Clothed With Bravery and Peace: Refugees Shall Remain Undeterred


Clothed With Bravery and Peace: Refugees Shall Remain Undeterred

by Jimmy Gonzalez, January 2017

Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” The UDHR document was established in 1948, and articulates the basic human rights that all human beings are born with. The United Nations (UN), an international organization established in 1945, adopted this document, whose rights member states agree to protect, defend, and uphold. The United States of America has been and continues to be a country of opportunities and refuge for those who come from distant lands. However, for the past several decades, little has been done to support the majority of these immigrants as they settle in America, so much so that there are approximately eleven to twelve million undocumented people in America. Marginalized from society, misjudged by many, and oftentimes misunderstood, the majority of these men, women, and children live as outcasts and are subject to having their basic human rights violated on a daily basis. It is clear that our immigration system is broken. In his book Underground America, Peter Orner, an American author and professor in San Francisco State University’s Creative Writing Department, illuminates this human rights crisis in America through the oral histories of undocumented immigrants. To use Orner’s words, most if not all undocumented immigrants, “live in a state of permanent anxiety” (9).

People immigrate to other countries for economic, social, and political reasons. In recent decades, immigration from Central America, specifically from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, has increased significantly due to the gang-violence, poverty, and the lack of security. El Salvador, which is located between Guatemala and Honduras, is considered to be one of the most violent countries in Latin America. El Salvador’s Civil War between the military and the guerillas during the 80’s lasted for about twelve years and resulted in over 75,000 deaths. According to Norma C. Gutiérrez, a Senior Foreign Law Specialist who works for the U.S. Department of Justice, a department that sets out to ensure the public safety of all citizens, reported, “With an average of thirteen Salvadorans killed daily…El Salvador has one of the highest homicide rates in the world and is ranked as one of the most dangerous countries in Latin America” (2). For the time being, the terror in El Salvador is ever-increasing. Continually oppressed by two of the deadliest gangs in Central America, known as the “Mara Salvatrucha Trece” (MS 13) and their rivals, “Barrio Dieciocho” (18th Street), men, women, and children have no other choice but to flee El Salvador and seek refuge in other nations, particularly in the U.S. These two gangs originally formed in Los Angeles, California during the 90’s, but because the majority of these gang members were undocumented Salvadorans, many, including its leaders, were deported. During this time, El Salvador was very vulnerable due to its Civil War, which allowed for these two opposing gangs to practically take control of the nation. Pushed by poverty, gang-violence, and the lack of security in El Salvador, tens of thousands of Salvadorans emigrate to the U.S. yearly in hopes of a safe and secure life. According to the UN, “Refugees are persons who are outside their country of origin for reasons of feared persecution, conflict, generalized violence, or other circumstances that have seriously disturbed public order and, as a result, require international protection.” In her book They Take Our Jobs!, Aviva Chomsky, an American author and teacher who specializes in Latin American history, sets out to dismantle twenty-one of the most common negative misconceptions about immigrants in America. Chomsky states, “Over the course of the 1980’s, up to a million Salvadorans and Guatemalans sought refuge in the United States” (72). They risk life and death to come to a country that has historically oppressed them. Without a clear solution to this intricate dilemma, the people of El Salvador will continue to come to the U.S. even if it means death.

In the fall of 2014, I met Jose while working a part time job in San Francisco, CA. Jose was born and raised in San Salvador, El Salvador, which is located in the highlands. He came to the U.S. at the age of sixteen to be reunited with his mother; meanwhile, his father and older brothers decided to stay in El Salvador. The notion of a better life and more importantly, the sense of security, propelled Jose to come to the U.S. According to Jose, he and his family “lived in a zone that was surrounded by lots of gang members.” In other words, the sense of security didn’t really exist for him while growing up in El Salvador. Prior to coming to America at age sixteen, Jose believed that “The United States has always been a place of many opportunities, in which whatever person that comes over here can be involved in better things.”

When Jose arrived at the US border, he was handed off to Mexican drug cartels, who commonly extort immigrants prior to crossing the border. Article 5 of the UDHR states: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” Jose, along with twenty-four other people, were guided by a coyote [human smuggler], who lead them across the border between El Salvador and Guatemala and then from Guatemala through Mexico. However, as they arrived at the border between Mexico and the U.S., Jose became suspicious of the coyote when he noticed that they were being handed off to the drug cartel. According to Jose, the drug cartels are “dangerous because those who are arriving as immigrants are being kidnapped, tortured, and being asked for money that is beyond them.” Fortunately for Jose, there was an agreement between the coyote and the drug cartel, under which if a small ransom was paid, the drug cartel would lead them through the Sonoran Desert. However, this type of deal did not automatically insure anyone’s safety. Oftentimes, immigrants from Central America do not know that at some point in their journey, the drug cartel will be the ones guiding them through Mexico and into the U.S. Jose states, “The coyote does not enter the desert, only those who work with the cartel.” Unlike the coyote, who was unarmed, members of the cartel carried guns while crossing the border. For Jose, this meant that if he disobeyed any of their orders, they could simply aim and fire. Jose states, “They are crossing the people, always armed and they are always talking…They place a gun like this and they threaten you and they place fear within you…Yes, yes they are bad people.” Jose, like the millions of refugees, has human rights, but it is clear that these human rights exist only to a certain extent. Against all odds and with his himan rights practically ignored, Jose courageously navigated his life at a time in which life seemed to be dissolving.

In order to come to America, Jose was funneled through the Sonoran Desert, in which his “right to life” (Article 1) was slowly diminishing as he walked tirelessly for a total of three days and three nights. As one of the many difficult ways in which immigrants come to America is through the Sonoran desert, Jose recalls that the most treacherous part of his journey to America was when he had to walk through the desert. He states, “There, it is more difficult… One of the ways that I had to go through was to step into the desert and walk… Yes, yes, in the desert. More than that, it was night time.” His chances of making it to the other side were quite low due to the fact that those who are funneled through the Sonoran Desert oftentimes die from dehydration and heatstroke. Basically, when these men, women, and children enter the desert, their bodies tend to overheat because of the lack of water. Their bodies begin to cook from the inside and as a result, these immigrants often lose their minds, faint, and die. These grave conditions could have resulted in Jose’s death, ultimately violating his right to life. According to Jose, the only things that sustained his life at that point were “a backpack, bread, and tuna.” These men, women, and children lose their lives because they are not equipped with the necessary tools that they need in order to survive. Jose acknowledges, “This is the risk we take as immigrants to come here.” In spite of the impossibilities, Jose, like millions of immigrants, comes to America risking the precious gift of life in order to get a sense of security, peace, and opportunity. Jose at this point was pushing his limits and would by all means continue to push until reaching his goal.

Mentally, physically, and emotionally challenged, Jose no longer felt safe or secure because this journey seemed ever volatile. In fact, right before entering the Sonoran Desert, Jose started to develop feelings of stress and fear because it was now his turn to navigate through this unforgiving terrain in order to come to the U.S. With his mother waiting on the other side, he remembers, “Well, I felt distressed because they make you go into the desert and you don’t know what will happen in there once inside.” Enveloped by the fear of the unknown, Jose kept reminding himself that the U.S. was only a desert away and soon enough he would be reunited with his mother. At this point in time, Jose was in survival mode, which meant he could no longer be feeble-minded for he knew that such a mentality could jeopardize his entire life. There was no time to waste, so the cartel along with the other twenty-four people stepped into the Sonoran Desert. All bets were off at this point, with the cartel guiding them, the relentless desert conditions before them, and the border patrol ahead of them. According to Jose, “The immigration is there and you are always scared because you are hoping that they do not find you or get you, the only thing you want is to cross and arrive, you know.” Having overcome the financial hurdle, the checkpoints, and the cartel, Jose was faced with a new challenge yet again: this time it was the border patrol. The desert is vast and it is practically impossible to run away from the border patrol while suffering from dehydration. Jose was prepared to run from the border patrol even though they might shoot him or cause a separation between him and the rest of the group. It is clear that Jose was not protected while walking in the desert; in fact, as long as he remained in the desert, no one would be there to protect him. Laws are meant to protect us, but unless these laws are truly enforced, immigrants’ rights will continue to be abused. In the case of Jose, his “right to security” dissolved right before his eyes while walking in the desert amid rattlesnakes and the deadly drug cartel.

While walking in the Sonoran Desert, Jose and the twenty-four other people experienced moments of dehydration, hunger, and in some occasions, separation from one another as they were running away from the border patrol. Jose was not alone while coming to America, but as he arrived to America, he realized that only a few had made it to the other side. According to Jose, “So, you go with that mentality, but like I told you, I was in a group of twenty five people and in the end only thirteen of us went through.” At this point, some people had been captured by the border patrol, others had gotten lost as they were separated from the group, and some died because of the lack of water. In an interview with Robin Reineke, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Colibri Center for Human Rights, a non-profit organization in Arizona that works with families to end migrant deaths along the border, she states, “Not only are we losing lives in the border every year, but we are losing them in degrading, harmful, and painful ways” (NPR). Looking back at Jose’s story, and those of the thousands of others, how might the U.S. work to establish policy that would allow others to avoid these human rights abuses?

