Mexico, Transdisciplinarity Migration: Misery and Mercy in Central America

Darío Fabián Hernández GonzálezDarío Fabián Hernández González

Veracruzana University. Economy and Society Institute (IIESES), Mexico.


Abstract: Migration is a sociocultural phenomenon widely examined by different disciplines of science and philosophy. Few studies have been carried out in a multidisciplinary way, and much less in a transdisciplinar way. Before explaining the migration from a transdisciplinar point of view we must explain what transdisciplinarity is, and to understand this term we must specify that there are several reality levels, complex thought and the included middle as the basic method. The levels of reality are studied and understood through the different scientific disciplines (physics, biology, agronomy, psychology, anthropology, etc.). In order for transdisciplinarity to exist, there must be an object of study in common (in this case migration), and it must be studied from the different points of view of the different disciplines, the group of disciplines that make up the different realities. Nevertheless, for it to be truly transdisciplinar and not only multidisciplinary, it is necessary that the levels of reality interact with each other, that the scientific disciplines work in a coordinated way among themselves, but also with other complementary approaches, such as philosophy and the traditional knowledge, and not only in a disciplinar complex.Migration inside the American Continent occurs mainly from Central America to the United States. This represents a third part of the total migrant population of the American Continent, almost 400 000 migrants per year that go through the Paso de la muerte (the Death’s Path). The main reason is the so call American Dream, in other words, the expectation to achieve a socioeconomic level that agrees with a market economy which fulfills the necessity of having and getting more material satisfiers, this means, to have more and better goods and services, mainly made (ironic and paradoxically) in the countries they come from; where environmental restrictions, employment protection, and other laws, are minimal. The Central America migrants are mainly poor people who begin the journey towards the USA in search of a better lifestyle without knowing, or believing, that during this journey their life quality will be pushed to the limits of degradation and mistreatment, which commonly make them lose not only their psychological but also their physical integrity, because of the dangers that await them in this journey.

Keywords: Misery, migration and merci, transdisciplinary, Mexico.


Central America is integrated by countries in which there is a high level of material poverty and discrimination, and/or food poverty; Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, and nine Mexican states in the south borderline (Campeche, Chiapas, Guerrero, Oaxaca, Puebla, Quintana Roo, Tabasco, Veracruz and Yucatan). All the countries that are part of this region share the race, culture and traditions, which are, if not the same, equivalent in their habits, customs, and Spanish miscegenation mostly but also with Africans and Asians; and the other part of its origin is native, Mayan among other cultures closely related.

Central America shares more than the race culture and traditions. It shares complementary situations, equivalent and comparable; in other words, it is a cultural macro-region. Unique but with a great ethnic and linguistic diversity, and whose cultural unity is based in what Paul Kirchhoff defined as the Mesoamerican complex: multiple and related cultural characteristics that can be found in the different cultural areas of the Central America macro-region.

Central America is inhabited by those who have and still share their ethnic, religion (pre-Columbian polytheist-nahuatl, and colonial catholic), as well as alimentary (the corn is basic) roots, and wealth due to its complex ecosystem. Central America was the cradle of great civilizations, natural reservoir of most of the living beings diversity, provider of water and oxygen, and the second of the continent. However, it is place of violence and the cruelest historical conflicts of the continent.

In light of these paradoxes and contradictions, and perhaps due to them, is well known that migrations has not only changed its population, but it also has became the new reality regarding the economy (remittances), the culture (migration), the environment (deterioration and depredation), and the society (poverty). Migration is considered, among the poorest people of the American continent, the solution to their complex life problems; however, it only makes it worse.

The first obstacle that migrants have to overcome is to get the money to travel from their birthplace to the USA. Due to their economic situation, most migrants do not have the resources to pay for their transportation, from 3,200 USD up to 6,500 USD depending on several facts such as distance, and the person they deal with (usually international organized crime). And the way they get the amount of money they need is by getting rid of all their possessions (either selling them or pawning them, but squandering them in the end because of their need). After getting rid of everything to pursue the American dream, the next obstacle is the so call by themselves death’s path.

The death’s path is understood as the region inside the Mexican territory, although it may include to illegally go through other Central America countries. However, Mexico is the biggest and most dangerous region of this mortal journey. The death’s path is call this way because of the dangers migrants have to overcome. This journey brings to them, in most cases, ontological and/or physical death because of the dangers such as: kidnapping, extortion, rob, the conditions in which they travel (the extreme cold or hot), the lack of food, the abuse of authorities and the owners of the means of transportation, and others.

