For many migrants from Latin America, the journey into the United States involves clinging to the side of a freight train known as “the beast,” going without food and water for 24 hours at a time, and if they’re lucky, encountering Las Patronas. These are a group of women who spend much of their days cooking and packing up meals to toss or hand off to the migrants on the train as it passes through their village. Their story is told in the documentary “Llévate Mis Amores,” or “All of Me,” and their likenesses captured by local artist Claudio Talavera Ballon. The documentary will screen August 5-11 at the Roxie Theater, and special engagements include Q&A sessions with the director and director of photography for the film as well as a patrona herself, and an art exhibition of the paintings.
KPOO radio host Chelis Lopez spoke with one of the women among las patronas in her program, Pajaro Latinoamericano. Here is an excerpt from the interview, reproduced with permission:
Chelis Lopez: Mexico is made of men and women aware of the current situation and are hungry for justice. Often it is people without money or funding who do the work and dedicate their time to thousands of Central American migrants that take on a long journey to arrive to the United States. These migrants don’t get a first, second or even third class seat on board this train, they travel clinging to the sides and top of a freight train called La Bestia, The Beast. They make the long journey perched on the train to reach the United States.
Many years ago, a group of well-intentioned women decided to give food and water — as much as they could carry, so that these migrants can make the long journey, many times, an uncertain journey. I am referring to the women’s collective known as Las Patronas.
From Veracruz and on the phone, we have one of these women —Guadalupe González Herrera, one of the members of Las Patronas.
Welcome to Pájaro Latinoamericano, Guadalupe. How are you? Tell us about you. Since when have you been part of this group of women known as Las Patronas? Why did you decide to join?
Guadalupe González Herrera: Yes, I decided to join the women’s collective that was already formed. I didn’t start it, I was just there, seeing and hearing them as they put together the lunches. They would joke with me that I was lazing around not doing anything, and I would get upset and go home to watch TV. But, I have a 21 year old son, so I kept coming back and until this day I continue to work with them. We were invited to schools to give talks and in one of those I saw a short featuring my mother-in-law and that’s when I realized the work the group did.
And then one day I heard the migrants yelling for water, to me and my mother-in-law, they were asking us to give them water, so I decided to fill bottles with water and started giving them out. That’s how I got initiated into the group.
CL: How do you put together the food, what do you cook? Tell us about the daily work.
GGH: The work begins at 10:30 in the morning. Everyday, one woman is in charge of cooking the food that will be passed out to those on the train. The other women help by packing the food and handing it out.
CL: How many lunches do you give out on average?
GGH: Well, lately, we have been passing out around 100 a day. But, before, when it started, the group would hand out around 1000 to 1500. It was a lot. It’s less now ever since the Frontera Sur program began, there have been a lot of raids to capture migrants.
CL: Tells us, for those who haven’t seen the previews of the movie Llévate Mis Amores/All of Me showing at the Roxy Theater, how do you manage to hand out the lunches, the food to the migrants? Tell us a bit about that.
GGH: Well, I started out with what I know how to cook, and I do it with love —rice, beans… We pack them daily and go out when we hear the train approaching. Everything is prepared and handed out with love. We also have a dinner for the migrants that arrive by walking. We serve them as if they were part of our family.
CL: How many of you do this, Guadalupe? How many women normally work everyday?
GGH: At the moment, we are about 12 women. There were more before but they left. Some left because their husbands told them they were going to get in trouble. The ones that remained are the ones that do this full time. We are about 12 because others went back to school or to Mexico City looking for work.
CL: What are your ages?
GGH: The oldest one is my mother-in-law, who is about 77. I am 58 and the youngest one is 27. There are younger ones of about 21, but they go to school.
CL: How do you manage to get the food that you cook for the migrants? Where do you get it from?
GGH: Everything has worked out, thank God. I think it’s God, it is him who puts the good willing people in our path that help and give us the bread that we give. We also give talks and the people that invite us put together the food and drop it off with us. We have received help from many people, thank God, from many places. Everyone has shown solidarity. We also work with government agencies because they are present when there are people killed or maimed, so they offer support in the migrant areas. The human rights agencies are present as well, so [migrants] are well served and accepted into hospitals. So, that’s how we are able to do our work.
CL: It’s worth mentioning that in 2013, the group of women known as Las Patronas received the National Human Rights Award. Guadalupe, given the situation in Mexico, has the group ever received any kind of warning or threat from the Mexican government or perhaps from other governments? Since these are migrants crossing through Mexico…
GGH: No, thank God. We haven’t received anything like that so far. Everyone is treated the same and we are no one to judge them. Everyone is treated the same and given the same type of attention. For us, all of them are part of our family.
CL: I wanted to mention that the work you do is similar to the work of father Alejandro Solalinde. We are talking with Guadalupe González Herrera, one of the women collective Las Patronas. You will soon be coming to the Bay Area to present Llévate Mis Amores/All Of Me. What did you think of the movie?
GGH: Well, that… one thing is to take action and another is seeing it on the screen. But, I am very excited to see how everything has been changing.
CL: Thank you, Guadalupe, we are running out of time. We want to invite the audience to the Roxy Theater this Saturday to see the movie, where you will be alongside the director of Llévate Mis Amores/All of Me, Arturo González Villaseñor and the Peruvian artist Claudio Talavera Ballon, who made a series of paintings inspired in the work of Las Patronas. Any last thoughts, Guadalupe?
GGH: Don’t miss out on the movie. And that the dinner is open so that you can live this experience. It is beautiful to do things with love and not be judged, to be treated as you are, we are all human beings, we are all God’s children.
CL: Thank you, Guadalupe. We are sending you a hug and looking forward to soon meet you in person here in San Francisco.
Llévate Mis Amores opens Friday, August 5 at 7 p.m. at the Roxie Theater. Filmmakers and one of the women featured in the documentary will take part in a Q&A session. KPOO host Chelis Lopez will moderate a panel on august 7 after a 4 p.m. matinee screening. “Mujeres Luz,” a collection of art inspired by Las Patronas, will be on view at the Eric Quezada Center at 518 Valencia Street through August 11, with a closing reception at 8:30 p.m. at Galería de la Raza. Tickets are available here.