Norma Vázquez Romero, a working-class woman who has lived a very simple life in the coastal state of Veracruz in Mexico, was given the 2013 Mexican Human Rights Award for dedicating the last 15 years of her life to feeding migrants from Central America and Southern Mexico who pass by her town on the train known as “La Bestia” (“The Beast”) with the goal of reaching the United States.
The area where Norma works with her family and other women to feed migrants is called La Patrona – which means “the female boss”. This group of women and Norma's family adopted that name for their group, and now they are locally known as “Las Patronas” (meaning “the female bosses”).
This short film released in 2009 shows the work of Las Patronas:
On Alterinfos Blog [es], Karolina Caicedo Flórez wrote about how the world came to know what Las Patronas do to help migrants in their arduous journey:
Durante más de diez años su labor estuvo casi que en el total anonimato, hasta que en 2005, gracias a un documental que narraba su labor diaria en defensa de los y las migrantes, el proyecto de Las Patronas comenzó a llenar las páginas de internet, los períodicos, revistas, festivales de cine documental y hasta los museos. Comenzaron a recibir por lo menos una visita a la semana, de periodistas, defensores de derechos humanos y curiosxs que deseaban conocer y apoyar personalmente su labor.
Over the last ten years, their work was almost done in total anonymity until 2005, thanks to a documentary chronicling their daily work in defense of the migrants, the project of Las Patronas started being featured on websites, newspapers, magazines, documentary film festivals and even museums. They began to receive at least one visit a week from journalists, human rights defenders and curious people that wanted to know and support their work.
Every day, Norma and her family prepare rice and distribute it in plastic bags for the migrants. Usually, these people have not eaten for long periods of time and they have not had water for entire days. Norma and her family also prepare black beans, bread and fill bottles with water in order to toss the supplies to the migrants on the train, which does not stop for one second.
Karolina Caicedo explained in a blog post more about the stigma [es] that Las Patronas have faced when people know that they are helping migrants:
La estigmatización hacia Las Patronas también se ha hecho sentir: “locas, no saben ni a quien ayudan” son algunas de las palabras que utilizan desde los más católicos comprometidos con la iglesia (que va desde el padre hasta los feligreses de La Patrona) hasta los maridos de las mujeres que alguna vez quisieron apoyar este proyecto.
The stigmatization of Las Patronas has also been described as “crazy women who don't know who they're helping” – these are some of the words used from the most committed Catholics (from the priest to the parishioners of La Patrona town) to the husbands of the women who have wanted to support this project.
All over the web many celebrated their humanitarian work.
Frida Lopez described what these women do every day of the year:
#LasPatronas son mujeres que a diario al paso del tren “La Bestia” en Ver. regalan comiida a los migrantes que buscan el Sueño Americano.
— Frida Lopez (@FridaloRuiz) November 21, 2013
Las Patronas are women who give food daily to migrants seeking the American Dream who are passing by on “The Beast” train.
Hibrain Vega expressed his desire to bring down international borders:
¡Abajo las fronteras! Con amor fraterno #LasPatronas
— Hibrain Vega (@HIBRAIN) November 23, 2013
Down with the borders! With fraternal love #LasPatronas
Deena, from the same state as Las Patronas, Veracruz, stated how their case brings her hope in people:
#LasPatronas… Este tipo de noticias me devuelven la esperanza! Aun hay buenas personas…
— Deena (@DinaVez) November 22, 2013
Las Patronas…this type of news give me hope! There are good people in this world…
Ekhtaí Baruck Serran expressed his support by stating that Las Patronas are international role models:
El mundo necesita más personas como: Norma Romero Vásquez, encabeza el grupo “#laspatronas” Premio Nacional de Derechos Humanos 2013
— Ekhtaí Baruck Serran (@EBaruck) November 23, 2013
The world needs more people like Norma Romero Vásquez, head of the group Las Patronas. National Human Rights Award 2013
Finally, Karolina shared what it feels like to be with Las Patronas and give out food to the passing migrants:
El momento preciso en el que el tren de La Bestia pasa por La Patrona, marca una serie de sentimientos a cualquiera que tenga un lonche en su mano para entregar a los migrantes: nervios (si es la primera vez que lo hace), estrés (al escuchar el fuerte ruido del tren y al percibir su alta velocidad), emoción (al ver las manos de los migrantes estirarse para agarrar uno de los lonches), alegría (al escuchar las palabras de agradecimiento) y en algunas ocasiones rabia, al darse cuenta que no todos los migrantes pudieron tomar la comida.
That moment when the La Bestia train passes by La Patrona town, brings with it many feelings for anyone with food to give out: jitters (if it is the first time that he or she does it), stress (to hear the loud noise of the train and to feel the high speed of its movement), emotion (to see the hands of all of the migrants stretching out to grab one of the lunches), joy (when you hear them saying thank you) and sometimes anger, to know that not all migrants were able to take the food.
After receiving so many tweets and comments in support of their work, Las Patronas thanked netizens for their words:
Agradecemos a todas y todos sus menciones y felicitaciones. Todo esto es por la resistencia de los #migrantes y su derecho a la vida. Abrazo
— Las Patronas (@LasPatronas_dh) November 17, 2013
We thank everyone for your words and for your congratulations. We do everything to support the resistance of the migrants and their right to life. Hugs