As hard as it is to understand, the biggest problem is not the indifference or the possible collusion of authorities. The biggest problem, for its size and number, is the Mexican population, who makes it even harder for migrants to travel because of the mistreats, abuses, harassments, and their indifference. However, and luckily, not everyone is like this. There are some people who help migrants, and make their journey through the death’s path a little easier. An example of this is La casa del migrante Santa Faustina Kowalska A. C., which on a daily basis looks after hundreds of migrants altruistically.

The people who are in charge of this organization are a role model. Migration is not the solution to the socio-economic problems in Central America, and something should be done to reduce it to zero. The main topic is that poverty and marginalization do not come from the lack of material goods that are sold in the market, but from the lack of compassion and solidarity towards other human beings. To be a migrant is not an impediment for others to be compassionate and supportive to migrants, and to humanly help them with this journey’s dangers. Migration must be discouraged, but violence is not the right way to do so.

1. Migration as a transdisciplinar phenomenon

There are four levels of reality inside the transdisciplinarity (Basarab Nicolescu as cited by Max-Neef):

First level: in this basic level a description of what exists is made through sciences like physics, biology, sociology, and others.

Second level: in this level the possibilities are outlined, all the capabilities that we possess and can use to solve or improve the object of study, but without putting them into practice.

Third level: this is the level to plan. In this level a plan of action is developed, considering what exists and what our abilities are.

Fourth level: in this level the society values are taken into account. Is the proposal ethic? Does it help the society? Will it have consequences in the future? This kind of questions are outlined in this level.

In addition to these levels, transdisciplinarity is based in the principle of the included middle and complexity. Basically, the included middle is understood as the compulsory dissembled perspective, and in a group of elements that relate in the reality. It is more than the sum of perspectives, this is, building more than the algebraic sum of the parts that make it up, a wholeness that we cannot totally understand, and that does not need to be understood to be (thus the dissembled, it is like not watching a complete movie and yet knowing what it is about).

On the other hand, complexity makes the difference or the complex plurality, which does not have an horizontal order, the social-corporative theories tend to fall to the deception of having “organization levels”, and unavoidably make the mistake of seeing the world as a plural closed over it-self; typical of the dogmatic ideologies that in the end just look for a zero confusion level. On the contrary, there is neither contradiction nor confusion inside the complexity, not only in the social aspect, since life comes generally from chaos and order from the micro to the macrocosms. Complexity is not to see life more complicated, but to give it multiple and varied possibilities and not only one, and therefore making it easier; “in a paradoxically way, complexity has installed itself in the fortress’ center of simplicity” (Nicolescu, B., p. 28, 1996).

2. First level of reality: what exists  

Migration is a phenomenon that exists since the origin of the human race. Even when at the beginning the most important reason to migration was because the human beings were searching for food, undoubtedly their understanding and adventurer nature has nowadays highly promoted migration to be a more complex phenomenon that tends to several reasons, such as the human culture, predominant in the world, of a better life style (development: cuallichonchihualistli in Nahuatl).

As it was stated before, nowadays the migration phenomenon is complex, since not only the alimentary, politics, economics, and social aspects are considered as the main factors that promote this phenomenon (simple organization levels of the society), but it also implies a strong ontological-deontological contradiction (of the being and the must be), theological (mystical and of freeing), ecological (of the being facing life), cosmogony (of the being and its transcendence), psychosocial (the meaning of life), and teleological (of the being facing the final causes). The main incentive for people to emigrate is to search a better life style, but the hypothesis of those who emigrate because of material poverty and social marginalization is definite, because these are the last conditions, because definitely the whole humanity suffers from the unbearable lightness of being, or rather the meaningless life.

There are several definitions of the term migration, for example, according to the National Population Council (CONAPO in Mexico) in human social terms: migration is the movement of people from their birthplace to a different place, in some cases they even move to a different country, and it happens for an undetermined period of time.

According to this definition, migration can happen internally and externally. In the first type, the movement is from people’s birthplace to another, but inside the same territory (country); in the second type, the movement is from one country to another.

3. Criticism to the disciplinar definition

The previous definition of external migration by the CONAPO is a useful term for a simple account, but incomplete in transdisciplinar terms since it does not outline the different levels of reality and complexity, that exist in this type of migration.

The external or international migration[1] can happen in two ways: legal and illegal. The legal way happens when people who wants to live in a different country put their documents in order, and they meet the conditions that the country they want to live in sets as necessary for this migration to happen. The illegal way is the one in which people do not meet the set conditions to enter the country legally, and break some laws that make them look like criminals.

