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Sole Survivor Of Boxcar Tragedy An Outcast In Hometown

July 4, 1988

EL PASO, Texas (AP) _ The only survivor among a group of aliens locked in a railroad boxcar under the broiling desert sun says his survival has made him an outcast in his hometown because people blame him for the deaths.

Among those bitter that Miguel Tostado Rodriguez survived while 18 others suffocated is the widow of Mario Garcia Alvarez, Tostado’s best friend.

″Mario and Miguel were like brothers, yet I blame Miguel for Mario’s death. I can’t help it. He is to blame,″ Rosa Emma Puga said.

″We all wanted someone or something to blame for the tragedy - Miguel, the United States, the railroad, la migra (Border Patrol), anything,″ she said.

Tostado said many others in his hometown of Pabellon de Arteaga in the central Mexican state of Aguascalientes are hostile.

″I am being blamed by the families of the men who died. They want to know why I survived and their loved ones didn’t. It’s not my fault I survived. What really hurts is that they hate me for what happened,″ Tostado told the El Paso Times.

Border Patrol officials say Tostado was not involved with the smuggler who locked the men in the boxcar, but rumors persist in Mexico that Tostado was working with the man, said Tostado’s mother, Socorro Tostado.

″People were out to get my son, even people he had known all his life. They blame him for what happened,″ she said. ″Some of the people told us they would not rest until they had avenged the death of their relative. They said if they don’t get Miguel, they’ll get one of us.″

Tostado, 22, was the only man found alive on July 2, 1987, when Border Patrol agents at Sierra Blanca checked the boxcar.

The 19 men were seeking jobs in the United States. The man who smuggled them across the border put them aboard a boxcar in El Paso and closed and locked the door.

The train was supposed to go to Fort Worth but was held back at Sierra Blanca, 90 miles east of El Paso, sitting on a siding for about 14 hours under the desert sun.

Temperatures in the boxcar reached 130 degrees and 18 men suffocated. Tostado survived by punching a breathing hole in the floor with a railway spike.

Tostado has special permission from the Immigration and Naturalization Service to work in the United States, and is free to travel back and forth to Mexico.

He returned to his hometown on April 2 and met in the mayor’s office with the families of the six men from Pabellon de Arteaga who died. Tostado said he returned because he feared for his family’s safety.

″All I wanted was to see my family, but I was being warned about the danger in going back. Mexican newspapers were saying I was responsible for the deaths. But I had to confront the situation. It was getting out of hand.″

An El Paso psychologist said the hatred toward Tostado is not surprising.

″In the U.S. it would be considered a great accomplishment that Tostado managed to survive,″ said Guido Barrientos. ″But in Mexico, the fact he is the only survivor is highly suspect. Why did he survive, and not the others?

Tostado said he doubts he will return to Mexico again.

He is becoming comfortable in the United States. He’s learning English, and he says he likes this country more than his native Mexico.

″The U.S. is a law-abiding country,″ Tostado said. ″I like the orderly way of life in the United States. My country is too much in disarray. Everything is for the government, nothing for the people.

″I only hope (the smuggler) is caught one day, because he’s probably the only one who can vindicate me. I would love to learn his whereabouts. I know for sure, however, that one of these days, he will be caught. Then we shall learn the entire truth.

″Then people will know I’m not to blame.″

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