The Long Journey North From Guatemala

A family prepares for life to change forever as its eldest son embarks on the migrant trail to the United States

The Long Journey North From Guatemala
A still from “La Ultima Cosecha” (“The Last Harvest”)

In the summer of 2022, Norvin made an excruciating but thrilling decision. After years of struggling to make ends meet for his family as a long-haul truck driver, life in his small rural town of La Maquina, Guatemala, had grown too lean. Gang violence and poverty were surging. So was chronic malnutrition, with more than 55% of children in rural Guatemala suffering from the condition. He wanted more for his young daughter and wife, more for the 10 members of his extended family who lived together in a few timber-framed houses with dirt floors and a shared kitchen and bathroom on a small plot of land. Norvin and the rest of the family had decided: He was going to embark on the migrant trail to the United States.

That fall, he would attempt to make one of the 2.2 million illegal border crossings in 2022, joining hundreds of thousands of others from Central and South America trying to achieve their own version of the American Dream. Their arrival has become one of the most divisive issues in the U.S., as the governors of border states, including Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, have battled with the federal government over jurisdiction at the border and the processing and care of new arrivals. Thousands of immigrants have been bused from Texas to so-called sanctuary cities, including New York and Chicago, causing budgetary crises and public outcry as tent cities are erected and millions of dollars flow into sheltering those who arrive with nothing. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives has tied military support for Ukraine to increased border security; Donald Trump is making the border one of his central campaign issues. In a December 2023 rally, Trump stirred the crowd with claims that migrants are “poisoning the blood of our country.” He has announced plans, if reelected, to round up undocumented people en masse and detain them in camps before expelling them.

Despite the turmoil north of the border, the pervasive poverty in Guatemala made the U.S. a clear choice for Norvin and his family. The plan was straightforward. He would cross into the country, find work and send back enough money for his two brothers, Canche and Eric, to follow. They would all work a few more years and earn enough to finally finish their cinder-block houses on the family’s land and buy a truck or two so they could continue in the long-haul shipping business. Then they would return to their families in Guatemala, financially secure and with an eye to the future.

But to realize this American Dream, the family needed to raise the down payment for Norvin’s journey with a “coyote,” or smuggler — about $20,000, a staggering sum for people coming from an area where more than half the population lives on less than $2 a day. Norvin had negotiated to pay half up front and half once he arrived in the U.S. To raise the first $10,000, the family pooled together their resources, selling off cars, motorbikes and personal items. But the bulk of the money would come from harvesting the entirety of the family’s maize crops that Norvin’s father, Don Chema, had planted on land that he rents.

“La Ultima Cosecha” (“The Last Harvest”), a film by Jon Lowenstein, Daniel LeClair and Germán Cabrera, is a look at those final days with Norvin and his family as they work together to harvest the maize, ready him for the journey and prepare for the reality of life apart.

A Gristle & Bone/NOOR Images Production. Editing and additional production by Sara Escobar, Pablo Ramos and Rodrigo Arias.

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