The illegal migration can happen due to different causes, but always combined with the fact that for some reason they cannot legally meet the set conditions to legally enter the country without breaking any laws. In this migration, the moving (the path travelled) always happens in such conditions that the integrity of the migrants is at risk, and sometimes even their lives.

4. Proposal of understanding: with complex thought

Migration is an intrinsic and inalienable right of our human condition. The complexity perceives the world as an indivisible whole, and thus migration is binding to the world; in other words, complex thought is a notion based on the human spirit, like the breath of life. That part of the world that does not promote life is not part of the complex thought, and thus, is not an indissoluble part of the world neither. According to Edgar Morin the words breath of life and human spirit have a close meaning because they are the same. This breath of life is the human spirit that the man and woman have inside, and that transcends their corruptible human body. Migrants possess this breath of life since they are human beings, and that is why they must not be treated like objects, nor assessed as a production factor, no matter which one (earth, labor, capital, technology), because any migrant is superior to any product or static means of production.

A migrant comprehends three meanings to know; whether immigrant (foreigner in a different place from their birthplace or residential place), emigrant (person who is away from their birthplace or residential place for a determined period of time), or trans-migrant (who is in the process of migrating). Any of this meanings can be assumed by the same person, who possess fundamental rights that must be respected by everyone, at any time and in every situation. Migration, then, is acknowledge as a natural right (Suárez, A., 2001). To sum up, complex thought identifies the migrant as a human in that it enhances the own life and spirit (transcendence), without having a negative influence in the life of other migrants and human beings.

5. Migration in Central America: the included middle

The included middle is different from the observer (the ones who write and read this paper), and it is also different from the observed subjects (migrants). The included middle overlaps the subject (migrants) and the object (migration), is more than the sum of causes (external debt), and effects (internal poverty), and thus the included middle is always at a superior reality level, almost always at a human reality level, which is kindness, and the included middle of the migration phenomenon is no exception.

Central America, as stated before, is the region encompassed by Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, and some states of the south-southeast of Mexico. These countries share some characteristics, and some of these characteristics are the main reason that their inhabitants decide to go to the USA.

The characteristics that these countries share are poverty, lack of economic resources and employments, and the inability of their governments and society itself to do something to improve the situation.

To understand the situation, we interviewed 160 trans-migrants from all the countries in Central America that were in Coatzacoalcos city, Veracruz State, Mexico (80 people in April, 2009, and 80 people in April, 2011). This city is an intermediary geographical point of migration, which is important basically for two reasons: because trough it travel about three hundred to one thousand migrants per day, and because it is host of one of the most representative homes for migrants of the country: Santa Faustina Kowalsca A.C.

Thanks to the insight of migrants and some of the people who work for free helping the migrants, it was possible to see more clearly a superior reality level of the migrants’ phenomenon, generally focused at a very basic reality level, to qualify and quantify the migrants, authorities, laws, the society, the ecosystem and the environment that surrounds this situation, in other words, we could see the included middle, in this case: kindness, almost always anonymous in this type of research.

According to some interviews, the main reasons for Central Americans to migrate are: 10% to reunite with their relatives who migrated before, 25% because of the lack of life satisfiers in their countries (understood as material goods), 26% because of the underpaid and/or in bad condition jobs, and 39% because of lack of employment. These percentages are one answer per participant, though in reality almost every migrant has them all. These are the reasons why they travel to the USA, hoping to find a well-paid job, so they can send money to their families and cover their needs, or so they can also travel later.

Migration by itself can be a big problem, but the situation is even worse due to the travel difficulties that migrants have to face in the countries they left behind and the countries where they arrive. It should be noted that the migrants themselves are the ones who call this path the death’s path, and going through Mexico to the USA is to face death, criminals, authorities from both countries, the desert, rivers, the weather, transportation, and health are the main risks that make this journey dangerous and even deathly. In order of importance, the main problems that migrants face are abuse of authority, the citizens’ lack of scruples, who take advantage of their situation and make money thanks to them, the problems with the employees of the main transportation system, the beast, or freight rail[2], a conflict between migrants and organized crime.

Most of the migrant’s testimonies are about these dangers. They talk about their experience traveling through the death’s path. They talk about the hunger they endure because of their lack of money, of how tiring and long the journey is (particularly the parts they go walking), of the extortion of authorities and mobsters, the risk of being kidnapped and sold as slaves, and even organ traffic in the black market, the risks of being inhumanly robbed and/or murdered. These risks are real no matter how fantastic they seem to be.

Luckily, not all migrants’ experiences are bad, since they also meet people ready to help them, with a shelter for a night, food, water, helping information, or even some encouraging words in their journey through the death’s path. And it is here that they start to see and find the included middle.

