Quintana Road, site where migrants died, paved with grief

Since a tractor-trailer carrying migrants was found on Quintana Road last month, the once desolate road has given way to an ongoing funeral procession and pilgrimage.

Since the day dozens of migrants were found dead inside a tractor-trailer on Quintana Road last month, the once desolate road has given way to a funeral procession and an ongoing pilgrimage.

Dedicated to the 53 migrants who died after being transported by tractor-trailer without ventilation or water, the now sacred site underwent another transformation in a matter of days.

It has grown from a memorial to the 53 to one for all the migrants who died on their journey to the United States, a tangible representation of all those losses combined.

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People from all over the country and Mexico were drawn here, including a woman whose daughter was one of 53.

Union Pacific land sits to one side of the memorial, where an easement contains at least 54 crosses stuck in concrete by a mourning brigade who took no credit.

Fifty-three crosses, some painted pink, others black, joined a larger one depicting Jesus Christ.

They constitute “Los 53 Migrantes Memorial”, as his Facebook page is named. The hashtags he uses say it all, #WallOfCrosses, #ParedDeCruzes, #AmnestyNow.

Mourners gathered here to recite rosaries in the Catholic tradition and evangelical prayers from a megaphone. Native Americans offered blessings in the form of sage smudges. Mariachi players and folk dancers have also made their way here.

The memorial grew organically, without a plan or design.

Sandragrace Martinez showed up June 29 after all emergency vehicles were cleared. She brought a case of bottled water. He grew from there.

An artist painting a mural at the site provided shade under his tent. On the second day, another tent appeared. She offers free advice and free hugs.

Martinez, 48, is a licensed professional counselor who has become the de facto guardian of the memorial, and she runs it with a corps of volunteers.

In the Democratic primary, Martinez ran unsuccessfully for state lands commissioner, but that’s a distant memory now.

Martinez is now focused on how to make this memorial permanent, even after his folding table, chairs and igloo are stolen.

New equipment has appeared.

Martinez had company. Her friend Grace Hernandez, 69, who represents a group called Mujeres Hispanas por Mejor Justicia, dropped by.

“It’s been nonstop,” Martinez says of the steady stream of traffic that starts late afternoon on weekdays and extends all day on weekends.

Pilgrimages are not organized, but Martinez says people have come from as far away as Oregon, North Carolina and Florida and as far south as the Mexican states of Zacatecas and Colima.

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For some migrants and their families, especially for undocumented migrants who cannot return home for the funeral, the memorial of los 53 has become the place to cry, say goodbye, lay flowers and pin a photo.

“Others erect walls of steel between two nations,” Martinez said. The Quintana Road memorial erected “a wall of crosses”.

In June, Martinez was in Buffalo, NY, for the 30th anniversary of a fatal shooting at a Tops grocery store, where 10 people were shot.

Martinez then traveled to Washington, DC, where residents of Uvalde testified before a House committee about the May 24 shooting at Robb Elementary School.

She waited in the hallway outside to offer advice afterwards, she said.

Martinez was not tasked with performing any of these tasks, but the bilingual counselor says she was drawn to them to offer help.

Her nonprofit organization Mental Wellness Connections Inc. offers free and low-cost mental health services and resources for immigrants, she said.

Until now, the memorial is a self-funded project. In addition to water, she installed two portable toilets at the site and deposited $10,000 of her own money into an account to fund the site, she said.

Ramon Vasquez of the Tap Pilam Coahuiltecan Nation and Gabriel Velasquez of Avenida Guadalupe offered to help.

Over the weekend, they escorted attendees of the UnidosUS National Conference, which met in San Antonio, to the venue. Among them are Ana Marie Argilagos, president and CEO of Hispanics in Philanthropy, and Marco A. Davis, president and CEO of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute.

The site triggered emotions wrapped in other losses and trauma, she said.

The bottles of ice water that she distributes for free symbolize much more. “They are thirsty, not just physically but spiritually,” she said.

On Monday it was so hot that she told the volunteers to rest. They decided to keep their vigils from Wednesday afternoon to Sunday.

So far no one has asked them to leave. A Union Pacific representative has requested that a mural be moved slightly, she said, and the railroad will install temporary fencing to keep people a safe distance from the tracks.

Martinez said she contacted the offices of District 4 Councilwoman Adriana Rocha Garcia to discuss the sustainability of the memorial and plans for a ceremony on July 27, marking 30 days since the discovery of the tractor-trailer. .

Most people who have visited here are humble. They bring their families and flags representing their country of origin.

A single moment interrupted her.

A truck driver passed. From where she was seated, Martinez saw the driver, blond and blue-eyed, an image of a Confederate flag inside his cabin.

His signs were prominently displayed: “Free Hugs”, “Free Mental Health”, “Immigrant Rights Matter”.

Then he stood in front of her. “I’m not racist,” he said. “I know you’ve seen that flag.”

He wondered if hugs were really free for someone like him.

“He came around (the table), hugged me and made a ball,” Martinez said. She remembers him saying, “It’s not right. First the children, and now this.

It’s one of thousands of grieving interactions, all with distinct stories, that continue to show why the site of such trauma could also be the site of healing.

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