Maria Lila Meza Castro is the 40-year-old migrant Honduran mother made famous by the Reuters photograph of her dragging her half-naked children from the smoke of a tear gas canister thrown at rioting caravan migrants by the border patrol at the U.S. border with Mexico. Maria is a mother of nine children, one of whom has been living in the U.S. for the past two years, according to ABC News. Meza brought five of her children with her on the migrant caravan, leaving the other three back in Honduras.
— Reuters (@Reuters) November 27, 2018
“Maria Meza, 39 (sic), left her hometown of Villanueva to escape the gang violence and lack of employment, she said, describing the situation there as “terrible.” The single mother of nine was only earning about 800 Honduran Lempiras — about $33 in U.S. currency — a week, and one of her older children was recruited by a neighborhood gang, she said.
“”The salary was not enough to support them,” Meza said. “… They told me the U.S. was a country of opportunities where one can work. That’s why I came to see if I could support my children.”
“Meza had five of her children, ranging in age from 5 to 14, in tow during the long journey, among a caravan of thousands who walked from Honduras, through Mexico and to the edge of the U.S.”
…”Three of Meza’s children remained in Honduras, while one of them has been living in Louisiana for two years, she said.
“Her 16-year-old son “ended up in drugs” and joined the gang, despite her begging him not to.
“He told me, ‘Mom, they are forcing me to enter the Mara (gang) and sell drugs,” Meza said.”
…”Part of Meza’s decision to leave, she added, was to “give the best” to her children, as well as protect her 14-year-old son, who may have been the gang’s next recruit.”
The Reuters photographer, Kim Kyung-Hoon, reported in a Reuters article that Meza is 40 years old and that she is trying to reunite with the the father of her children who is in Louisiana. Kim did not report on the presence of a son in Louisiana.
…”In the shot, taken on Sunday, you can see Honduran mother Maria Meza grabbing the thin arms of her two 5-year-old twin daughters Cheili and Saira as they frantically run from a tear gas canister spewing fumes.
“Meza’s daughter, Jamie, is behind her mother in the photo, also running away from the approaching gas. According to their Honduran documents, Meza is 40 and her daughter is 12.”
…”She said she hopes to be granted asylum in the United States due to rampant crime back home, and if successful will travel to Louisiana, where the girls’ father lives.”
NOTE: Kim denies allegations that the photo was staged, “Some social media users have called the photo “staged,” which absolutely is not the case. At Reuters, we have strict photo guidelines. We are not allowed here to mislead the viewer by making material alterations or staging scenes. Reuters has core values here of independence, freedom from bias, and accuracy. I am proud to uphold those sacrosanct values.”
Reports on Meza’s story are contradictory and incomplete, with sympathetic media more interested in pushing her case for entry into the United States than ascertaining the facts.
Meza has said in several interviews she is seeking work in the U.S. to help her children.
In addition to economics, Meza told ABC News she left Honduras because a gang recruited her 16-year-old son and she was afraid her 14-year-old son would be next be targeted by the gang.
On the contrary, Meza told Buzzfeed reporter Adolfo Flores she left Honduras because one of her daughters was being pressured by a gang to be one of their “girlfriends” Flores did not report Meza mentioning the gang recruiting her sons.
“She fled because one of her daughters was starting to get officially harassed by the local gangs in Honduras. In Honduras if, if you’re a young girl the gangs will often want them to be their, you know, their “girlfriends” with quotation marks. And a lot of families struggle with that. Like, what do you do with your daughter when they start to get that kind of attention? And then she also said she had a hard time getting a job and being able to support her five kids back home on her own.”
Audio of Meza speaking in Spanish, accompanied by translation, quoted Meza saying if she couldn’t get let into the U.S. she hoped she could get a permit to work in Tijuana.
In the meantime, the media is continuing their campaign to canonize Meza. The New Yorker posted an article Wednesday with the headline, The Direct Gaze of Maria Meza, the Woman in a Viral Photo from the Border, about a photo of Meza staring into the camera as she holds a tear gas canister.
Maria Meza's direct gaze, in this photo by Annie Rose Ramos, poses a moral challenge: what is happening at the U.S.-Mexico border is an affront, not to some huge, poor, undifferentiated mass, but to irrefutable personal dignity. https://t.co/mGok5m5aMU pic.twitter.com/JnZAIp3snm
— The New Yorker (@NewYorker) November 28, 2018
…” NBC News producer Annie Rose Ramos shared another photograph of Meza, on Twitter. “I just grabbed my kids and ran,” she told Ramos, according to the tweet. In this image, Meza looks at Ramos’s camera with a kind of placid fatigue. There’s a blanket tented behind her, seemingly beating back the sun, and the blue of her shirt reflects upward and makes a wash on her face. In her hand she holds a tear-gas cannister, presumably the one that was lobbed at her children. A little stripe of light glows just under her arm. Like the terrifying photo that put her in the news, Meza’s direct gaze poses a moral challenge: what is happening at the border, and not only there, is an affront, not to some huge, poor, undifferentiated mass, but to the irrefutable personal dignity that gives Ramos’s impromptu portrait a haunted power. Yes, I exist, the photo seems to say. All of this is real.”