Immigration Detention Centers

Every year, hundreds of thousands of immigrants are arrested and detained in immigration detention centers while they await their asylum cases, hearings, and sentences. In her study “Locked Up Far Away: The Transfer of Immigrants to Remote Detention Centers in the United States,” which describes the emotional and psychological effects of being transferred, Alison Parker, director of the U.S. Program of Human Rights, states, “They are held in a vast network of more than 300 detention facilities, located in nearly every state in the country” (Human Rights Watch). In essence, because there are so many facilities throughout the U.S., the majority of these immigrants experience being transferred from center to center without legal representation. Parker cites an attorney who says, “[The detainees] are loaded onto a plane in the middle of the night. They have no idea where they are, no idea what [U.S.] state they are in. I cannot overemphasize the psychological trauma to these people. What it does to their family members cannot be fully captured either” (Human Rights Watch). To understand these detention centers, it is vital to understand the fact that not all of them are adequately regulated by the government. In fact, the detention centers that aren’t adequately watched are being operated by private corporations that have been allowed to operate as for-profit centers.

Without government control, these detention centers often go unpunished for violating these immigrants’ basic human rights, such as the right to a public defender. Anthropologist Dr. Lucy Fiske, Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Research Fellow & Senior Lecturer at the University of Technology Sydney, in her study “Human Rights and Refugee Protest against Immigration Detention: Refugees’ Struggles for recognition as Human,” wrote, “Life inside immigration detention centers is precarious, filled with uncertainty and monotony and, too often, degrading treatment” (19). An extreme yet common strategy to deter refugees from applying for asylum is to place them inside what the refugees call hieleras, Spanish for iceboxes. In his study “U.S. Immigration Policy: Enforcement and Deportation Trump Fair Hearings,” Jacob Oakes, J.D. candidate at the University of North Carolina School of Law, examines US Policy regarding unauthorized migrants and asylum-seekers. He states:

Reports of harrassments, threats, and attempts to ‘dissuade from applying for asylum’ included the use of ‘iceboxes’ (or ‘hieleras’), extremely cold rooms where migrants are placed while they await their fate, sometimes giving in and signing the removal papers and other times falling ill.” (859)

Often neglected of their basic human rights, these immigrants are treated like animals simply because they lack a piece of paper. In 2009, the U.S. government implemented what is called the “Immigration Detention Bed Quota.” According to the National Immigrant Justice Center, an organization dedicated to ensuring human rights protection to immigrants and asylum seekers, “The immigration detention bed quota requires U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to maintain 34,000 immigration detention beds on a daily basis.” As a result, immigrants who have no criminal record—even legal residents—are placed in these detention centers to meet the annual quota. Studying the immigration detention system, in her article, “Liberty and Justice for All: The Violations of Basic Human Rights in Detention Centers Across the United States,” Olga Verez reports:

But as illegal crossings from Mexico have fallen to near their lowest levels since the early 1970’s, ICE has been meeting Congress’s immigration detention goals by reaching deeper into the criminal justice system to vacuum up foreign-born, legal U.S. residents convicted of any crime that could render them eligible for deportation. (197-198)

Immigration detention centers were primarily built to temporarily detain immigrants before they were granted asylum or deported, but it is clear that their main focus has shifted. The focus has become to fill beds regardless of their immigration status. When detained immigrants should at the very least be provided with a public defender to have a fair chance in the asylum process.

Southern Border Plan

In July 2014, Mexico announced its new Southern Border Program, through which it would strengthen its border between Guatemala and Mexico. Seldom spoken about, this program has allowed the U.S. to extend their southernmost border in the sense of border patrol. President Enrique Peña Nieto promised that Central American migrants would be treated better and provided a less dangerous path to come to the United States. WOLA, an organization that advocates for human rights in the Americas, has studied how Central American migrants have been effected since the Southern Border Program was enacted in “Increased Enforcement at Mexico’s Southern Border,” which aims to educate the general public in regards to the new challenges that Central American migrants face. The overall purpose of the Southern Border Program, according to President Peña Nieto, is to “Protect and safeguard the human rights of migrants who enter and travel through Mexico, as well as to establish order at international crossings to increase development and security in the region” (WOLA 5). Once enacted, Mexico began to strengthen its Southern border by setting up several checkpoints to arrest anyone who was trying to come here unlawfully. The Obama administration strongly supports Mexico’s strong hand on these immigrants because this ostensibly means a decrease in migrants arriving to the U.S. border. However, what both governments fail to realize is the fact that most of these Central American migrants are fleeing from gang threats and extreme poverty, which forces them to come even if it means death.

In general, one of the common ways in which Central American migrants are smuggled through Mexico is on a cargo train nicknamed La Bestia, Spanish for “The Beast.” The reason this train is called “The Beast” is because thousands of migrants have lost their lives riding this train and it runs along a common route on which gang members assault immigrants. However, due to the Southern Border Plan, this train has become less accessible to Central American migrants because the speeds of the train have “Increased from about 10 kilometers per hour (6 mph) to 60-70 kilometers per hour (37-43 mph)” (WOLA 21). Instead of aiding these immigrants as the President of Mexico said he would, people are now coming to America by coming through even more dangerous paths. According to WOLA, “With decreased possibilities of boarding the train in Chiapas, migrants and smugglers are now relying on different and dangerous routes and modes of transportation, including by foot and boat” (2). Even though the majority of these immigrants are men, there are thousands of children and mothers who also have to face these challenges. Strengthening border patrol will not stop Central American migrants who are fleeing from the violence of this country, many of whom are in desperate need of asylum. According to WOLA, “These routes expose migrants to new vulnerabilities while isolating them from the network of shelters established along traditional routes” (2). Even more disturbing is the method with which the government of Mexico decides whether or not Central American migrants are worthy of asylum. According to WOLA, “Mexico has a broader definition of ‘refugee’ than the United States, which only grants asylum when an individual can demonstrate ‘that they were persecuted or fear persecution due to race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group’” (25). How can an immigrant who is running for his life have enough evidence to persuade the Mexican government that he is worthy to be considered a refugee? A Central American migrant is not able to document the horrors from which he is running from, so to be judged based on the lack of evidence is simply senseless.

Prevention Through Deterrence

Prevention through Deterrence is a strategy that has been implemented to decrease immigrants from Central America reaching the U.S., but in order for this strategy to work, the U.S. would have to provide protection for asylum seekers in Central America. They have tried to build walls and fences along the Southern parts of CA, which then force immigrants to come to the U.S. through the Sonoran Desert in Arizona. In his book The Land of Open Graves, Jason De León, an Anthropologist and Assistant Professor at the University of Michigan, introduces Prevention through Deterrence and explains how it was built to purposefully kill hundreds of thousands of Central American immigrants. According to De León, “Border zones become spaces of exception—physical and political locations where an individual’s rights and protections under law can be stripped away upon entrance” (27). Like Jose, thousands of immigrants who are funneled through the Sonoran Desert walk through terrain on which their rights no longer exist. Countless people have died in this desert because there is little to no water at all to sustain them while walking in the desert. They are forced to travel through this type of terrain because of Prevention through Deterrence. The government believes that by building the walls and fences, this will automatically deter immigrants from coming to America in the first place. De León notes, “At the same time, these policies expose noncitizens to a state-crafted geopolitical terrain designed to deter their movement through suffering and death” (28). The U.S. government knows that the Sonoran Desert is the deadliest region any immigrant could be smuggled through, but they refuse to do anything about it. In essence, that was the purpose of Prevention through Deterrence from the very beginning. Strategic and well played, Prevention through Deterrence has been working. For the time being, somewhere in the vastness of the Sonoran Desert, a refugee is fighting to stay alive. De León states, “Although no public record explicitly states that a goal of PTD is to kill border crossers in an attempt to deter other would-be migrants, the connection between death and this policy has been highlighted by both academics and various federal agencies charged with evaluating Border Patrol programs” (34). Immigrants are dying without the justice they deserve. Stepping into the desert is like stepping into one’s fate: there are only two outcomes, life or death. Even though these immigrants have the chance to turn around and go back to their countries, they refuse to do so because deep within their hearts, they hold steadfast to the idea that the U.S. will grant them the refuge they so desperately need.

Prevention through Deterrence seems like it may be working according to the goal of leading them to their deaths, but the reality is that refugees continue to come. When Jose came to the U.S., Prevention through Deterrence was not officially in place, but he still experienced walking in the desert for three long days in which he could have died like thousands of other immigrants have. According to De León, “Many have died since the implementation of this policy, and the correlation between the funneling of people toward desolate regions of the border and an upsurge in fatalities is strong” (35). The fact that the U.S. government supports these policies is absolutely appalling. They consciously enact laws in the hopes that this will overall decrease immigration by making them walk into their own graves. The Sonoran Desert will continue to be a gravesite unless the U.S. decides to do something about it. Until then, men, women, and children will have to continue to navigate these difficulties.


