Johandri Pacheco boarded the train with a stomach ache.
An eight and a half month belly.
He did not enter through the door of the car to sit in a chair and look at the landscape between Irapuato and Matamoros, from the center to the eastern end of Mexico, on the border with the United States.
He climbed a side ladder of the car to the roof of a freight train that belongs to the Mexican railway system, an old train network known as La Bestia.
The 23-year-old Venezuelan migrant was exhausted. Together with his partner José Gregorio and his son Gael, 4 years old, they waited for the arrival of the train for five days on a bridge in Irapuato.
Other migrants said that that train was known as El Bolichero, because of small metal balls that are stored on the roof and that they had to cover with cardboard to rest during the journey.
Johandri and her boyfriend collected cardboard for the trip and fed themselves with the food that activists and spontaneous people distributed on the bridge.
The couple and the child traveled to a dozen countries for a month and a half to ensure that Mía, the baby that Johandri was carrying, was born in the United States.
“A friend scared me, she told me that if I gave birth in Mexico they would return me to the border with Guatemala and they would register my daughter as Guatemalan,” she says from a migrant shelter located in Aguascalientes, in the center of Mexico.
“My fear was going to the hospital and being taken back by Immigration.”
The train arrived in Irapuato at midnight on Friday, August 25. 12 days left until deliveryaccording to the estimate of the doctor who performed the last prenatal check-up.
“Go to your country”
Johandri grew up in Las Adjuntas, a popular neighborhood southwest of Caracas.
As soon as he turned 18, he emigrated to Peru shortly before the pandemic, without having completed high school or having work experience. “I wanted to see the world by my own means, achieve my own things with my own efforts.”
The economic crisis, lack of access to public services and violence in Venezuela have driven the migration of more than seven million people since 2015, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
Johandri had her first job in Peru as a clerk in a shoe store. “Go to your country, you Venezuelans are coming to fuck”, some clients told him, according to what he says. She pretended that she wasn’t listening and turned away in silence.
“Those comments don’t affect me,” he says, remembering the insults he received in that store. “I am fighting for myself and my family.”
In Peru she gave birth to Gael, her first child.
However, in mid-2021 its future perspective changed. Prices increased and his salary was not enough to pay for rent and food.
With less than US$100 in his pocket, Johandri ruled out the option of returning to the family home in Las Adjuntas and He emigrated to Chile hitchhiking on the roads.
She got a job as a cleaning worker in a small clinic in Santiago. She sold clothes on her own and served drinks at a bar. When she thought she had achieved economic stability, she raised the rent on her new apartment and she feared she would be forced to return to Las Adjuntas.
“I decided that we should leave Chile when I was seven months pregnant,” remember.
“With the baby in my belly, I had both my arms and my two legs to hold on to the trees and cross the rivers of the Darién, which was one of the most difficult parts of the journey. But if she carried her in her arms it would be impossible.”
“Everyone wants to steal from you”
The couple had US$700 to make the overland journey with Gael to the United States through Chile, Peru, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico.
They did the first leg of the journey by bus, from Chile to Capurganá, a Colombian town on the border with Panama and one of the main entrances to the Darién Gap, the intricate jungle through which almost 249,000 migrants passed through during the first half of 2023the largest migratory flow recorded so far by Panamanian authorities.
Seeing so many children with fever, vomiting and rashes on the journey through Darien, Johandri was glad she had made the decision to travel pregnant. However, she never thought that the most difficult part awaited them in Mexico.
“In Darién you can drink water from the rivers and take refuge under the shade of the trees. But in Mexico we had to walk every day for five or six hours under the sun. Everyone wants to steal from you, scam you. We tried to continue by bus and the police always took us off because we didn’t have papers.”
After traveling for a month and a half, boarding El Bolichero in Irapuato and arriving in Matamoros was the last step to cross into the United States.
Alert on a cardboard
Johandri and José Gregorio put the cardboard on the roof of the train and placed Gael between them to sleep.
At 2:00 in the morning, Johandri woke up squeezing his belly to relieve the pain.
There were still 12 days left until giving birth.
