:
Since it opened, the Caminata has drawn thousands of visitors, the majority from Mexico but also from Europe, the United States and Asia. Several of the roughly 50 participants in last Saturday night’s outing said they were hoping to gain some insight into what migrants endure during their trans-border odysseys.
“It’s part of our culture, and it’s important to know it,” said Sergio Mendieta, a secondary school teacher from the state of Mexico.
Yeah, it’s part of your culture to engage in and encourage felonies.
It bears resemblance to a survivalist training camp:
……The route takes participants up steep mountains studded with spiky cactuses and sharp-edged maguey plants, along the banks of the swift-flowing Tula River, through cow pastures and ancient Indian burial grounds. For much of the journey, participants are pursued by the ersatz border guards (also known as “la migra”), racing along in pickups, barking commands to surrender and firing guns loaded with blanks.
Some artistic license comes with the price of admission. In reality, border guards seldom use their sirens or discharge their firearms.
They seldom stop the illegals, too.
Although the simulation can only approximate the dangers and physical hardships of crossing the border, it reflects a harsh economic reality. Most of this village’s residents spend all or part of the year working illegally in places like Phoenix, Tampa, Fla., and Las Vegas.
So, I guess that means they sneak back in to teach other illegals the tricks of the trade.
I bet Geraldo Rivera lends a hand.
……(Delfino Santiago, 33, a Hnahnu who is among the park’s current group of overseers), said he first crossed the border when he was 16 and now regularly shuttles between his home here and Las Vegas, where he is legally employed with a landscaping company. Speaking in English (his third language, after Spanish and Hnahnu), he said that his fellow villagers wish they could work legally in the U.S. but that current U.S. immigration policy makes it extremely difficult and time-consuming to obtain legal status.
“I pay taxes. I understand the laws,” he said. “But they don’t allow us to become citizens.”
If you understood Title 8 of the US Code, amigo, you’d know that what you’re doing is a felony. We don’t mind those who seek the legal way into the country and U.S. citizenship, it’s the illegal short cuts you take that we won’t allow.
To top it all off, they have an odious sense of undeserved entitlement:
A handful of media reports have raised the question of whether the Caminata is a kind of boot camp that trains Mexicans and Central Americans how to sneak into Brownsville, Texas, or San Diego.
Hike organizers pump up participants with vaguely worded speeches about Mexican national pride and solidarity with migrants. The Caminata reflects the assumption that poor, desperate migrants have a right to seek work in foreign lands — an attitude shared by most Mexicans, who adamantly oppose extending the U.S. border wall. But the Caminata seems intended more as a homage to migrants than an overt political statement.
……Among the participants were two middle-aged Mexican teachers, an Ohio college professor, several extended families and small clusters of giggling teenagers snapping cell-phone pictures. Several men in black ski masks materialized, the evening’s tour guides. One, a stocky, garrulous fellow who declined to give his name, gathered the crowd together and launched into a rambling 40-minute monologue.
“This night is perhaps a little magical, because we speak of the theme that is the theme of immigration,” he said in Spanish. “And in this night, perhaps, it is evoked in tribute and in honor of all those immigrants who have nurtured a dream.” He then produced two Mexican flags from his knapsack and urged the crowd on in singing the Mexican national anthem.
Magical…I threw up a little in my mouth over that one. Mexican national anthem….Reconquista, anyone?
……(Marcelo Rojas, a Mexico City biologist), said he hoped that the experience would encourage Mexican participants not to invest all their hopes in migrating northward. Better, he suggested, that more of them should stay and fight to improve conditions at home. He also believes that Mexicans should be more open about addressing their country’s political and social failings.
Looks like Marcelo is the only smart one in the bunch.