'For each young man or woman traveling there, there is a suffering mother, and when we see these boys’ we think about our own,' said Norma.
For the last 28 years, Norma Romero and a few local women have waited every day at the side of the tracks with food and bottles of drinking water to hand out to migrants, who are traveling in the trains from Central America in search of work. A recent video of a few of these women giving out food to migrants went viral on Twitter. It has more than 16 million views and is captioned, “I learned about Las Patronas today. They’re a group of Mexican women who help feed Central American migrants crossing the border. Solidarity to these women.”
It all started 28 years ago when, one day, the Romero Vazquez sisters were standing at the side of the railway tracks with their grocery bags waiting to cross. "We'd gone to buy bread and milk for breakfast," Norma Romero recalled. As the train approached, a group of people on one of the wagons started yelling, “Madre, we’re hungry.” Then another group did the same. So, the sisters threw their bread and the cartons of milk they had, as reported by BBC. The response of the sisters that day is what eventually led to the start of Las Patronas, a non-profit organization that helps feed thousands of Central American migrants. It was also awarded Mexico’s most prestigious human rights award in 2013.
The name "Las Patronas" came from their village, but it has a wider religious connotation, in which "patrona" means patron saint in Spanish. The long freight trains reportedly go through the village in Mexico two or three times a day and there are often migrants from Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua who travel on the roof of the trains to the United States looking for work. "We used to think they were just adventurous Mexicans, traveling our country for free,” said Norma.
When the sisters reached home that day, they thought they will be punished for giving away the family’s breakfast but instead, their mother, Dona Leonidas, helped come up with a plan to provide more food for migrants. She told them that the family should prepare around 30 portions of rice and beans a day so that it could be handed out as the train passed the village.
And now, the Las Patronas’ kitchen is more like a factory that makes dozens of portions of basic meals like rice, beans and packets of eight corn tortillas. The women give out food to hundreds of migrants every day. And the Las Patronas organization has donated rice, beans and tuna cans in the past. Local businesses and villagers also donate bread, rice, beans and tortillas. “And we’re just thinking about cooking 25, 18, or 22 pounds of rice, making another 22 to 25 pounds of beans, and keeping watch,” said Lilia Jimenez, a member of Las Patronas
"We never expected it to turn into something so big," said Norma’s sister-in-law, Guadalupe Gonzalez. "I think it's because it came out of nowhere, it came from just the little that one can give.”
i learned about las patronas today. they’re a group of mexican women who help feed central american migrants crossing the border. solidarity to these powerful women pic.twitter.com/UE3Y4Zchg7— a (@crustpunked) February 19, 2023
Talking about the migrants, Norma told MSNBC, “For each young man or woman traveling there, there is a suffering mother, a mother praying for her child, and when we see these boys we think about our own." Norma finds it hard to understand if they should feel happy or sad about what they do. “It’s confusing because at first, you’re glad because you gave them some food. Then you feel sad to see them go not knowing what is going to happen to them and then you get angry at seeing so many people there, and you constantly wonder what their governments are doing,” said Norma. Bernards Romero, another member of the group said in 2017, “A lot has happened in these 21 years. Don’t think it was easy. It’s been hard, but we will keep helping these people for as long as we are alive.”