When Johandri had her first child, the labor contractions were accompanied by back pain. This time he only had a stomach ache, so he assumed that those spasms were a product of fatigue and the rigors of the train.
However, the pressure in the belly acquired a rhythm, it hurt at intervals and with increasing intensity. Johandri told his partner to call for help immediately. Mia was on her way.
At 5:00 in the morning, José Gregorio took one of the cardboard they used to sleep and wrote: “A baby is being born. We need the train driver to find out. Urgent”. He asked other migrants to pass the cardboard toward the first cars, hoping it would reach the driver’s hands.
“Get ready, my love.”
While some were shouting if someone could help a woman who was giving birth, Johandri and José Gregorio saw a man approaching from the roof of the first cars of the train.
He was a Venezuelan paramedic who was also trying to reach the United States. The man took his cell phone and called his wife, a nurse who would tell him how to assist Johandri during contractions.
“Get ready, my love. Look for alcohol, this is what you are going to do…”Johandri remembers the nurse saying to her husband over loudspeaker.
The contractions were happening every three minutes, the paramedic estimated. Then every two minutes. Johandri began to vomit, crying without being able to stop it. I didn’t want Mía to be born on that dirty roofabout those metal spheres that overheated under the sun and had to be covered with cardboard to rest.
They got alcohol, scissors and a blanket so that the baby’s body would not touch the cardboard. Johandri surrendered to the idea of her daughter being born in Mexico, on the roof of a train car.
The paramedic told José Gregorio to hold Johandri from the back and gently push on the top of the belly to help the fetus go down.
“He’s not coming on this train.”
At 7:00 in the morning, lawyer Paola Nadine Cortés, an activist with the Agenda Migrante association, received a photo of the poster that José Gregorio wrote asking for help.
The lawyer called Civil Protection to have a group move to the yards of the Ferromex company, in the San Francisco de Los Romo municipality, 222 kilometers north of the Irapuato station.
“The idea was to enable an emergency service and rescue her because they were sending me videos and she looked in deplorable conditions.”says the activist.
The train company put Cortés in contact with the driver of the train on which they presumed Johandri was traveling.
“I sent him a photo so he could see the train number. Then the driver told me: ‘It’s not coming on this train. It’s one that goes further.’”
That driver contacted his colleague and they agreed to stop the train for ten minutes in the city of Aguascalientes.
“The driver told me that it was ten minutes counted by a clock. If they couldn’t get it out in that time, the train would continue on its way,” says Cortés.
The train stopped in the Los Arellanos community, about 108 kilometers from the city of Aguascalientes.
“Due to the distance and the centralization of services, the emergency team could not arrive in those ten minutes they gave us”.
Half an hour later, when Johandri felt that she could no longer bear the pain, the train stopped.
Cortés obtained authorization from Ferromex for a team of Civil Protection and firefighters to lower Johandri from the roof of the train. “The carriages are very high, so getting her out of there required more careful coordination, to avoid putting her at risk.”
Lifeguards, firefighters and a doctor from the railway company appeared. They went up to the roof of the train, laid Johandri on a stretcher and tied her up. The Venezuelan paramedic released her hand just before several migrants helped her down the side of the car, next to the staircase by which she boarded El Bolichero.
Cortés explains that the section from Irapuato to Torreón, known as the central route, is the busiest at this time for migrants crossing Mexico to reach the United States.
“The increase has been recorded this year because The Gulf route, which is the shortest by train and is the one used by the most impoverished migrants, is highly criminalized”.
Given the increase in the flow of migrants boarding trains, Ferromex suspended the operations of 60 trains on September 19, to avoid the risk of them being injured or dying in transit.
Johandri was taken by ambulance to the Pabellón de Arteaga General Hospital, in Aguascalientes. Doctors said her cervix was five centimeters dilated, she was in advanced labor.
Mia was born without setbacksaround noon on Friday, August 25, 2023.
Through the lawyer, officials from Mexico’s National Immigration Institute visited Joahndri and confirmed that her daughter would obtain Mexican nationality and that the family could legally stay in the country.
“I am very grateful because my daughter and my family are fine,” says Johandri from the shelter in Aguascalientes.
“Although we can stay in Mexico, I have not lost the dream of reaching the United States”.