Juárez Man Offers Foot Massages To Weary Migrants
Feet are a symbolic part of practically every migrant’s story. They literally carry their owner's weight along the length of an exhaustive journey.
The Mexican city of Juárez is no stranger to migrants, and it's where where one man has made it his mission to care for this particular body part.
Weeknights on AM radio the voice of Jorge Gutierrez echoes across the border where El Paso, Texas, meets Ciudad Juárez, Mexico.
Gutierrez, who calls himself “El Pelon," is the bald, blue-eyed host for a show on Radio Guadalupana, a religious station run by the Catholic Diocese of Juárez. On the show, he invites local do-gooders to talk about their work. He also takes calls from a fan base that numbers in the thousands.
Guiterrez is himself a lifelong do-gooder. When he was 13, he volunteered to play guitar to inmates at a Mexican jail. At the time, his own father was locked up for robbery. The volunteer work made him feel closer to his dad, he said.
"My mother always pushed us to serve others," he said. "My Christian faith has also taught me to serve."
Gutierrez has also spent time doing missionary work in Central America and working with the mentally ill. But his latest project is unlike any other.
On a recent afternoon at a one-room clinic inside a shelter for migrants run by the Juárez diocese, he took a tiny spray bottle and spritzed alcohol on the bruised toes of a woman who winced in response.
The woman, from Central Mexico, spent three nights walking in the desert after crossing the border illegally. She was caught by the U.S. Border Patrol and sent back. Her journey left her feet callused and covered in red pinpricks from cacti.
During his time as a missionary, Gutierrez also trained in reflexology. For the past year, he’s put those skills to work at the migrant shelter, offering foot massages to its weary travelers. It's a gesture heavy with symbolism.
"A migrant's feet are key to her journey," he said. "If her feet are damaged, she will not get far."
At first, the migrants felt uneasy about his services.
"The migrants were embarrassed," Gutierrez said. "They worried their feet smelled or they had long toenails or calluses."
He started offering flip-flops as an incentive — and it worked.
"Throughout their journey, they rarely take off their shoes, which are sometimes are boots," he said. "So the flip-flops are a relief, a chance to free their feet."
In April, Gutierrez took a ride on La Bestia, the infamous train Central Americans use to travel through Mexico. He witnessed brutal attacks against migrants by thieves, gangsters and even police officers. Now he can truly empathize with the people whose feet he massages, he said.
"For many of them, all they want is for someone to listen," he said. "They've spent so many hours in silence, watching their backs, seeing everyone as an enemy."
In the shelter, the migrants finally feel safe, Gutierrez said. Sometimes, they fall asleep during the massage.
The experience has been mutually therapeutic. A few years ago, Gutierrez went through a divorce and a period of depression. Working with the migrants has taught him to be grateful again.
"When you come here and see migrants who’ve been assaulted and kidnapped [and] they’ve felt cold and hunger, your own problems pale in comparison," he said.