On a sultry summer morning, Central American migrants huddled together in the courtyard of the Hermanos en el Camino migrant shelter in Ixtepec, Oaxaca, discussing the complexities of checkers.
Joel Álvarez, 27, moved one of the plastic bottle caps that served as checkers pieces over a piece of plywood lacquered with blue and red squares, painted with nail polish. When Álvarez successfully got a piece into his opponent’s side of the board he flipped the bottle cap over, crowning it king. He calls checkers an “obligatory pastime.”
The checkers games at this migrant shelter are a fun distraction from long, boring days where the temperature often climbs up to 100 degrees. Most migrants standing here fled violent gangs in Honduras, El Salvador or Guatemala. Álvarez had two older brothers who were recruited to work for rival gangs. They urged their younger brother not to take the same path; both were dead by age 24.