Exporting the Dead

Every year, the corpses of hundreds of immigrants are flown from San Francisco to their home countries.

"People want to be back where they were born," a Northwest cargo agent says. "Or where they were happiest."

Lopez' casket, in its box, was loaded into the luggage compartment of Mexicana Flight 145, traveled south through the night, and arrived in Guadalajara at 6:10 the next morning, just three days later than he would have been passing through by truck. At the cargo department, the box was loaded into the hearse of a funeral home contracted with the state government of Michoacán. For the last 12 years, the state has covered the cost of transporting bodies from international airports to the deceased's hometowns. Of the 319 cases the state helped with in 2008, 44 percent were from California.

Mexican funeral home staff removed the cold cream and reapplied light cosmetics to Lopez' face, so when the hearse drove up to Trinidad Lopez Miranda's house (the one she paid for with the money Lopez wired home) Thursday afternoon, she said her son looked exactly how she remembered him.

Staff at the funeral home load Lopez’ casket for the trip to the airport.
Paul Trapani
Staff at the funeral home load Lopez’ casket for the trip to the airport.
A memorial photo of Victor Cipriano Lopez at the site where he was killed.
Paul Trapani
A memorial photo of Victor Cipriano Lopez at the site where he was killed.

"I never thought my son was going to come here like they brought him," she said. "I thought he was going to come home alive. I felt sad, but at the same time happy that they brought him to me."

The coffin was set up on the front patio, so the dozens of relatives and neighbors arriving that evening to pray for Lopez to be accepted into heaven could flow out into the dirt road blocked off to traffic. Magali wore a white dress, a bride for her deceased groom.

The next evening, the six mariachis hired for the wedding instead played forlorn ballads as Lopez' white casket was lowered into Mexican soil. At least this death had a conclusion, unlike that of his father, whom the family assumes has been buried in a nameless border grave.

"What the United States has brought me is sadness," Trinidad says in a phone interview. "It hasn't brought me good memories. ... For me, it's very sad."

Now, when she hears boys in the neighborhood talking about going north, she tells them it's not worth it. Her other sons are 18 and 20, ripe for migrating to the United States. But she says she'll never let another one of her boys go again.

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