TAPACHULA, Mexico - In preparation for the four Washington State University student journalists arriving here Tuesday afternoon, I met for two hours on Sunday with our interpreter and fixer.
The fixer, Benjamin Alfaro, is not acting illegally, folks. The fixer's role is to help arrange interviews with a variety of contacts dealing with immigration and human trafficking issues. Tapachula is located in Chiapas, the southern-most Mexican state and on the border of Guatemala. Immigration traffic remains a huge issue as Hondurans, Salvadorans, Cubans and Guatemalans cross here illegally and try to make their way north to the United States.
Alfaro has lined up a busy week of interviews for the students, who will be talking to law enforcement officials, immigration lawyers, shelter staff, aid workers and the migrants who remain here in camps, awaiting an uncertain fate. Alfaro is a freelance journalist who has been covering immigration for several years and works as a fixer for international journalists who come here to report. Darine Ruiz, our interpreter, is a native of Tapachula who specializes in medical translation for hospitals and doctors. She received her certification for the medical work after completing two months of training at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
After our meeting this afternoon, Alfaro dropped me off at Tapachula's main city park. It was a hub of activity with thousands of people enjoying a Sunday off walking, listening to music, shopping and eating at sidewalk restaurants. At one bar fans were standing six and seven deep on the sidewalk outside, watching a soccer match on the lone television.
I'm on a private mission for a friend to locate a bottle of white vanilla, which I'm told is a special Mexican ingredient for especially tasty baked goods. The interpreter told me this area is known more for its coffee and chocolate and doubted that I'll find the vanilla. Nevertheless, my search for the Holy White will quietly continue from time to time.