It is clear that our immigration system is broken. Although there is no clear and absolute solution to this ever-growing dilemma, there are several things that the U.S. could do in order to help these refugees in particular. First, the U.S. should close all privatized immigration detention centers. By not shutting them down, these privatized detention centers will continue to mistreat these detained refugees. Now, for the one’s that do remain open, the government should carefully and regularly regulate whether these centers are meeting the federal and human rights standards. Kimberly Hamilton, candidate for Doctor of Jurisprudence at the University of Tennessee, College of Law, in her study, “Immigrant Detention Centers in the United States and International Human Law,” which explores the many different ways in which detainees’ rights are abused, suggests, “The key to effective and uniform application of policies is comprehensive training of employees and regular oversight and monitoring of policy implementation.” If the US government made it its goal to properly train the employees who work at these facilities and constantly check them, it would minimize the acts of dehumanization towards detained immigrants. These privately run detention centers should be brought to justice like any other organization so that it can be clear that treating these refugees in a totally indignified way results in serious consequences. Furthermore, immigrants in detention centers must be represented by public defenders. It is no longer acceptable that these refugees walk into their asylum case without anyone to represent them.

Secondly, the Southern Border Plan should actually live up to its decree. When Central American migrants apply for asylum, their cases should be considered even if they do not have any proof of the dire circumstances that they are currently in. The reason is because the majority of these immigrants are under life or death situations. Overall, building and maintaining the walls and fences along the Southern U.S. border uses money that can be invested elsewhere. As for the Sonoran Desert, the government has got to stop funneling immigrants through this type of terrain and take proper care of them while they await their asylum cases. This means that they should be housed and fed at least until they know whether or not they will be granted asylum to this country.

As we see with Jose’s journey and those of the millions of migrants that come to the US annually, privatized immigration detention centers should be outlawed and those that remain must be constantly regulated by the government so that these migrants human rights aren’t at risk of being abused; Secondly, the Southern Border Plan should commit to its initial plan, which would help Central American migrants as they pass through Mexico; Lastly, although walls have gone up to stop migrants from attempting this journey, Prevention through Deterrence will never deter these immigrants, many of whom can never go back home; therefore, the money which is spent in building and sustaining these walls should be invested elsewhere. While some may argue that many of these immigrants are criminals and should be detained, it is important to realize that the majority of these immigrants are refugees, including mothers and children, all of whom deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. The phrase “out of sight, out of mind,” which is commonly used, makes it easy to blame Mexico for the many types of abuses that the Southern Border Plan has generated since enforced. However, it is vital to realize that the US, along with Mexico, drafted the Southern Border Plan; therefore, both should also assume responsibility for this human rights crisis in Mexico. Humans will continue to survive and thrive many things; therefore, it is merely impossible to stop a human whose natural instinct is to survive by migrating to a foreign country. Documented or undocumented, we are all humans, and should treat each other with love, respect, and kindness.

Works Cited

Chomsky, Aviva. “They Take Our Jobs!”: and 20 Other Myths about Immigration. Beacon Press, 2007.

“Detention Bed Quota.” National Immigrant Justice Center, National Immigrant Justice Center, 15 Nov. 2016,

Fiske, Lucy. “Human Rights And Refugee Protest Against Immigration Detention: Refugees’ Struggles For Recognition As Human.” Refuge (0229-5113) 32.1 (2016): 18-27. Academic Search Complete. Web. 10 Dec. 2016.

Gutiérrez, Norma C. “El Salvador: Gang Violence.” US Department of Justice, 1–7.

Hamilton, Kimberly R. “Immigrant Detention Centers In The United States And International Human Rights Law.” Berkeley La Raza Law Journal 21.(2011): 93-132. Academic Search Complete. Web. 10 Dec. 2016.

Hinojosa, Maria “By the Dawn’s Early Light.” Latino USA, Futuro Media, 18 Nov. 2016,

Isacson, Adam et al. “Increased Enforcement at Mexico’s Southern Border – WOLA.” WOLA, WOLA, 9 Nov. 2015,

Leon, Jason De. The Land of Open Graves: Living and Dying on the Migrant Trail. Oakland, CA, University of California Press, 2015.

Oakes, Jacob. “U.S. Immigration Policy: Enforcement & Deportation Trump Fair Hearings–Systematic Violations Of International Non-Refoulement Obligations Regarding Refugees.” North Carolina Journal Of International Law & Commercial Regulation 41.4 (2016): 833-918. Business Source Complete. Web. 10 Dec. 2016.

Orner, Peter et al. Underground America: Narratives of Undocumented Lives. Edited by Peter Orner, McSweeney’s Books, 2008.

Parker, Alison. “Locked Up Far Away.” Edited by David Bathi, Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Watch, 29 Apr. 2015,

“Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” UN News Center. UN, n.d. Web. 07 Sept. 2016.

Velez, Olga. “Liberty And Justice For All: The Violations Of Basic Human Rights In Detention Centers Across The United States.” University Of Florida Journal Of Law & Public Policy 25.2 (2014): 187-204. Academic Search Complete. Web. 10 Dec. 2016.


Sample Transcripts

Jimmy: Okay perfect, first of all, um, I want to know where you were born

Jose: Uh-huh

Jimmy: Um, what brought you here to the United States, and how are you right now?

Jose: Um okay well, okay I was born in El Salvador in the capital, mhm, the reasons I decided to come here were for security and to seek a better life.

Jimmy: Security, security from?

Jose: From, like well El Salvador is a country with a lot of violence and all of that, and it is not safe. It is not safe for the same reason, the gangs, there is no security.

Jimmy: Did you have experiences with the gangs or with the military, the police?

Jose: Um, yes, with the gangs more than anything else, because in school right, we go to school and like in El Salvador from a very young age they begin to be in school so, the school is mixed with them and if they see that if you have a little money on you or something like that, they begin to bother you so that you have to give them money or they want you to become part of or a member of the gang.

Jimmy: Understood.

Jose: They force you.

Jimmy: Understood, did you have friends in your school, like you stated

Jose: Yeah

Jimmy: That went into the gangs?

Jose: Yes they were gang members and they want you to go with them. If not, they can, kind of like they want to do something to you. I don’t know.

Jimmy: Understood, I understand

Jose: Well, where I lived it was like that, but maybe in other places it is not like that, but that is how it was for me.

Jimmy: That’s how it was.

Jose: Which is why like my mom told me that, well I told her that I did not feel much security there and that is one of the reasons why she wanted to bring me and one of the reasons why I wanted to go

Jimmy: So, your mom was already here in the United States?

Jose: Yes

Jimmy: She was already here, and were you living with your family or friends over their?

Jose: Yes, with my brothers.

Jimmy: Were they older than you were?

Jose: Yes

Jimmy: And were they also going to school?

Jose: Yes, yes all of us were going to school, but like how I have told you, we lived in a zone that was surrounded by lots of gang members. Many times their were organized groups of them and it you felt no security, to live in that type of ambience, you do not feel any type of security. Um, well, sometimes in front of my house, a lot of things happened many times, that, for example, there was a gang and the contrary gang and they would start shooting at themselves.

Jimmy: Which ones were they?

Jose: The gang members, the MS and the eighteenth. Sometimes, their was like encounters and they began shooting bullets in front of the house.

Jimmy: Wow

Jose: And sometimes the people that were walking their, well, maybe a lost bullet right, would fall on them. Understand Me? Because I lived an experience like that. Close to where I lived, there was a pupuseria stand, in which they sold pupusas their

Jimmy: Mm

Jose: And one time they began to shoot right there between the opposing gangs, and the lady was only doing her business, and sadly one of the bullets hit her.

Jimmy: Wow

Jose: And she was only working

Jimmy: And you saw all of this?

Jose: No no, I did not see it, but it was a couple of blocks away

Jimmy: Oh so you heard it?

Jose: Yes I heard it, and I went to see, and the lady was their, a bullet had hit her in her back.

Jimmy: Wow, wow

Jose: That’s why, that’s why it does not feel safe to grow up in El Salvador, it is not very safe. So, all those things make you think, of immigrating, you understand me, to get out of all of that. There are also other factors, like poverty and all of that, you understand me that force you to leave. That is why, well like in the United States, you know, this is a country which does not often see things like that. That forces you, that same thinking makes you want to come

Jimmy: Of course

Jose: To gain strength, to come here

Jimmy: Of course

Jose: To get here to seek something better, you understand me.

Jimmy: And when you were in El Salvador, what was your image, or your expectations of the United States?

Jose: Um, well, well I have always thought since I was very young, well that here, there is a better way of life and it is a place where, the United States has always been a place of many opportunities, in which whatever person that comes over here can be involved in better things, you understand me.

Jimmy: I understand

Jose: Studies, work, all of those things. That is why

Jimmy: Which is why

Jose: Which is why this country, that is what I have always thought about this country.

