By Kristi Rendahl
Kristi Rendahl is a Minnesota-based writer and blogger.
Earlier this month I was visiting Guadalajara, Mexico, and a friend invited me to see her volunteer work.
She took me to a building where a long line of people were waiting. They looked like they hadn't slept or bathed in a while, and they probably hadn't, because they'd been riding on top of freight trains for several weeks.
It wasn't a nice neighborhood. Our taxi driver asked a little fearfully, "What is this?" My friend answered, "It's a comedor for migrants crossing Mexico from Central America." The driver nodded and drove away quickly.
A comedor is a place to eat. This one is run by an organization that aids undocumented migrants passing through Guadalajara. People jump from the top of freight trains to eat a hot meal, take a shower, get a change of clothes, and make a Skype call to family in Central America or the United States.
It is not a shelter. These people will visit the site only once. If they come a second time, it's because they were caught and deported and are trying again.
This particular rail line is considered safer than the others crossing Mexico. The train travels greater distances without stops, where all kinds of bad can happen.
The people who make this journey are taking a grave chance. They risk falling off the train and losing a limb. They risk rape. They risk hunger and illness. They risk deportation. They risk kidnapping. They risk murder. Any one of them is likely to fall prey to the police, the narco traffickers or Mother Nature herself. Crossing the border between the United States and Mexico is another story altogether.
On one side of the dining room was a big piece of plywood where people can leave messages for other travelers. There were dozens of messages of hope and strength scrawled across it. Reading them, I thought about the dreams that motivate these travelers. How even a modest success would change the course of everything for their families.
In the United States, National Hispanic Heritage Month runs from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. A government website says it's a time to celebrate "the histories, cultures, and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America."
The celebration leaves out the men and women I saw at the comedor. For them, a life in the United States seems impossible if they stay at home and apply through the normal process. Instead, they roll the dice - with their money, with their dignity, and with their lives. Sometimes they win.
Staying home guarantees abject poverty. If they take a risk they have a chance, a slim one, of saving an entire family.
There's no month of observance waiting to celebrate their contributions. There's nothing romantic about their situation. It is humbling. It is reality. And it is happening right next door.