6. Second reality level: what we can do

Governors and voters should take an active posture rather than expect others to do something about it, or some legal and regulatory frameworks, since kindness towards other humans prevails above laws or rules, the common sense of promoting and preserving life (the own and others’). At the same time, what should be done to prevent migration is to enforce new politics to improve economy, the poor’s quality of life, and above all the meaning of life for the whole world, especially in the Central America countries. And the judiciary should have the ability to enforce the laws that protect migrants in Mexico, in order for the death’s path to stop being deathly, to give migrants the opportunity to move freely in both directions through a life’s path.

We must insist in that the citizens have the moral and ethical obligation to do something to help other human beings daily, help migrants either individually or through associations. In Coatzacoalcos city, in the biggest State of the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, La casa del Migrante Santa Faustina Kowalsca A.C. which is managed by the professor German Guillermo Ramírez Garduza (or Memo the name he prefers to be called by migrants, friends, and practically anybody). Memo started working full time helping migrants, homeless children, and anyone who needs help in the year of 2003, but his concern for other humans comes from the education he received from his parents when he was a child, from something more that comes from his spirituality and beliefs, according to his own words; and his particular interest in migrants comes from witnessing their extreme situation.

When he was traveling from another city to Coatzacoalcos to study in the Universidad Pedagógica Nacional (UPN) he noticed the migration phenomenon. He saw all the sufferings migrants have to endure through the death’s path, of how most of the time they did not receive any help, and on the contrary were mistreated. He started taking care of migrants full time when he realized that the government help was nonexistent, and that the help they received from some citizens and the different churches was not enough to cover for their basic needs.

To show this second reality level it is necessary that we learn to understand and distinguish the real help from pretentiousness. The first one is closely related to compassion, and giving more than something, giving oneself, one’s time, abilities and job; pretentiousness on the other hand is to do something although with the only purpose of being acknowledge and not for the sake of helping. In this places and situations, help is usually pretentious, but even this kind of help is welcomed by those who really help. Pretentiousness is usually to just give them a meal a day, some talks, some pictures, participation of the media, and then they just leave the migrants with their problems along the death’s path.

The numerous needs of the migrants are basically food, shelter, personal hygiene, medications, and a place to stay unperturbed one or several nights without the fear of being victimized by other migrants or people. But this reality level is not all that we can do.

7. Third reality level: planning

What needs to be done to help migrants, stop and revert the negative effect of migration, is to plan ahead to avoid the negative effect of migration, at least the illegal one, and whose main cause is to fulfill the so call American dream. This calls for a change in the paradigm, which is easier than a change in the actual economic model based in covering all the basic needs exclusively with satisfiers that are available in the market (material goods), reassess the own life according to what one is and what one has at a local level, reassess and restructure solidarity chains of the local economy to cover the basic needs with material and immaterial satisfiers (Max-Neff, M., 1993). To reformulate an economy for life (Hinkelammert, F. J. and Mora, J.H., 2005) in the countries that make up Central America. Other necessary and immediate solution is to encourage the awakening of a social awareness, as something important and fundamental to help migrants in their journey through the death’s path, and transform it into a life’s path. However, all this with the purpose of convincing them to return to their homes, their families, and find there a solution to their socio-economic problems.

Each government of the Central America countries must launch initiatives inside their own countries to improve the local economy, reinforce it, since this seems to be the main migration factor. Projects to create new and well-paid jobs.

Society’s job is to help people in their journey through the death’s path, to understand that they are human beings like themselves, and that they need help.

8. Fourth reality level: the ethical

As human beings we should be characterized by solidarity, towards nature as well as other human beings. To help migrants is a humanitarian job, and not only an obligation of the government and institutions; it is a help we all can provide, in our individuality.

The most important part of this research paper is the testimonies of the migrants themselves. This testimonies will help the reader understand the situation the migrants go through during they journey along the death’s path, to know their reasons, their stories, and in this way to be more sensitive to the situation and take the lead to help them, even in the minimum. Hereafter, there is a transcription of some of the migrants’ interviews.

