Alejandro Miguel Andino Caballero has almost completed his university studies in marketing. His fiancée Margie Tamara Paz Graheda received an economics degree. Both saw education as a means to launch a career and overcome humble origins in Honduras, where widespread poverty, crime, and corruption have long blocked the path to social advancement.
But few doors have opened for the ambitious young couple. The pandemic and two major hurricanes in recent years have only worsened the economic outlook for one of the poorest countries in the hemisphere.
So, like many of their compatriots, 23-year-old Caballero and 24-year-old Paz Graheda went to the United States. They were joined by Caballero’s 18-year-old brother, who also lost hope for his future in Honduras.
“Here, they didn’t have a chance to move forward,” the men’s mother, Karen Caballero, said Friday by phone from her home in Las Vegas, Honduras. “Here they were denied opportunities. That’s why they left.”
The three were among 53 people – most if not all from Central America and Mexico – who died after being smuggled into a stuffy tractor-trailer found on the outskirts of San Antonio on Monday. It was one of the deadliest human trafficking tragedies in US history.
As authorities continue to identify the victims and notify relatives, officials are gradually releasing the names of those who died in the large drilling rig, which the Latin American press has dubbed the “death trailer.” Their stories resonated deeply in a region where emigration, despite its dangers, has long been the surest path to upward mobility in many communities.
Those who leave are fighters, seekers of opportunity, striving to improve their lot and help relatives back home in accordance with a time-tested tradition. Some in the tractor-trailer were from the countryside and had little opportunity to think of a professional calling. Two of the dead were 13-year-old cousins from an indigenous community in northern Guatemala.
The case of the Caballero brothers and Paz Graheda is unique. They do not fit into the narrow stereotype of smuggled migrants.
Despite economic difficulties, Caballero and his fiancée sought to stay in their homeland, studying and hoping to get a well-paid job. At a time when US policy aims to create jobs in Central America to curb emigration, their story dramatizes how many talented young people who aspire to make a career at home fail.
“They had dreams, they had goals, but because they didn’t have a job, they felt they would never have a chance,” Karen Cabellero tearfully told reporters outside her home this week.
Caballero and Paz Grajeda met in high school and have been together ever since, Karen Caballero said. Both left their hometowns to attend university in San Pedro Sula, 60 miles north of Las Vegas.
But Paz Graheda’s degree only got her a low-paying call center job. Caballero also had trouble finding work and occasionally helped out at the family’s diner in Las Vegas, an agricultural and mining town of 26,000.
Social media photos were circulated in the Latin American press of Paz Grajeda driving a kayak, she and Caballero hugging, and the couple and Caballero’s younger brother, Fernando José Redondo Caballero, loaded with luggage and smiling at the camera, though it was unclear when and where they were. pictures were taken.
The mother told BBC Mundo that it was Fernando who originally wanted to go to the United States. Unlike his older brother, he dropped out of school and showed little interest in his studies.
He said to his mother: “Imagine, mother, if there is no work here for those who study, what remains for someone like me who did not study?”
His older brother and future wife eventually signed on. “We planned everything as a family,” said Karen Caballero.
Paz Grahed had a different motivation: she needed money to help her mother pay for her cancer treatment.
“I’m in poor health and that’s why she went on this trip for my health,” her mother, Gloria Paz, told the Honduran newspaper La Prensa. “I didn’t want her to leave. I preferred that she stay where she was, in the call center. But she left and said: “No, mom, I’ll look for a good job to pay for your operation.” ”
According to the Associated Press, a US family member offered to help the brothers finance a trip north.
All three left on June 4, and Karen Caballero accompanied them all the way to Guatemala. She said she wanted to be there to say goodbye.
“I had the thought in my head that it might be years before I see them again,” she told La Prensa. “Because when a person leaves for the United States, it is difficult for him to return. I knew it might be five, 10, 15 years before we were reunited again.”
According to Caballero, in these last moments together, she calmed Alejandro, who was nervous about the trip.
Nothing will happen, she told him. “You are not the first nor the last person to travel to the United States.”
She said goodbye to them: “I gave them my blessing and said: “Children, be healthy on another fret [the other side] because here you couldn’t. ”
She kept in touch via WhatsApp as the three headed north through Mexico. She had last heard of them last Saturday when they crossed the Texas border.
They were waiting for transport to the north.
McDonnell is a staff writer for the Times. Sanchez is a special correspondent.