Joy on the border - Maryknoll Lay Missioners
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Fall 2023 newsletter


Rick Dixon, U.S.-Mexico Border

Juan, a friend of Gilberto’s, collecting cardboard from Casa Betania

“A bottle of ice cold water on a 110 degree day is a kiss from God,” Gilberto told me one afternoon as he took a long drink. Tall, blond hair, blue eyes, from the cattle country of Durango, Mexico, Gill fled due to his profile.

A drug cartel asked him to transport drugs into the U.S. They told him that his complexion benefited him, made him more passable. They’d give him all he needed — driver’s license, car, documents. He refused. Another chance: lots of money. He refused again. Last chance: Do it or die. To save himself, he had to lose himself. He fled to Mexicali, leaving behind two teenage sons.

He found work at a recycling company that lasted four months. He went out on a truck at midnight to round up cardboard and finished around 9 a.m. He came to Casa Betania for breakfast.

Gill told me that when cardboard is abundant, his round doesn’t finish until 1 or 2 in the afternoon. On such days, he arrives for the afternoon meal and makes $15 for thirteen or fourteen hours of work. “That is a good day,” he said wholeheartedly.

When I saw him for breakfast, his earnings were only half that. “Not a good day.” But he took it and often fed on leftovers found in cardboard boxes so he could send money to his family. He lived in an old camper shell in a lot owned by the recycling center, and he often invited other migrants, like Juan, who had no place to go, to stay there as well.

Gill’s hospitality brought a smile to their faces; the fence around the lot gave a bit more protection than sleeping on the streets. Even so, there was no guarantee that Gill was safe in Mexicali; the same cartel that profiled him also exists here. His nights must have been filled with ghosts. A truck parked in an alley, footsteps behind a dumpster, the kick of fear, the pinch of isolation.

One Thursday afternoon, he arrived at Casa Betania and gave me a pineapple. Other than a few rust spots, it was in pretty good shape. I tried convincing him he needed the vitamins more than me. “I need grace more than vitamins.” He stared me down, eyes as big as craters shining with the truth that we are never more human than when we give.

According to a Mexican nongovernmental organization, between 2006 and 2020, 379,246 people were internally displaced in Mexico due to violence. In 2021, approximately 29,000 new massive displacements took place due to violence — a considerable increase from previous years (8,664 in 2019 and 9,741 in 2020). It is important to clarify that from 2019 these numbers only comprise displacements of at least five families, or 20 people. These numbers do not include individual displacements, like Gilberto’s, or displacements from other causes such as droughts, climate change, or unemployment (UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mexico).

The last time I saw Gill he told me that he was returning to Durango. “Estoy cansado de esconderme,” he told me. “I’m tired of hiding.” I asked if he’d thought of going to the United States; and if he would want to speak with a lawyer. He told me he’d spent time in a U.S. detention center and didn’t want to do that again (this wasn’t the first time he had to flee). “At least talk to a lawyer,” I tried persuading him. He shook the words off, saying he wanted to be with his family.

In just a few months, it felt like Gill had become a lifelong friend. His predicament could have made him ask: How can there be joy in a world so full of violence? Yet, despite everything, he is filled with joy, a living testament to a well ripened truth: “It is not joy that makes us grateful, it is gratitude that gives us joy.” (Brother David Steindl-Rast, OSB)

As I cut the rind from his pineapple, I thought of how Gill often whistled the song De Colores. The words filled me as I ate: “All the colors, all the colors, oh how they dress up the countryside in springtime. All the colors, all the colors of the birds, oh how they come back to us outside. All the colors, all the colors in rainbows we see shining bright in the sky. And that’s why a great love of the colors makes me feel like singing so joyfully.”

I give thanks for Gill’s friendship.

Please consider supporting my mission work at the U.S.-Mexico border with a donation through the link below.

I invite you to walk with me as a “COMPANION IN MISSION.” Companions in Mission are friends and generous donors who give financial gifts on a regular (usually monthly) basis. For more information, visit Become a Companion in MissionThank you so much for your generosity! 


Rick Dixon
Rick Dixon is a Maryknoll lay missioner working in several migrant ministries at the U.S.-Mexico border in Mexicali, Mexico.