In her series ‘Las Patronas’, French photographer Mahé Elipe documents the work of a group of Mexican women who aid migrants risking their lives on a northbound train.
“In the Mexican village of La Patrona, near Amatlán de Los Reyes in the state of Veracruz, a group of women helps migrants from Central America on their long and perilous journey aboard the freight trains heading to the United States.
‘Las Patronas’ (literally translated as the feminine form of “the bosses” in Spanish) is a local group set up by a dozen of women living either in La Patrona or on the surrounding areas. Since the start of the movement, back in 1995, Norma Romero, the founder, along with her sisters, daughters, and neighbors have dedicated their lives to feeding the passing migrants from the Honduras, Salvador or Guatemala, who travel aboard La Bestia, the freight train network that crosses Mexico all the way to the United States border.
Initially rejected by the local community, their movement became successful after 10 years of enduring effort. ‘Las Patronas’ is now a respected group that has drawn both the media and the local political attention. A popularity which hasn’t altered their actions: for the past 21 years, their daily task is to help starving migrants to flee the local violence of country gangs and the lack of opportunities.
As Norma Romero Explains: “For each man or woman on that train, there is a mother in pain and praying for the safety of her child. When we see them, they remind us of ourselves, and that make us want to help.”
It is inside a former oil factory now used as a local shelter that ‘Las Patronas’ cook and prepare the precious food. At sunrise, a few of them set out to collect the local donations and the leftovers from the surrounding supermarkets, whilst the others get ready to cook the meals. Rice, beans, bread, tortillas, pastries and bottled water are then handed out to the passing migrants aboard the train, the whole hand-off lasting less than 5 minutes. Yet waiting for the train can be tiresome: “We never know when the train will come,” explains Bernarda, one of ‘Las Patronas’. “There isn’t a set timetable, so sometimes we can hear it around the corner at unexpected moments, sometimes at night, which often leaves us just a little time to run and catch it.”
There is only one certainty for these volunteers: up to 3 trains a day, and a lifelong effort for a fleeting moment of love snatched on the edge of the train tracks.” – Mahé Elipe
Mahé Elipe was born in 1991 near Paris. She completed her higher education studies in Toulouse at the Université du Mirail and at the EPTA school of Photography. After moving to Paris, she worked as a photography assistant in a recognized fashion studio and made her first social essays and documentaries. Attracted by the merging of social concerns, arts and communication, she uses photography as a way to investigate where human beings find their place in the society. The people she met and the different cultures she discovered are the inspiration for her own visual language. Through the photographs of her trips to Eastern Europe (2014) and North and Central America (2016), she was able to tell the story of the subjects she met. Mahé has been a member of the Hans Lucas Studio since November 2016. You can find out more about her work here.
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