Jimmy: Yes yes, so, when you shared this with your mother, about the situation in El Salvador, she encouraged you, or encouraged you to come to the United States? What did you think in that moment?

Jose: Um

Jimmy: Did you think it was a good idea to leave all your brothers behind?

Jose: Yes, yes that was, well a good opportunity, and I do not regret coming over here.

Jimmy: How old were you when?

Jose: I was sixteen years old

Jimmy: Sixteen years old

Jose: Yeah

Jimmy: Wow, so when you were sixteen years of age, you had decided to come to the United States?

Jose: Yes

Jimmy: How did you travel to the United States?

Jose: Um, well I came here as an immigrant, because their wasn’t any other option, you know. It was the only option to come here. I had no other choice, sadly that’s the way things happened and yeah, I came here like everyone that comes here.

Jimmy: Yes

Jose: You know, you pay a coyote and the coyote brings you all the way here.

Jimmy: Describe your trip

Jose: My trip

Jimmy: How was it?

Jose: How was it?

Jimmy: Yeah

Jose: Oh okay, well the first thing you do is to get in contact with a person that brings people here. Um, and they charge a specific amount of money to bring you here, okay.

Jimmy: Is is safe?

Jose: Um, I think that it all depends, I think that the time has to do with a lot of that, you understand me. Well, before, you know like ten or thirty years ago, I think it was more accessible to come here. There weren’t many problems to come here as an immigrant

Jimmy: That was thirty years ago.

Jose: It was a little bit safer. There was security, there was security when coming here, but lately like in Mexico, it is very problematic. For the last ten years, you know the Cartels and all of that are the people that do the human and drug trafficking, they are the ones that posses the control their.

Jimmy: I understand

Jose: So, now many times the news shows how their is a lot of violence their in Mexico, for territories that belong to the Cartels.

Jimmy: The Zetas, right?

Jose: Everyone, all of the Cartels from Mexico. So, they see that they work with the people, with the immigrants, those who are arriving and so sometimes the people, well it’s dangerous because those who are arriving as immigrants are being kidnapped, tortured, and being asked for money that is beyond them.

Jimmy: Right

Jose: Right now, I think that in this moment they are not safe, it is a little bit difficult, as opposed to ten or fifteen years ago.

Jimmy: And in your opinion, was it something easy to travel this journey?

Jose: Um

Jimmy: What were the difficulties?

Jose: Yes, no, yes, throughout the course there will always be difficulties, it will not be easy too.

Jimmy: I understand

Jose: Above it all, well the majority of time it was easy, but the most difficult thing is

Jimmy: Yes

Jose: To cross the border from Mexico to enter the United States. That is the most

Jimmy: And why is that the most difficult thing?

Jose: Their, it is more difficult because their are many ways that they pass the people from the border of Mexico to the United States. They have many forms of how to bring people through. One of the ways that I had to go through was to step into the desert and walk.

Jimmy: Hm… Wow, in the desert?

Jose: Yes, yes, in the desert. More than that, it was night time.

Jimmy: Where did you guys sleep?

Jose: Um..

Jimmy: In the desert?

Jose: Wherever

Jimmy: Wherever?

Jose: Yeah, you had to seek a place

Jimmy: And what did you have, did you have your backpack, your

Jose: Yeah only

Jimmy: Water?

Jose: A backpack, bread, and tuna, yeah.

Jimmy: And was was the group that you were with a large one?

Jose: Yeah we were like twenty-five people

Jimmy: All men, women, children?

Jose: No, there were women, yeah, how is that called, the majority were only men and like, like about six or eight women.

Jimmy: Were you guys all from El Salvador, or from other countries as well?

Jose: No no no, we were from all over the places

Jimmy: From all the places

Jose: This is the risk we take as immigrants to come here, because sometimes you do not know who you are with because they are bad people. They do not let themselves be seen and they are always armed. They are crossing the people, always armed and they are always talking. They speak to you in a strong manner, they are violent people you know, they are the type of people that want you to do this, if not, the one who wants to play smart, they will shoot a bullet towards you. They place a gun like this and they threaten you and they place fear within you. They place fear in you. Yes, yes they are bad people.

Jimmy: Wow, could you describe to me the moment when you were in the desert. How was it like? How did you feel?

Jose: Um, um, well I felt distressed because

Jimmy: Hm.

Jose: Because they make you go into the desert and you don’t know what will happen in their once inside. The immigration is their and you are always scared because you are hoping that they find you or get you and the only thing you want is to cross and arrive, you know.

Jimmy: Wow

Jose: So, you go with that mentality, but like I told you, I was in a group of twenty five people and in the end only thirteen of us went through.

Jimmy: Only thirteen?!

Jose: Only thirteen.

Jimmy: What happened to the twelve that did not go through?

Jose: Um, the rest of the group, some couldn’t endure because for three days, we were walking in the desert.

Jimmy: Three days in the desert

Jose: Three days inside the desert.

Jimmy: And

Jose: And many couldn’t resist, some stayed and others were caught by immigration because sometimes they see immigration and start running. You know in their, there is only luck you know.

Jimmy: So, those who stayed behind, did they stay with someone, or?

Jose: They stayed by themselves.

Jimmy: Alone

Jose: Alone, depending on luck. So that immigration may get them.

Jimmy: Because the coyote had to keep moving forward?

Jose: No, the coyote does not enter the desert, only those who work with the Cartel

Jimmy: Oh no, ah.

Jose: [Laughs] Those are other people, you know, the coyote that one decided to pay only takes you to the border of Mexico. From their, you are now a part of the Cartel. The Cartel begin to work with you.

Jimmy: Okay now that you are in the United States, what is something that you miss the most from El Salvador? Or do you miss it or no?

Jose: Hm… Well, the rest of my family I do, I do miss that, the food, and the style of life that one has over their, you now, because I think that life over here is more stressful, more fast

Jimmy: More fast

Jose: The people here never, they are always busy. Their is no sensation of being relaxed without having to worry. That is what I miss the most from my country, and that you have your own house over their

Jimmy: In your country?

Jose: Yes, that is what I miss the most, you have your own house and you do not have to worry about rent, you only worry about food and clothing.

Jimmy: Do you plan on returning to El Salvador, and why?

Jose: Yes, I would like to return to El Salvador. Um, yeah because it would be a good experience to return to the place where one was born and raised.

Jimmy: Would you go back to live their or simply visit?

Jose: Um, no, well I don’t know

Jimmy: You don’t know

Jose: I don’t know, I do not have an answer to that question right now in this moment.

Jimmy: Now, now, when you first arrived to the United States, you were sixteen years old. What were you thinking? Did you think of working? Did you want to study? What were your plans?

Jose: Um, yes, well in that moment, I the thought of continuing to study,

Jimmy: Of studying, you wanted to keep on studying?

Jose: Yes, I wanted to keep on studying.

Jimmy: What did you want to do with your studying? Did you want to become a lawyer, a doctor?

Jose: Um…

Jimmy: Teacher?

Jose: I wanted to be a history teacher, yeah

Jimmy: History Teacher

Jose: Yes, yeah that was my dream, to become a professor of social studies, or history

Jimmy: Why? Have you always liked those subjects?
Jose: Yes, I have liked them. I like to teach the things of the past and things like that.

Jimmy: I understand. So, when you first came, you enrolled in school?

Jose: Yes, thank God my mom gave me the opportunity to go and study.

Jimmy: You went to study?

Jose: Yes, I went to school for four years.

Jimmy: So, you went to high school, got your diploma

Jose: Yes, I graduated from high school

Jimmy: And did you continue by going to a university?

Jose: Um, no, due to my social status, well I couldn’t continue. It was very difficult. Well, yes there were options to continue, but, well, I felt a little depressed because I had a dream to continue studying. But when I tried to apply for a university.

Jimmy: Uh huh

Jose: And then, when I realized the costs, it was disappointing. I did not want to continue and instead I opted out and began to work.

Jimmy: So, it was the money that stopped you?

Jose: Yes, it was the money that stopped me from continuing to study. There were options, like borrowing money, but I did not like it, because this is a great country, and for them to not help you and your studies

Jimmy: You had been disappointed

Jose: Seemed like garbage to me.

Jimmy: Wow

Jose: More money is spent in other things and in education, never. Here they never, in fact I think that the government wants to make business from us, you know. Well, well, for someone who comes as an immigrant to this country and wants to continues his or her studies, it is no easy task. Which is why to those who have arrived here and do not have papers or anything, and have been able to overcome through their studies, I congratulate them. Because I think it is not something easy, you know.

Jimmy: I understand

Jose: If they, uh, the people that are born here, you know, don’t do much, but a person who comes here without any documents and achieves to have graduated from a university from here in the United States, they do five times the work than someone that was born here, you know.

Jimmy: Due to their obstacles, wow.

Jose: Yes, you know.

Jimmy: Due to their present status.

