Over the past few weeks, there has been no shortage of drama in Mexico as thousands of Central Americans attempt to reach the U.S.-Mexico border to apply for asylum. Earlier this month, numerous groups passed through Guadalajara where they encountered both hospitality and hostility from locals.
Things have progressively worsened for migrants in Tijuana, which has become the epicenter of anti-immigrant sentiment in Mexico. While the group made their latest pit stop last week, more than 200 protesters gathered around a refugee, screaming, “Out Hondurans, we don’t want you!” as well as, “Mexico first!” Violent clashes between demonstrators and immigrants have also transpired.
Besides heightened nationalism and harsh rhetoric against the caravan, the most recent controversy centers around Miriam Celaya. During an interview with BBC World, the Honduran spoke rather bluntly about the quality of food offered to migrants in Tijuana, calling it “awful” and food for pigs.
“Look at what they are giving us: pure ground beans, as if they were feeding the pigs,” said Celaya in the interview. “Oh well, we have to eat that food, because if we don’t, we starve.”
Following her commentary, Celaya’s image was plastered across the internet, mostly in the form of memes. As a result, these circulated yet hateful images are being used to portray Hondurans as “ungrateful” for the services offered by Mexicans.
In an attempt to be humorous, one meme depicts a three-tier image. On top is a person with Celaya’s face superimposed, holding their hands in the air and saying, “Don’t shoot, I am Honduran.” Below are soldiers asking, “And what are you doing here in Mexico?” Below is Celaya once again, saying, “I want to see if they give me caviar.”
Fellow migrants lambasted Celaya for her statements, criticizing her for tarnishing their image and gratitude. Apparently the harassment she received got so ruthless that she considered running away from the shelter with her two daughters, one of whom is a deaf mute. According to Celaya, one of her primary motivations for fleeing to the United States is to get treatment for the 11-year-old child.
The mother has since repented for her critique of the food.
“I apologize to the Mexicans,” said Celaya in a tearful follow-up interview. “We have walked all over Mexico and we have received a lot of help. I have everything to thank you for. I have raised my children with much effort and given them beans and tortillas.”
Celaya also explained that the situation was misconstrued after a young Mexican distributing food in the shelter offered beans to one of her children, who was experiencing stomach pain at the time. When the little girl rejected the dish, the person allegedly said, “These f—-ing Hondurans don’t want to eat beans.”
Reports say that Celaya was still shaken up by this interaction during the original interview.
To counteract the controversy and misunderstanding, a group of Hondurans recorded a video thanking the Mexicans for everything they have provided. Some folks even conducted a major cleaning spree in the shelter, going as far as to hang a blanket by the entrance saying, “Thanks Mexico for your help and love.”
Aitor Saez, the journalist who produced the four-minute video where Celaya was only featured for 24 seconds, also said that her remarks were deliberately misinterpreted by xenophobic critics — all for the sake of galvanizing hatred against the vulnerable group.
“They were statements taken out of context and used by people who are against migrants,” said Saez to BBC World.