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Inspired by Faith, the Poor Rush Forth to Offer Food

Their generosity, they say, is 'what God teaches'


From the top of his rolling freight car, Enrique sees a figure of Christ.

In the fields of Veracruz state, among farmers and their donkeys piled with sugar cane, rises a mountain. It towers over the train he is riding. At the summit stands a statue of Jesus. It is 60 feet tall, dressed in white, with a pink tunic.

The statue stretches out both arms. They reach toward Enrique and his fellow wayfarers on top of their rolling freight cars.

Some stare silently. Others whisper a prayer.

It is early April 2000, and they have made it nearly a third of the way up the length of Mexico, a handful of immigrants, riding on boxcars, tank cars and hoppers. Enrique is 17. He is one of an estimated 48,000 Central American and Mexican children who go to the United States alone every year. Many are searching for their mothers, who have left for El Norte to find work and never come back.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday October 10, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 13 inches; 478 words Type of Material: Correction
Enrique's Journey--Chapter 4 of the six-part series, published Friday in Section A, described Teotihuacan in Mexico as an Aztec metropolis. The Aztecs adopted the site as a ceremonial ground and gave it its modern name, but it originated and peaked as a metropolis during the pre-Aztec period.

Many credit religious faith for their progress. They pray on top of the train cars. At stops, they kneel along the tracks, asking God for help and guidance. They ask him to keep them alive until they reach El Norte. They ask him to protect them against bandits, who rob and beat them; police, who shake them down; and la migra, the Mexican immigration authorities, who deport them.

Many carry small Bibles, wrapped in plastic bags to keep them dry. On the pages, in the margins, they scrawl the names and addresses of the people who help them. The police often check the bindings for money to steal, the migrants say, but usually hand the Bibles back.

Some pages are particularly worn. The one that offers the 23rd Psalm, for instance: "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me."

Or the 91st Psalm: "There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling. For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways."

Some migrants rely on a special prayer, "La Oracion a las Tres Divinas Personas"--a prayer to the Holy Trinity. It has seven sentences--short enough to recite in a moment of danger. If they rush the words, God will not mind.

That night, Enrique climbs to the top of a boxcar. In the starlight, he sees a man on his knees, bending over his Bible, praying.

Enrique climbs back down.

He does not turn to God for help. With all the sins he has committed, he thinks he has no right to ask God for anything.


What he receives are gifts.

Enrique expects the worst. Riding trains through the state of Chiapas, which immigrants call "the beast," has taught him that any upraised hand might hurl a stone. But here in the states of Oaxaca and Veracruz, he discovers that people are friendly. "It's just the way we are," says Jorge Zarif Zetuna Curioca, a legislator from Ixtepec.

Perhaps not everyone is that way, but there is a widespread generosity of spirit. Many residents say it is rooted in the Zapotec and Mixtec indigenous cultures. Besides, some say, giving is a good way to protest Mexico's policies against illegal immigration.

Not long after seeing the statue of Jesus, Enrique is alone on a hopper. Night has fallen, and as the train passes through a tiny town, it blows its soulful horn. He looks over the side. More than a dozen people, mostly women and children, are rushing out of their houses along the tracks, clutching small bundles.

Some of the migrants grow afraid. Will these people throw rocks? They lie low on top of the train. Enrique sees a woman and a boy run up alongside his hopper

"Orale, chavo! Here, boy!" they shout.

They toss up a roll of crackers. It is the first gift.

Enrique reaches out. He grabs with one hand, but holds tightly to the hopper with the other. The roll of crackers flies several feet away, bounces off the car and thumps to the ground.

Now women and children on both sides of the tracks are throwing bundles to the immigrants on the tops of the cars. They run quickly and aim carefully, mostly in silence, trying hard not to miss.

"Alli va uno! There's one!"

Enrique looks down. There are the same woman and boy. They are heaving a blue plastic bag. This time the bundle lands squarely in his arms.

"Gracias! Adios!" he says into the darkness. He isn't sure the strangers, who pass by in a flash, even heard him.

He opens the bag. Inside are half a dozen rolls of bread.

Enrique is stunned by the generosity. In many places where the train slows in Veracruz, at a curve or to pass through a village, people give. Sometimes 20 or 30 people stream out of their homes along the rails and toward the train. They smile, then shout and throw food.

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