The Power of the Story

Families use them to heal, remember and find their loved ones

After an irregular entry into Mexico near Ciudad Hidalgo, to move north through the country, to the US border, many Central and South American migrants begin their journey in Arriaga, Chiapas, Mexico. Photo: Keith Dannemiller/UN Migration Agency (IOM) 2014

On the United States‒Mexico border, thousands have lost their lives, thousands are still missing, and families are caught in the excruciating space in between. Story sharing holds power for healing on a family level, but these stories are also fundamental for shifting the narrative around immigration that too often focuses on numbers and abstractions. Family stories have the power to refocus that narrative on individual human beings, on the nuances of individuality that are evident in every single missing persons report. Bearing witness to the families’ stories is a beautiful and powerful way to begin to understand the human cost of the border, while also calling on communities to honour the lives that have been lost in this terrain with an act of collective recognition and remembrance.

Mirna Leticia Banegas Flores’s son went missing crossing the United States‒Mexico border in 2014. She asked us to share the following story so people would know the person that her son is and in the hopes that this may help her be reunited with him one day soon.

Mirna Leticia Banegas Flores. Photo: Reyna Araibi/Colibrí Center for Human Rights, 2017

“My son’s name is Bairon Fabrizzio Banegas Flores. Bairon is a young man with light skin. He is not too tall, “chubby” but not fat. He has been a good son and other than that, well, he came from Honduras when he was 14 years old and decided to study the Bible here, and he became a pastor. The good memories I have of him have been as a good son, a good father and a good husband — a lover of life and of God. He was a very enthusiastic young man. He was never bitter, not even when he was a boy. He always looked happy, and he looked at life with optimism.

One day, I came to the United States from Honduras, and I visited him. He sat down in the living room with his daughters and his wife and said to me,

“Mami, I want you to tell me something about your past and your life in school.”

So I began to share with him and make silly faces and gestures, and I didn’t know he was recording me. And then later, he got up and set up the TV, and there he had the video of me when he was recording me with his gadgets. That was very valuable for me, you know? The most beautiful memory he left me.

It had already been two times that my son had come to the United States, always through the border. He came at 14, and then at 19, he again crossed the border because at 19 was when he was deported for the first time. He was still in the church; he was studying in the church, and so he was deported and then he returned. He got married to the woman that is now his wife, and his daughters were born here. Then, in 2013 was his second deportation. To this day, thank God, we haven’t heard anything about him, and I ask God that wherever my son is, that he takes care of him. If he’s in a jail or if he’s dead, I ask that God returns his body to me so that I can be at peace. But that was what happened. He was deported in November 2013 and, unfortunately, he chose the worst border to cross through, which is the one at Altar, Sonora. But, well, only God knows.

At the beginning, I lost a lot of weight and I didn’t have a reason to live. He’s always missing, something is always missing, and every time there’s a party — his birthday, my birthday, Mother’s Day, Christmas — it always hurts. It’s horrible because you don’t know if the missing person is alive or if they’re dead and there are so many ideas, so many thoughts that come to your mind, and it’s just not the same to have a person where they tell you that this person is alive or we’ve found their remains or something happened to them, but not knowing anything, not even where they are or who they’re with, it’s hard; it’s hard.

For my son Bairon, the hope I have is that if God took him from me, that one day we will see each other again in heaven. I have that hope, and it never dies; it never dies, and I don’t get tired of having hopes of finding my son, alive or dead.

I just want to say to my son Bairon that we miss him a lot, that his loss has been very sad for us, not to have him with us, and more than anyone his daughters — my granddaughters — need him because they are in the process of growing up and he was a very loving father and they miss him a lot. So there is still a hope, a hope of faith, that we will be able to find him. And we love him, and we will always be waiting for him at home.”

This story is an excerpt from IOM’s Fatal Journeys Volume 3: Improving Data on Missing Migrants. Part one of the report, released on 11 September 2017, focuses on thematic challenges relating to migrant deaths and disappearances worldwide. The text is adapted from a section called ‘Identification efforts in Arizona’ by Reyna Araibi of the Colibrí Center for Human Rights, a family advocacy organization working to end migrant deaths and related suffering on the US-Mexico border.