La Bestia: A Perilous Journey for Migrants: Background information when reading We Are Not from Here

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We Are Not from Here

by Jenny Torres Sanchez

We Are Not from Here by Jenny Torres Sanchez X
We Are Not from Here by Jenny Torres Sanchez
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  • First Published:
    May 2020, 368 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2021, 336 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Catherine M Andronik
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About this Book

La Bestia: A Perilous Journey for Migrants

This article relates to We Are Not from Here

Print Review

Migrants riding atop La Bestia in VeracruzIn Jenny Torres Sanchez's young adult novel We Are Not from Here, three Guatemalan teenagers embark on a dangerous journey to the United States, part of which takes place on top of La Bestia (The Beast). This is the commonly used name for the train that spans the length of Mexico frequently boarded by migrants seeking to bypass immigration checkpoints en route to the U.S. Its other common name is perhaps less lyrical but more descriptive: El tren de la muerta, the train of death. In the novel, the characters switch from train to train, revealing that there is no single La Bestia; this is a beast made of many parts.

Migrants have been riding La Bestia for decades, though the popularity of this method of travel waned considerably in 2014 and for a few years after, as Mexican authorities began raiding the trains and detaining migrants. However, ridership surged in recent years; Mexican immigration agents detained 43,258 migrants from April to May of 2019. It's estimated that up to half a million Central American migrants ride the train every year.

One of the characters in We Are Not From Here, Pequeña, disguises herself as a boy for the journey, and with good reason. A social worker reports that 80 percent of the women who ride La Bestia are raped at some point along the way. Death is never far from El tren de la muerte: it is estimated that over 120,000 travelers have disappeared or died on the journey since 2006, many killed under the wheels of the train as they run alongside to hop aboard. Many more have lost limbs or suffered other catastrophic injuries. In 2011, the Red Cross opened a facility at a midpoint on the train route in order to attend to the wounded. They reported treating five to eight individuals requiring amputations each month in 2018.

La Bestia has been immortalized in music by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. In an effort to discourage migrants from risking their lives on the train, they produced the song "La Bestia," describing in detail its dangers ("Migrants go as cattle/ To the slaughterhouse/ Taking hell's route/ Within a cloud of pain.") It's got a catchy tune, and is sung by popular jingle artist Eddie Ganz. It flooded the airwaves in Central America five years ago, but has apparently not served to deter migrants.

For readers who wish to see what the journey on La Bestia is like, there is a documentary called Mexico: La Bestia available on YouTube. It was produced by Arte, a French/German company, and features German narration with English subtitles.

Photograph of La Bestia in Veracruz by Alberto Bautista

Filed under Society and Politics

This "beyond the book article" relates to We Are Not from Here. It originally ran in July 2020 and has been updated for the May 2021 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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