Jose: Uh-huh, yes, if you do one percent, they have to do ten times more than you, and it is not something easy to do.

Start at 16min 15sec talks about if they taught about the war in schools

Jimmy: When you were in school, over their in El Salvador, did they teach you guys about why their was so much war?

Jose: What?

Jimmy: Did they teach you guys when you were studying, why their was so much war, a lot of violence in El Salvador or?

Jose: If they taught these things in school?

Jimmy: Yes

Jose: Um, well, they really didn’t teach about that. Well in regards to the war, they did teach us about the war, it’s motives and all of that, but well it wasn’t that important.

Jimmy: Yes, yes

Jose: Well, in school they taught what was supposed to be taught you know, the normal.

Jimmy: The normal

Jose: Like here

Jimmy: Yes

Jose: Like here, well they would teach about it like a topic to discuss about, I don’t know, for maybe about six weeks and that’s it, you know.

Jimmy: That’s it

Jose: They talk about the civil war, and the independence of the United States more than anything. In regards to recent wars, they don’t say much.

Jimmy: I understand, and

Jose: It wouldn’t benefit them [laughs]

Jimmy: It wouldn’t benefit them, oh man. [laughs]

Jimmy: So, what do you think about the situation right now, in regards to immigration? The opportunities that the people have when they are here? Do you think they come to a country, where for them it is something or a place where they can succeed, are their to many limitations, what do you think about that?

Jose: Okay yes, I think that coming here as an immigrant to this country, their are many limitations for us.

Jimmy: Like which ones?

Jose: Um okay, you know that by not having a social security it is very difficult to find a good job. Um, you do not have many privileges like being able to get a licence or the ability to travel freely, you know without fear. It is very difficult you know, in fact to even rent a place to live, you sometimes even need papers

Jimmy: Wow

Jose: If you do not have a number, no one wants to give you a place to rent to your name. You always want to give rent to someone who has papers. You know.

Jimmy: Prior to coming

Jose: Many things

Jimmy: Prior to coming to the United States, did you think that this was how it was going to be?

Jose: No no.

Jimmy: Or did you think.

Jose: No no, I had never imagined that. I had imagined many things of how it was going to be here, for example, I thought that I was going to have a house,

Jimmy: Ah

Jose: You know that having a house, it is no easy task you know, to be a proprietary of house. So, okay that is how I thought, I had expected that

Jimmy: You were going to be able to buy your own house

Jose: That I was going to have my house, my room, my garage and everything, you know. Not to have to pay so much money for rent and all of that. I had never imagined the high cost of living here.

Jimmy: Wow, and when you first came to the United States, or when you had finished studying better said, um, where did you begin to work?

Jose: Um well, I began to seek work and in whatever you know

Jimmy: In whatever

Jose: I did not have a specific field that I wanted to work in. I only wanted to work, but just didn’t know where.

Jimmy: And

Jose: The idea was to start making money

Jimmy: Money?

Jose: Yeah

Jimmy: Um, with the money that you earned, did you send part of it to El Salvador?

Jose: Well, well, I have never helped anyone from my country because, mhm, in reality they are all doing okay. They are poor you know, but they are living, they work and all and they have enough to manage, you know.

Jimmy: And when you first started working, did your employers treat you with, let’s say kindliness?

Jose: No, when you are an immigrant, all the jobs know that you do not have a good social, so because they know, they always take advantage of you, you know.

Jimmy: Always

Jose: In one way or another they always pressure you

Jimmy: The employers?

Jose: So that you can give the maximum, so that you can keep your job, you know. That will always remain

Jimmy: And the immigrant cannot do anything?

Jose: Well, yes yes, here you are able to complain and all of that, but what’s the point

Jimmy: Maybe because they will not listen to you

Jose: Um yes that is what I think, nothing will happen, it is not even worth it

Jimmy: Simply because one does not have the papers

Jose: Yeah exactly, there isn’t much

Jimmy: Respect?
Jose: Yeah yes, the people do not respect you and so they always want to take advantage of you because of the status you possess. Even though it is not directly right, they will not tell you this directly, but their is always the sensation that someone who is working their legally, will get treated better than someone who does not have, you know.

Jimmy: Does not have

Jose: And they will want for the one that does not have to work more than the one who does have, you know, the one who has papers. The one who is legal and the one who is illegal, there will always be a difference their.

Jimmy: A difference

Jose: Yes

Jimmy: Wow, wow

Jose: But that is how life is you know

Jimmy: Here in the United States

Jose: Yes, but I do not get weary

Jimmy: You do not get weary

Jose: But that is how life is, and when life is like this, you have to learn to adapt to how it is, you do not want to step out of the norm.

Jimmy: Of course, of course

Jose: Exactly, well that is one what has, no choice. It is like one is in life, but it’s okay nothing happens.

Jimmy: Yes yes, I understand.

Jose: Yeah

Jimmy: So, now that you are here, you have been here for twelve years I believe

Jose: Uh-huh

Jimmy: No, yes twelve years here in the United States, um have you had the opportunity of becoming a citizen?

Jose: Well, okay I have tried, well, because I am married to an American you know,

Jimmy: An American

Jose: My wife is American and she has an American passport. I am trying to see if she can ask for me, I am trying to see how I can solve my status in this country and I hope to one day achieve it you know.

Jimmy: Yes, is the process difficult?

Jose: Yes, the process is difficult, due to the way that I came to this country, because those who enter through plane legally, for them it is more easy. However, for those who come through land, if their is no law to protect one

Jimmy: It is very difficult

Jose: It is very difficult, yeah

Jimmy: Wow and so now you have a wife?

Jose: Unless their is an amnesty [laughs]

Jimmy: An amnesty [laughs] yes yes, 1983 I believe their was an amnesty

Jose: Yes their was one in 1999

Jimmy: Uh-huh and

Jose: But since then there has not been any

Jimmy: Now you have a family, do you have any children, boys or girls?

Jose: Yes I have a daughter

Jimmy: A daughter

Jose: And I have a wife

Jimmy: A wife, wow. So now you tend to them, you help them?

Jose: Yes normal, yes, of course, like any other family.

Jimmy: Like any other family

Jose: When you form a home, you have to do what the man has to do, you know.

Jimmy: Of course [laughs]

Jose: [laughs] You are the man of the house, of course, family is family you know.

Jimmy: And your daughter was born here, right?

Jose: What?

Jimmy: Your daughter was born here in the United States?

Jose: Yes

Jimmy: Yes, she has papers?

Jose: Yes she does

Jimmy: Do you think that she will have better opportunities than let’s say that you had when you were growing up?

Jose: Yes of course

Jimmy: Of course

Jose: Yes, of course, I hope she takes advantage of them, yeah.

Jimmy: If you were in, or had you not came over here where do you think you would be in El Salvador?

Jose: Um, okay, perhaps I would be working with my dad

Jimmy: Oh, your father is in El Salvador?

Jose: Yes, my father is in El Salvador

Jimmy: In El Salvador

Jose: Uh-huh, I think that I would have been working with my father

Jimmy: Ahh I understand

Jose: In the company that he works

Jimmy: Ah, and do you miss your father?

Jose: Yes

Jimmy: Yes, a lot?

Jose: It was with him that I was grew up with.

Jimmy: You grew up with him, of course because your mother was here in the United States

Jose: Uh-huh

Jimmy: Oh wow, do you still keep in touch with him?

Jose: Yes

Jimmy: Yes

Jose: I speak with him every now and then

Jimmy: Would you like to bring him here one day or maybe he doesn’t want to come?

Jose: Um, or go and visit him or bring him here, but he does not want to travel here.

Jimmy: He does not want to come here

Jose: No he doesn’t

Jimmy: He doesn’t

Jose: He’s okay over there [laughs]

Jimmy: He’s okay over their?

Jose: Yeah

Jimmy: Oh okay, that’s good

Jose: He feels good being over their

Jimmy: Yes yes, and now talk to me about your future? About your, your dreams? I know that you work, but what are your goals now? You now have your family

Jose: Okay, um,

Jimmy: Where do you see yourself ten years from now or something like that?

Jose: Okay yes, maybe, well, um,

Jimmy: What are your dreams, maybe getting those papers?

Jose: Yes, my dream is to get something at least to change my immigration status you know, and then I don’t know, seek a better job.

Jimmy: So,

Jose: Something better you know

Jimmy: Once you get that status changed, you can, say

Jose: There are more opportunities for you

Jimmy: More opportunities?

Jose: Yes, logically of course. Maybe I won’t be able to find them fast or something like that, it may take time, but it is something that you are sure of, finding better opportunities work wise, maybe better respect, you know. In some places they ask you for a type of identification and the only thing that one has is a passport, you know.

Jimmy: Uh-huh

Jose: And the people look at you weird because that is the only thing you have

Jimmy: Yes

Jose: So, maybe some more respect in that form you know, because it is not the same to show a passport as opposed to show some form of identification from this country of yours.

Jimmy: What would it mean for you to have those type of papers?

