This morning’s Washington Post features a front-page article on children who migrate without their parents to the U.S., and the special risks that they encounter in the journey north. The article features Central American youth. A few months back, the post published another article about the dangers of migrating through Mexico, considered by many Central American migrants to be the most perilous aspect of their journey north. To see my comments and a link to this article, follow this link: Crossing the Border
Today’s article fails to mention a few well-known aspects about undocumented migration from Mexico and Central America. The first is that it is often very common for men to make their first Journey to el Norte in their teens. In the village in Mexico where I have been doing research for the last seven years, boys typically start to think about going north by the time they are 14 years old. The second is that it is not atypical for groups of boys to go together without parental supervision. Unlike here in the U.S., where parents are still hovering over their collage-age children and monitoring their every move, children in Latin America are expected to make important life decisions from a much earlier age and also take on adult responsibilities much younger. If they are old enough to hold a full-time job (from about 14 years on), most parents reason, then it follows that they are certainly old enough to decide that they want to go north.
The author also implies that parents who let their children head north care less about their children’s welfare as they should. This could not be further from the truth. Most parents know that even if they forbid their children from heading to the U.S., if the teen believes s/he is ready to go north, particularly if friends are planning a trip, s/he also will most likely go as well. This is not a simple matter of disobedience, as we would conceptualize it here in the U.S. It follows from the ways that many Latin American children are raised: to be self sufficient and to take on adult responsibilities during their teen-age years.