My name is M. I come from Nicaragua. I am going to Dallas, Texas. My wife and son are there. It is not the first time I travel there since I was deported. I have been travelling 14 days, and I still need to go for other 30 days. In the USA I was a painter, but in Nicaragua I was studying business management; I was a sophomore in College. I am a migrant through the death’s path for reasons a little different from the others. I had a fight with my parents, I got a woman pregnant, and there were a lot of expenses as a result, so I dropped out of school, and went in search for something better for my family. I dropped out of the UCC in León, Nicaragua, but now I will try and get into the USA, stay there for 3 years. I want my daughter to study there and to learn a little more English, but if my wife comes with me, I want to go back to Nicaragua and live my life there. My wife is from the Salvador, so I do not know if she will want to go to the Salvador, Nicaragua or to stay in the USA, but I need to be with her for a time and see what happens. People in Mexico have treated me in different ways. Some of them are kind, but the uniformed ones (slang for police officers) are people who do not think twice to rob you. I do not understand why if they are the ones who should protect you, and yet they are the ones to rob you, and you can do nothing because they deport you if you proceed legally, and that is the risk. You have been travelling a long way already, and if you report them, they will make you go back and go through the same all over again, start again the journey through the death’s path. And this time I made it, but I know that it will not be the same next time, because some people are shot. It happened to me, some people followed me, and thank God they did not shoot me, but they did shoot someone in my group. On the other hand there are people who have let me rest for the night in their place, they even gave me food, directions to keep forward, to move from Tabasco, Mexico. But, there are always thieves, especially now that there are not a lot of trains. In the few trains that do pass by is easier to meet a thief with a machete who kills you if you do not have money. It is a big risk, and sometimes I wonder whether it is worth it or not. In my case, I have family and I have to go back to do some pending matters that I left in the USA. Neither travelling to, nor being there is a happy life. I would like people in Mexico to be aware that we do not come here to steal, nor hurt them, we just want to go through, and that we are not all bad people.

The young J approached me, showing me a scar that went all along the right side of his back. It has not healed yet, and the most surprising part was the fact that it was almost perfectly sutured. He told me that he had been kidnapped, that he did not remembered a thing, only that he was hit, and that he woke up two days after, that he was in pain, he felt weak. He thought that they had removed one of his organs. “He comes from Honduras to the USA because he needs money for his family who is in Honduras. Sometimes there is work, but no money to be paid, and they pay a little. The poor will never become someone in our country, the ones who have money keep stepping over the poor. While going through Guatemala I realized that it was as dangerous as Mexico, the police itself robs you, the cops blackmail you and also criminals steal from you. And one is trusting on the police to protect you, but that is not the truth, you see what happened to me. Every part of the death’s path is harder because there are no trains, and we all come walking. I left my house 11 days ago, and I spent almost 6 days walking from Villahermosa, Tabasco to Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz.” Here appeared his injury and he lost two days of his life that he cannot remember.


Migration is considered a social problem. Migrants are wrongly considered bad people, people with no education, nor principles, who only commit crimes and rob during their journey through the death’s path. This is false most of the time, though there is a possibility that migrants do commit crimes during their journey, but they are not the majority, and people should not stop helping migrants just because there are a few bad ones.

It is true that migration is a phenomenon with a negative impact to society, and even though it would be better to stop it, at the time what must be done is to help migrants with whatever they need to survive their journey, and if possible, convince them to go back home.


Hinkelammert, F. J., & Mora Jiménez, H. (2005). Hacía una Economía para la Vida: Preludio a una reconstrucción de la Economía (1st revised and extended edition ed.). San José, Costa Rica: DEI.

Cf. Pontificio Consejo para la Pastoral de los Emigrantes e Itinerantes, Instr. Erga migrantes caritas Christi (May, 3rd 2004): AAS 96, 762822.

Max-Neef, A. M. (2004). Fundamentos de la Transdisciplinaridad. Valdivia, Chile: Universidad Austral de Chile.

Max-Neef, A. M., & Prieto, R. G. (1986). La economía descalza. CEPAUR-Centro de Alternativas de Desarrollo y NORDAN-Comunidad.

Max-Neef, A. M., Eizalde, A., & Hopenhayn, M. (2003). Desarrollo a escala humana: Conceptos, aplicaciones, reflexiones. Santiago, Chile: Nordan Comunidad e Icaria.

Regulations governing the Migration Act. (2012, 11 12). Official Journal of the Federation. Mexico.

Suárez, A. (2001, September). La migración a la luz de la Exhortación Apostólica. Eclessia in America: People on the Move(86). Morelia, Mexico.


[1] It should be noted that in spite of the strong media campaigns that insist on the federal chamber of deputies of Mexico to protect migrants, there is not a definition in the MIGRATION LAW AND REGULATIONS of what being a migrant means (applicable since 11-12-2012). This law was published in the official Journal of the Federation in September 28, 2012.

[2] In the whole Mexican country there are not passenger railroads, this means that all the railroad transportation system through the country is freight rail, and this encourages the transit of “paperless” or illegal migrants.

This article was published on 5th December 2015, for the International VolunteerDay at Global Education Magazine.

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