Jose: Um

Jimmy: Of being a citizen, what would that mean to you?

Jose: Oh yeah, it would mean a lot for me, of course.

Jimmy: How would you feel?

Jose: A lot because, well because of course your life would improve, you know. It is something that, when something improves your life, it becomes very significant, you know.

Jimmy: Of course

Jose: It is something that is very important

Jimmy: So, that is something you see in the future?

Jose: Yes

Jimmy: Envisioning yourself a citizen of this country, of the United States

Jose: Yes, but you know, I think like that, but, and I want to keep on thinking like that.

Jimmy: Yes

Jose: I don’t think that I am a bad person. Many people are immigrants, and they give them their papers and everything, but many of them do not take advantage of that opportunity that they have, and are doing bad things, you know.

Jimmy: Oh do you know people that

Jose: No, it is not that I know them, but those types of cases sometimes happen you know.

Jimmy: Mhm, and you wish that

Jose: Maybe they don’t want to work anymore because they now have their number and they want the government to tend to them.

Jimmy: Wow

Jose: Disability and all of that, you know.

Jimmy: It is not good

Jose: Yeah, makes the Hispanic community look bad, you know

Jimmy: Yes, yes, mhm, so,

Jose: But anyways, that is the way it is

Jimmy: And how are you doing right now, presently?

Jose: Good thank God, what mostly interests me is to have health and work. Right now I am healthy and have work, so I feel good.

Jimmy: You feel good

Jose: Yes

Jimmy: How good, how good, do you work everyday or do you have?

Jose: No, I only work a part time, yeah

Jimmy: Oh okay

Jose: I earn enough for my expenses, it’s sufficient, even to put some in savings

Jimmy: And the good thing is that you know both languages, English and Spanish?

Jose: More or less yeah

Jimmy: Yeah

Jose: I understand enough to speak it a little.

Jimmy: Yeah, yeah, um do you think that you are living the American Dream right now?

Jose: Um…

Jimmy: Or for you, what is the American dream [laughs]

Jose: [laughs] Tell you the truth, I do not think their such a thing as the American Dream

Jimmy: [laughs] That does not exist

Jose: [laughs] That does not exist [Laughing] The American Dream, you yourself are the creator of that.

Jimmy: Yeah [laughs]

Jose: There is no American Dream

Jimmy: What do you think when you hear that?

Jose: What would the American Dream be for you?

Jimmy: To have a house, a family, working, to have an education.

Jose: Ah okay, well, okay that’s good

Jimmy: For you, what would the American dream be?

Jose: There is none [laughs]

Jimmy: None

Jose: For me their is no American Dream

Jimmy: And in El Salvador, did they talk a lot about that?

Jose: Yes, but they are only sayings

Jimmy: They are fantasies, it is not real

Jose: Fantasies, yeah

Jimmy: Because once you are here it is a whole different story?

Jose: Yeah, exactly, they don’t know [laughs] But yes, like I have told you, if someone comes with a positive mind, and the mentality of overcoming, that is all one needs.

Jimmy: So, you are not regretful for coming over here to the United States to live your life?

Jose: No, I do not regret it

Jimmy: You do not regret it

Jose: Because I am better here

Jimmy: As opposed to being in El Salvador

Jose: Yeah, in El Salvador, my life would be much more difficult in El Salvador than here [laughs] Even if I am working

Jimmy: Even though you feel the pressure

Jose: Even if I am working the most difficult jobs, to say it like that

Jimmy: Uh-huh

Jose: But even then, I would be better off here than if I were still over their

Jimmy: Uh-huh

Jose: Even though I am doing that job

Jimmy: Yeah yeah

Jose: Yeah [laughs] that’s the truth

Jimmy: Even though, like you had mentioned earlier that over here, you are under a lot of pressure, and life is fast, but even though that accompanies life here, it is still worth it?

Jose: Yes, it is still worth it because over their, well, like say you have a family and all of that, you have to go work in order to bring food to your home. Over their, there isn’t much work and if there is work over their, it is very heavy and the pay isn’t enough.

Jimmy: It’s not enough

Jose: Yeah, and you work like an animal.

Jimmy: Like an animal. Did you work when you were in El Salvador?

Jose: No I never worked their

Jimmy: Never, how good

Jose: Yeah, but my father taught me how to do things, how to work and all of that. To not be lazy.

Jimmy: Lazy yeah, yeah, I don’t think their are a lot of lazy people over their in Central America?

Jose: No

Jimmy: Everyone knows how to work

Jose: Knows how to work, they can adapt to any type of job, you know.

Jimmy: Yeah

Jose: They push forward

Jimmy: Yeah

Jose: [laughs] Those who are born here right,

Jimmy: [laughs] Are lazy?

Jose: They haven’t experienced anything. A small type of job

Jimmy: [laughs]

Jose: [laughs] Right? They, they don’t know that in other places, life is way worse.

Jimmy: Yeah, yeah

Jose: They don’t appreciate it

Jimmy: Yeah, yeah

Jose: Yeah oh well, changing subject

Jimmy: Perfect, perfect, okay, um, uh, right I don’t know if you mentioned your name [laughs] but introduce yourself

Jose: Okay, my name is Jose, Jose Izaguirre and I am Salvadorian

Jimmy: And proud? [laughs]

Jose: [laughs] And proud, and yeah

Jimmy: Well,

Jose: Yeah, I will never forget, I am proud of where I come from

Jimmy: Of course, of course. Thank you very much Jose, it was a pleasure to know more about your story, your dreams, your present, of what you overcame in order to come to this nation

Jose: Uh-huh

Jimmy: And I appreciate your time, I wish you

Jose: Yeah, your welcome

Jimmy: I wish you a good future, to keep moving forward with your family and yeah

Jose: Thank you, you too, that you may graduate, move forward in your studies and represent the Hispanic community

Jimmy: [laughs] Come on! Thank you, thank you, okay.


Between Worlds

Between Worlds

by Ara Avedian, June 2016

Many immigrants suffer the consequences of not being accepted in the United States. Johnny Hernandez, of Salvadoran and Honduran descent, is just one more example of how immigrants, and children of immigrants, struggle with the social differences in the United States. I met Johnny when I started studying at the City College of San Francisco in the fall of 2015, and since then we’ve become good friends. Having two separate cultural identities made Johnny create a distinct differentiation between his “home,” which is the Latino community, where he feels stable and accepted, and his “physical home,” which is the United States. Johnny also expresses his feelings through music by being part of the composition of his song.

     Johnny Anthony Hernandez, also named “Pingo,” was born in Los Angeles, California, but with Honduran and Salvadoran origins. His immersion into his Central American culture seems inevitable to him since he expresses it in every part of his life. At one point in his childhood, Johnny went to live to Honduras for around three years. He was taken cared by his grandmother and got to experience his Latino culture directly, but temporarily. Then, he got back to the United States without a problem since he had legal U.S. documentation. He didn’t have a lot of relatives in the United States but his parents and some of his siblings. However, he managed to get involved in the Latino community and create more connections. He has the unique experience of having and understanding a mixed culture. He is currently living in San Francisco, CA and studying at City College of San Francisco, majoring in chemistry.

Johnny’s perspective of home and self has been affected by his experiences of finding comfortability, acceptance, integration and stability within each cultural identity. He says that his perspective of home is where his family is. Johnny thinks his home is, in part, the place where he was born, which is the United States; however, he feels that the major way of belonging to a place is defined by his main culture, which, he says, is mostly Honduran. He went to Honduras when he was a child, so he got to experience his Latino culture from his family’s view. He says, “Sometimes I identify with LA since that was where I was born, but being or spending a couple years in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, made me feel like my place of nationality was Honduran.” Besides being immersed in his family culture, the fact that he got to go to Honduras made himself feel identified from a more general perspective by being exposed to a larger Honduran community, making him feel part of a bigger Latino society. On the other hand, Johnny calls the United States his physical home because it is the place where he is currently and physically living. Johnny has lived in the United States most of his life. There seems to be a feeling of denial of his American identity. He says: “I will feel part of the American society until they totally accept me in the American society.” Even though the U.S. proclaims equality, the inferior treatment of immigrants is always present. Norman Matloff, a statistics professor and former Chair of the Affirmative Action Committee at UC Davis says: “there is a general (though sometimes unconscious) treatment of minorities as forming a kind of hierarchy, with immigrants occupying a higher position than blacks, and within the immigrant category Asians occupying a higher position than Latinos” (“The Adverse Impacts of Immigration on Minorities”). Johnny feels that there is a hierarchy in the American society that creates differences between himself and people of other races within the United States. Therefore, this makes Johnny not proud to be American. He calls the United States his “physical home” to connote that it is not as meaningful as his Honduran “home,” in which he feels equally accepted.

