Donors came together for a benefit at the downtown El Paso Community Foundation room featuring a discussion with six leading authors about their new books, immigration and border relations.
Author and Dallas Morning News Border Correspondent Alfredo Corchado established the SOMOS Fund with the foundation in 2014. The fund provides college scholarships to Jaguares Jóvenes de Bien, an American football team in Ciudad Juárez that mentors young people impacted by drug violence in the city.
Corchado set up the fund after the Villas de Salvárcar massacre in Juárez that killed 15 teens and young adults in 2010.
“It was known as the ‘birthday massacre’ where young people were celebrating a birthday party and hitmen with the wrong information came, they thought they were targeting rivals and it ended up being innocent people," Corchado said. "And I think that was like a turning point not only for Ciudad Juárez but I think for the rest of the country where people started questioning whose actually being killed and why. They weren’t nameless anymore. I mean people really started questioning the policy by the at the time the [Felipe] Calderón administration.”
María Guadalupe Dávila Pérez lost her 17-year-old son, Rodrigo Cadena Dávila during the massacre. She said the fund was created in Rodrigo’s memory.
“He was a young man that was full of energy, that was full of dreams and one of those dreams was to go to school to be a university student and he never got that chance. But he served as the inspiration for this fundraiser for other young people in Juarez who do want to go to the university and now have that chance," Dávila Pérez said with the help of translator Mónica Ortiz Uribe.
Since 2006, Corchado said more than 240 thousand people have been killed throughout Mexico, including more than 13 thousand in Ciudad Juárez.
The benefit hosted authors including Ron Stallworth, Andrew Selee and Francisco Cantú, who details his four years as a U.S. Border Patrol agent in his 2018 book “The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border.” Cantú said he kept a journal to record his interactions.
“I would come home and I would write down a lot of the interactions that I had with people and I think those stories are what really stuck with me even after leaving the Border Patrol. And I think what happens when you’re a part of work like that, you know you become conditioned, you become numb to the job through a lot of these stories because you see, you know you’re seeing them every day," Cantú said. "And so, I think keeping that journal was a way for me to guard against forgetting and to guard against some of the violence and some of the desperation that people are thrust into on the border from being normalized.”
That violence and desperation manifested itself in late November at the San Ysidro Port of Entry connecting San Diego and Tijuana. There border patrol agents fired tear gas at hundreds of migrants who were part of caravans of Central American asylum-seekers.
Cantú said he doesn’t think the response was appropriate, but he’s not surprised. As part of his training, he said agents are taught that their safety is paramount and that people crossing the border are constantly presented as threats and criminals.
“I think the people who were tear gassed were being treated as criminals and they were being treated as a threat and what I think is missing from the culture of the border patrol is understanding that these are people and most often you are encountering people in a humanitarian situation. Most often you are encountering some of the most vulnerable people on Earth, really, and I think there needs to be more capacity within the culture of this institution to act accordingly and to treat these people with human dignity," Cantú said.
Calling the migrant caravan “an invasion,” President Trump deployed roughly 6,000 active-duty troops to the border to protect Customs and Border Protection agents.
In the face of the border conflict, Dávila Pérez said the SOMOS Fund is an effort by borderland communities to help low-income young people transcend violence in Mexico.
“This fundraiser represents a link between two sister cities and one reaching out a friendly hand toward the other and offering an opportunity that wasn’t there previously," Dávila Pérez said. "It’s also principally a way to respond to the violence in Ciudad Juarez where it was violence that grabbed and took away her son and now she is taking from violence all these other young people, taking them back from the violence that could swallow them up and giving them a better opportunity and this is a great start but there’s more work to be done.”
Corchado said the money raised, which El Paso Community Foundation organizers said totals more than $2,500, will help provide scholarships for eight to 10 students in Ciudad Juárez.