People are more than their stories of migration. Before she fled Guerrero with her three children late last in 2021, Mari was a vendor. Every day, she would take her kids to school in her in-laws’ town. She would pick up her wares for the day and travel back to her own town to sell. It was a simple rhythm, one that sustained her family and kept them connected.
Then one day, when Mari went to her house to pick up her inventory, neighbors warned her. “Don’t go to your house,” they said, “There are people waiting for you there.”
“They threw me out of my house that day,” Mari says. It was the latest chapter in a long trail of violence and threats. She suspected it had something to do with her husband, but she had no idea what. Her husband had left three years earlier, seeking work in another state to support the family. They lost contact a year after he left. Soon, the threats began. In 2019, in a terrifying escalation, organized crime kidnapped her daughter for three days.
Now, she has lost her house. The criminal organization began threatening her father-in-law and sending threats to her via his phone, too.
“The threats were constant. They would say they were coming for me and the kids,” Mari recalls. Her mother-in-law, who had a visa in another country, left. Mari discussed her options with her father-in-law. Ultimately, she decided to flee. She had already seen that the cartel was ready to do harm to her children. One of her nephews told her about KBI, that she could find support in Nogales. Mari thought it over for some time before packing up her three children and making her way to Sonora.
She recalls, “We were received so well here at KBI.” After connecting with our staff, she set about creating a life in Nogales while waiting for access to the port of entry. A sister-in-law supported her family to help out with bills. She made fast friends with Luz Maria. She began working in a restaurant and at other jobs to sustain herself and the kids. In May, she began attending the Livelihood Project workshops.
“The painting sessions are a space where I feel like I can finally let go and express myself, even if I don’t have words,” she says. In the painting workshop, she and other migrants paint crosses with scenes of migration, like migrants crossing the desert. The space is a safe place for her and other painters to process, even as it brings difficult feelings to the surface.
“It’s hard to describe. The emotions are all mixed up. You’re painting this terrible scenes and it makes me feel so sad. At the same time, it feels good. It’s a relief to be channeling my bad and heavy thoughts and creating something beautiful at the same time,” she says.
She has valued the ways the Livelihood Project has equipped her to sell wares again, only this time in Nogales. She says, “Life here is hard. The rent is incredibly high. I have spoken with the lawyers and know I need to wait until the policies change, but all I want is to make it to the US and give my kids a better life. My dream is to work and see them study in a place where they’re safe.”
Until the day when she is able to make her asylum claim, Mari continues to make the best life she can for herself and her kids in Nogales. To this space of limbo, she brings her unique ability to forge strong bonds, her creativity, and her entrepreneurial spirit. One day when she’s able to cross over the border, we know that these gifts will enrich the entire community where she lands.