However, Johnny can find the richness of his American culture in the value and importance of education, his perspective conveyed through his mother’s American culture. Johnny’s father lived a big part of his life in Honduras before coming to the U.S. in search of opportunity. His education was very poor. He never graduated from elementary school in Honduras.  On the other hand, Johnny’s mother came to the U.S. when she was fifteen years old. She has attempted to earn her GED. Even though she hasn’t received it, she still has an educational background. As she was able to experience being in the United States and since she has received an American education, Johnny’s mom is conscious of the importance of education in the United States and encourages and supports her son’s academic career. Johnny says, “She knows that working hard [and] getting your bachelors is the only way to succeed here in the United States.” Johnny’s mother seems to be more supportive and encouraging of her son’s education as she understands how important an educational degree (especially a college degree) can be right now in the United States. His father, on the contrary, doesn’t really seem to value the importance of college education and believes that, nowadays, in order to gain an economically and generally stable future, Johnny should drop school and go get a job. Donald J. Hernandez talks about how children of immigrants are affected by parents with low-education levels in his article “Demographic Change and the Life Circumstances of Immigrant Families”: “For all of these reasons, among children generally, negative educational and employment outcomes have been found for children with low parental educational attainment.” Like Johnny says: “He is illiterate in Spanish as well as in English, so he doesn’t really understand the difference between good grades and bad grades,” and this provokes Johnny to feel discouraged in school. “Immigrant families also face many challenges, and their children often must navigate the difficult process of acculturation from a position of social disadvantage, with limited language skills and minimal family” (“Children of Immigrant Families: Analysis”). Johnny’s dad barely knows the language and has no positive influence on Johnny in his educational background. Johnny appreciates the value of his accessibility to American education and listens to his mom by continuing studying at college.

Johnny feels part of a mixed culture but yet doesn’t feel fully identified by one of them, making him create a rancor for the American culture.  He says: “The city has a weakened idea of community, acceptance and unity.” He feels discriminated against since he is stereotyped as abnormal. He says: “As an American I find that a home is somewhere where you have stability and comfortability.” However, he thinks other people see him as an “outcast.” He thinks that moving a lot within and out the United States has made him lose the possible connection he could have with Americans. He says: “It was hard for me to identify myself the way I wanted growing up. Moving through place to place made it difficult.” He doesn’t feel completely identified in a place. It’s a resentful feeling because he lives in a place where he can’t identify himself and people don’t let him feel identified either by not accepting him as an American, thanks to his ethnicity. Johnny’s little knowledge about his Salvadoran culture still affects him in a positive way by making him feel integrated to his identity. “The connection that I share with El Salvador’s community is that people are friendly and close-knit.” Also in the Honduran community, he feels “more celebratory; there is always a positive aspect, a positive attitude on life, because every moment has something to celebrate.” He finds that home for him is somewhere near family. Curiously, he also said that his household is where one has accessibility to alcohol: He argues: “Since alcohol is a strong expressive way of celebrating in Honduras, just as dancing, home is accessibility to music and alcohol.” He expresses this by dancing, drinking and celebrating positivity every weekend. The interesting thing is that he doesn’t drink when he has a problem or feels sad but when he feels happy, as with his Salvadoran family culture. As a Honduran, he feels happy to be in this country because they are away from the violence in Honduras. With the Salvadoran and Honduran cultures, he easily connects with his family; his family gives him stability and comfortability, and that makes him happy at the end of the day. He has social support from the Honduran/Salvadoran community. However, in America he has none of this, making him feel like an outcast and, therefore, making him feel resentful towards the United States.

The musical piece that I composed with the help of my friend Johnny Hernandez gives a better representation of what he is been through, according to him. As Johnny helped put thought and essence into the music, one can feel the way he is feeling in a more abstract way. There are four instruments used in this song: piano, piccolo, electric bass and a flute. I chose these instruments since these were the ones I felt relate to what Johnny tried to express. Besides, the four instruments have the potential to be used with a lot of “reverb,” which is an effect that (in this case) helps to bring out the melancholy and nostalgia that Johnny carries. The song in general has a classical touch but still follows the popular form or shape of the modern time. First, the piano surprises with three emotional chords in a descending sequence, which may represent the submission or tiredness caused by Johnny trying to accept the United States as his country. The abundant use of silences in the song acts as moments of relief to catch a breath after such intense emotions. It makes one want to hear more about it but the “climax” is not given just yet as it repeats the verse with the three chord sequence. The first chorus brings in a sweet flute, which blends perfectly with the emotion of the music. The pronounced vibrato of the flute in conjunction with the dynamics of volume in the music make the piece a little turbulent, as Johnny’s perception of home and self. With the same logic, there are times in the music when the tempo is unstable; the beat of the song seems to slow down and then catch up in order to create a certain tension and then release or satisfaction. In the second and last chorus of the piece, I decided not to include the flute as I thought that a leading melody would distract the purpose of the near ending of the song, which is to fade away. The subtle woodwind instrument, the piccolo, helps giving this feeling by having a really long fade in and fade out, which in other words mean: less attack and a longer release. Also, it has a very low pitch, which is unusual for a piccolo since it has the highest pitch range of all the recognized woodwind instruments. The last and the most expressive part (in my opinion) is the piano solo alongside the powerful bass, which serves as a climax to solve all the negative and sad feelings that once remained.

Johnny’s multidimensional perspective on home and self has a certain complexity yet beauty due to his diverse cultural background. Even though Johnny shows negative feelings about his American culture, he ultimately knows that the United States has influenced him in a good way as it has made him progress educationally and broadened his perception of his cultures. He knows it forms part of his identity and is grateful for its forming part of it. He is always going to be susceptible to a change or molding of personality based on his communication with the culture or society. He has recreated his own understanding of the American and the Honduran cultures as one.

Works Cited

Matloff, Norman. “The Adverse Impacts of Immigration on Minorities.” The Adverse Impacts of Immigration on Minorities. N.p., 5 Apr. 1995. Web. 23 May 2016

“Children of Immigrant Families: Analysis.” 14 (2004): 1-3. Web. 21 May 2016.

Tamer, Mary. “The Education of Immigrant Children.” Harvard Graduate School of Education. Usable Knowledge, 11 Dec. 2014. Web. 21 May 2016

Hernandez, Donald J. “Demographic Change and the Life Circumstances of Immigrant Families.” The Future of Children 14.2 (2004): 16. Web. 20 May 2016.


Sample Transcriptions

Ara-Hello my name is Ara, what is your name?

Johnny-My name is Johnny Anthony Hernandez

A-Cool, do you have an alias or nickname?

J-Yeah, at home and with close friends I go by “Pingo”

A-Interesting. What does it mean?

J-Actually Pingo doesn’t really have a significance in Spanish but it’s short for Domingo, the day I was born.

A-Great. So, can you tell a little bit about yourself?

J-Well, I was born in Los Angeles, CA. I wasn’t raised there for very long, I only stayed there for a few months until I was taken as an infant to Honduras in San Pedro, for a few months.

A-Interesting, so where do you identify yourself with?

J-Well, like I said, I was born in Los Angeles and lots of times many people would ask me questions like: where are you from? My only answer could be… where do I feel comfortable with and what city do I feel like I was raised in the most. I didn’t stay in LA for very long but I feel sometimes I identify with LA since that was where I was born. But, being or spending a couple years in San Pedro, Sula, Honduras, sometimes I would say my place of nationality is Honduran. Although my mother was born in el Salvador I can also say that I identify with my Salvadorian culture.

A-So you would say that you are like half Honduran, half Salvadorian?


A-Okay, so what do you remember of your stay in L.A.?

J-So, what I remember of LA is not a lot, but I did go to elementary school from Kinder garden up until the fourth grade and the I abruptly moved with my family around the age of 9 to Arizona , I spent about 4 years there, and then, we came back to LA around middle school, in my eighth grade, right before graduation, and I went to a community school which was a community mostly of Latino. So around that time, I got to experience the city a little bit more, independence, going out with friends , that kind of stuff.

A-Cool, so what about Salvador, have you ever been there?

J-No. I have only visited Honduras. The last time I visited Honduras I was about 4 years old, and then I came back here at 5 but I really never had a lot of cultural information about El Salvador because the last time my mom visited el Salvador, when she was 15, I just never had that much information about el Salvador since my mom didn’t talk about it very much.

A-Cool, so now that we are talking about your parents, why don’t you talk a little bit about their attitude and education.

So my father education is something unusual cause he never graduated from the second grade so he doesn’t have much of learning experience and background, he is illiterate in Spanish as well as in English , so he doesn’t really understand the difference between good grades and bad grades. on the other hand, my mother tries to push me a little bit harder than my father because she has experience with her GED , even though she never got it, but she tried and that sorta thing. And she knows that working hard, getting your bachelors is the only way to succeed here in the united states.

Interesting, so what would you consider your family’s culture in general? Because you said your mom has been living here since she was fifteen, and your dad came around the same age.

So my parents never really took the advantage of learning English as they should have so they speak mostly Spanish at home, its more of a Honduran cultural background at home because as I said my mother doesn’t have a lot of really fun memories of el Salvador, so we don’t really talk much about that side of the culture. Most of the memories that she has of el Salvador was the abuse that she received as a little girl, by her grandmother who she thought I was her actual mother.

