NPR Correspondent Carrie Kahn sends in this note:
This past week I’ve been at the Guatemala-Mexico border reporting on the plight of Central Americans heading to the United States. This summer record numbers of unaccompanied minors and families fleeing the region have showed up at the U.S.-Mexico border. Last month the numbers dropped dramatically. Still, there was no shortage of migrants with stories to tell about fleeing violence, poverty and hunger in the hopes of finding something better up north. The stories are harrowing, disturbing and violent. They stick with you for a long time.
But I also got to meet some fun, joyful and generous people along the way. Here are two of them.
Alambritos Piernas Locas, the Clown (top, photo by Carrie Kahn/NPR). I met him at the Suchiate River that separates Mexico and Guatemala. Translated, he is Wiry Crazy Legs, the Clown. He too rides the illegal rafts that float merchandise, contraband and migrants across the river night and day. He gets up, puts on his oversized shoes and make-up and heads across to Guatemala to entertain for pennies in the parks and side streets of the dusty border town. His smile may be painted on, but at the end of a long, hot day in a place where little is light and easy, he was bright, beautiful and a sight for sore eyes.
Juan Carlos Rodriguez (bottom, photo by Carrie Kahn/NPR). He was at a bus stop just north of the border. I was talking to bus drivers about accusations that they extort and overcharge Central American migrants. It was a tense situation. I could feel all eyes were on me. Just then Juan Carlos came up. He sells gum, candy and small cooked cobs of corn. He has a wide grin, teeth filled with silver and a great voice. For some reason I asked him if he was a singer and without missing a beat he broke into a wonderful a capella rendition of “La Flor del Rio,” a popular Mexican song. The mood at the bus stop calmed quickly. Everyone was silent as he sang on, not always in tune, but with great vigor. When he hit that last note everyone was applauding and smiling. Listen: