The 53 migrants who died in Texas included this college-educated Honduran couple

Alejandro Miguel Andino Caballero had almost completed his university studies in marketing. His fiancé, Margie Támara Paz Grajeda, had a degree in economics. Both viewed education as a means to launch careers and transcend humble origins in Honduras, where endemic poverty, crime and corruption have long stifled all avenues of social advancement.

But only a few doors opened for the ambitious young couple. The pandemic and two major hurricanes in recent years have only dampened the economic outlook in one of the poorest countries in the hemisphere.

Caballero, 23, and Paz Grajeda, 24, like many of their compatriots, made their way to the United States. They were also joined by Caballero’s 18-year-old brother, who had also lost hope for his future in Honduras.

“They had no opportunity for advancement here,” the men’s mother, Karen Caballero, said by phone Friday from her home in Las Vegas, Honduras. “They were denied opportunities here. That’s why they left.”

Two women hug.

Karen Caballero lost two sons in a semi-truck in Texas.

(Delmer Martinez/Associated Press)

The three were among 53 people – most, if not all, from Central America and Mexico – who died after being smuggled aboard a sweltering tractor-trailer spotted on the outskirts of San Antonio on Monday. It was one of the deadliest human trafficking tragedies in US history.

As authorities continue to identify victims and notify loved ones, officials have slowly released the names of those who died on the big oil rig – dubbed a “trailer of death” by the Latin American press. Their stories have resonated deeply in a region where, despite its perils, emigration has long been the surest path to advancement in many communities.

Those who leave are aspirants, seekers of opportunity, wishing to improve their fortunes and help relatives back home in a time-honored tradition. Some on board the semi-trailer came from rural areas and had little opportunity to consider careers. Two of the dead were 13-year-old cousins ​​from an indigenous community in northern Guatemala.

The case of the Caballero brothers and Paz Grajeda is different. They don’t fit the narrow stereotype of smuggled migrants.

Fernando Jose Redondo Caballero.

Fernando Jose Redondo Caballero was 18 years old.

(Karen Caballero)

Despite economic difficulties, Caballero and his fiancée tried to stay in their homeland, studying and hoping to find decent paying jobs. At a time when US policy is focused on creating jobs in Central America to discourage emigration, her story shows how even many talented young people seeking careers back home have been thwarted.

“They had dreams, they had goals, but because of the lack of employment, they felt like they would never have a chance,” a tearful Karen Cabellero told reporters outside her home this week.

Caballero and Paz Grajeda met in high school and have been together ever since, Karen Caballero said. Both left their hometowns to attend college in the city of San Pedro Sula, 60 miles north of Las Vegas.

But Paz Grajeda’s degree only got her a low-paying job at a call center. Caballero also had trouble finding work, occasionally helping out at the family restaurant in Las Vegas, a farming and mining town of 26,000 people.

Photos circulated in the Latin American press from social media accounts showing Paz Grajeda navigating a kayak, she and Caballero embracing, and the couple and Caballero’s younger brother Fernando José Redondo Caballero laden with luggage and smiles for the camera, although it was unclear when and where the pictures were taken.

The mother told BBC Mundo that it was Fernando who was initially keen to go to the United States. Unlike his older siblings, he had dropped out of school and showed little interest in academics.

He said to his mother: “Just imagine, Mom, if there is no work here for those who study, what’s left for someone like me who hasn’t studied?”

His older brother and wife-to-be eventually signed. “We planned everything as a family,” Karen Caballero said.

Paz Grajeda had another motivation: she needed money to help her mother pay for cancer treatment.

“I’m in poor health and that’s why she made this trip, for my health,” her mother, Gloria Paz, told Honduran newspaper La Prensa. “I didn’t want her to go. I preferred that she stayed where she was, in the call center. But she left and said, ‘No mother, I’ll get a good job to pay for your surgery.’ ”

A family member in the United States offered to help the brothers fund the trip north, the Associated Press reported.

The three set out on June 4, accompanied by Karen Caballero, all the way to Guatemala. She said she wanted to be there to say goodbye.

“There was a thought in my head that it might be years before I saw her again,” she told La Prensa. “Because when you go to the United States, it’s difficult to come back. I knew it could be five, ten, 15 years before we were reunited.”

In those final moments together, Caballero said she put Alejandro at ease, who was nervous about the trip.

A woman and a man smile at each other.

Margie Támara Paz Grajeda and Alejandro Miguel Andino Caballero in Honduras.

(Karen Caballero)

“Nothing will happen,” she told him. “You are not the first nor the last person to travel to the United States.”

She said goodbye: “I gave them my blessing and said, ‘Kids, take care el otro lado [the other side] because you couldn’t do it here.’ ”

She kept in touch via WhatsApp as the three made their way north through Mexico. She last heard from them last Saturday after they crossed Texas.

They were waiting to be transported north.

McDonnell is a Times contributor. Sanchez is a special correspondent. The 53 migrants who died in Texas included this college-educated Honduran couple

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