So how do you think your family has influenced you culturally?

My mother seems to have a very good work ethic, she knows that working and having a job is partly the only thing that helps you succeed is not only about having a title but also about benig a hard worker , she got that from her mother who happens to be a hard worker as well. That’s something that I see as a positive influence from my mother ; working diligently.

What’s your childhood view with your parents once you are in the united states of course.

Well, I never had fun memories about my childhood, I suppressed a lot of them, but from what I hear from my mother is that I had , everything and everything that I ever wanted, but I was lonely as a kid since my momma was at work, even if I had toys id be playing by myself not with any friends.

Do you plan visit Honduras or el Salvador and what for?

I plan to visit Honduras soon when I get into some cash because I haven’t been there in a while and It would be nice to see my grandparents not when they come and visit me but me going there. Yeah, when I visit Honduras or El Salvador I would like to stay for two months and visit las Islas de la Bahias or el Canton .

Okay. changing of subject, what is your music taste?

I really like listening to bachata and punta because people listen to that there.

Alright what about your taste in food?

Food, mm I really love baleadas.

What American influences have you received while living here?

American, nothing. Most of my American influences are those that I received while in the public school system because I spent more time at home than I did at school. English, it’s a language that I spoke only at school and not at home.

What do you consider it is to have fun?

I like swimming, I’ve always liked swimming. When I was younger I used to have a pool in my backyard. We used to have a lot of pool parties with my family.

So you think you got that liking of swimming since it was a good memory from your childhood?


Okay, something else that you like a lot?

Also, I love reading and as a child I read a lot of harry potter books, series books, mystery novels. I really like reading on my free time. Recently I read harry potter and the prisoner of Azkaban but I read it in Spanish because I thought that I’d like to practice my grammar and that sort of thing in Spanish , and it went pretty well, I enjoyed the book a lot, even though it was Spanish more traditional from Spain so it was hard to understand some of the words.

I see, Cool. So how do you see yourself in 2 years from now?

Well I see my self still studying   here at CCSF

What about in 10 years?

In ten years, hopefully ill be getting my titles in patent law, which I know it sounds weird and all but chemistry and law are just two subjects that mean a lot to me and I really like chemistry.

Where are you planning to practice it?

I plan to practice this hopefully here in California, I’ve already started looking at some grad schools like UC Berkeley. Hopefully, someday I can be able to be back to LA and get closer to my Salvadorian family.

You have family in LA ah?

Yes, I have tons of family in LA.

So you see yourself in the future in LA with your family..

Yes. I plan to buy my first home in LA hopefully, getting a little bit closer to my family.




I Left on My Birthday


I Left on My Birthday

by Oscar Garcia, February 2016

Poverty is a factor that forces many people around the world to leave their countries of origin to better their families’ economic outcomes. Some people risk the lives of their siblings and other members of their families. Today, many Central American children are forced to leave their countries of origin to help their families. Some parents know that their children might not make the journey, but still choose to let their children make the unpredictable journey to the US, and some of the consequences can be as bad as losing their lives–rape, exploitation, and/or possible deportation from Mexico or the US. A song by Rumel Fuentes, translated to English, sings, “through my [mother] I’m [Guatemalan] by destiny I’m American…both countries are home…” Although Henry states that he decided to make the journey, he is one those children who was forced to leave his family, to become a man at an early age, and his concept of home is his family.

The Salvadoran Civil War forced hundreds of thousands of people to migrate to different countries throughout Central America. Guatemala was one of those countries to which Salvadorans fled. Guatemala had its own civil war beginning in the early 1980s and lasting through the late 1990s; members of Henry’s family were among the many Salvadorans who migrated to Guatemala. Henry’s father passed away when he was two, leaving his mother to raise him and his two siblings. His mother earned a living by buying and reselling bread. At fourteen, Henry began to feel guilty and noticed that his mother was getting tired because she was caring for them alone after his father had passed away. Henry’s aunt had promised that she would help bring him to the US, but Henry would have had to make the trip without her or any other member of his family. Although Henry claims he chose to make the journey through Mexico and into the US, in truth he was forced to make the journey to the US. With his aunt’s help, he began the journey through Mexico to the US. Henry was afraid and nervous to make the journey, but he had no choice if he was to improve his family’s economic situation in Guatemala. Now twenty-two, Henry lives in San Francisco, CA, and attends San Francisco State University; he is studying to become a schoolteacher.

Poverty was the push factor that forced Henry to leave Guatemala. Henry, who lost his father at the age of two, was left fatherless and felt that he should be the man who provided for his mother and siblings because his mother could no longer care for her three children. As Henry was getting older, he began to see that his mother needed help, and Guatemala was not going to be the place where he would be able to provide for his mother and siblings. Moser quoted the PNUO that 80 to 90 percent live in poverty and 75 percent live in extreme poverty, unable to afford the basic foods in Guatemala (46). Guatemalans who live in this condition have no better option than to leave their country of origin and look for a better place to migrate, like the US. Paul R. Amato, in “The Impact of Family Change on the Cognitive, Social and Emotional Well-Being of the Next Generations,” concluded that single parents put their children at risk because of economic hardships, which can cause stress for the children. Henry was one those children and began to feel the impact of the economic hardship that his family faced; he stated that he wanted to come to the US to help his family. “I wanted to help my mother because it was [difficult] for my mother to support my sister, my brother and I,” said Henry. Economic hardship within his family began to accumulate more after they started to get older and Henry felt that it was his obligation to provide for his family.

Henry left his family and Guatemala; the arrangement to travel through Mexico was prepared and improvised. Smugglers need to be a few steps ahead of checkpoint agents so that immigrants could get to their final destination because Mexico can deport non-Mexican immigrants. “I left on my birthday,” said Henry. Henry did not know what the journey would be like and staying in Chiapas, Mexico for a few weeks helped him to pass through the checkpoints (Las Casetas); the plan was for him to stay in Mexico for a few weeks to learn the way Mexicans speak. In a book entitled Enrique’s Journey, journalist Sonia Nazario explains how checkpoint agents trick those they believe are immigrants from Central American by asking them questions and awaiting their response. Guatemalans use words like voz (you), sincho (belt) or chumpa (jacket), words of automatic deportation from Mexico, if they do not have the money to bribe them. Henry was picking up a few Mexican words, but was still afraid to speak because this might have made him forget what he needed to say when questioned. After a few weeks in Mexico, Henry’s smugglers got him a fake birth certificate with a name he does not remember anymore. Henry said that his skin complexion and facial characteristics made him appear as a Mexican from Chiapas and he resembled the person with whom he was traveling; he was advised that if caught he would have to say that he was traveling alone and wass going to visit his father. Audrey Singer and Douglas S. Massey have concluded that migrants “…on initial trips, crossing with either a paid (coyote) or unpaid (a friend or relative) guide dramatically lowers the odds of arrest; but on subsequent trips the mode of crossing has no effect on the odds of apprehension, which are determined primarily by the migrant’s own general and migration-specific human capital… (561-592). The odds of Henry crossing through Mexico with a coyote are improved, but there are coming checkpoints. After leaving Guatemala, Henry’s risks increased; most of Henry’s fears were cantered on what would happen if he was caught.

At the last caseta [checkpoint], thirty minutes into Sonora, the checkpoint agent called him out as Henry was boarding the bus. “I was the only one left behind,” Henry said. As he was re-boarding the bus, the checkpoint point agent called him out and asked him, “Donde vas?” [Where are you going?]. His fear was always about how to respond when questioned by any Mexican checkpoint agent. “Every thing went blank,” Henry thought. His mind went blank because he was afraid that he would speak like a Guatemalan and would be deported, although he was told that, if caught, he should give money to the checkpoint agent and maybe the bribe would buy his way from getting deported to Guatemala. “I remember the series of ‘El Chavo del Ocho’ [a Mexican TV show that began during the early 60s and still is played in Mexico]. I remember how the Chilindrina (one of the teen female actors of El Chavo del Ocho) called her dad ‘mi apa’ [my father], and Henry answered “Voy a ver a mi apa en Tijuana.” “I was afraid that my answer was not going to be enough, but the agent let me go,” Henry concluded. “We arrived around 2 AM in Sonara.” Henry said with pride that he had made it through the last Mexican checkpoint.

While in Sonora, the coyote begins to get him ready for the long walk. The smuggler lets Henry know that he needs to pack more water than food, and to mix the water with oatmeal: “it was nasty…but I won’t die, so I would be fine,” Henry said. Henry did not know how long the walk was going to take. To avoid migrants fearing dying in the desert, most times smugglers do not let them know the risks of the trip, especially crossing the Sonora Desert in Arizona. The average rate of walking depending on the terrain and people varies between three and four and a half miles per hour.   Henry claims he was walking about twelve hours per night with ten-minute breaks at times. The average hours at night in June were about twelve hours. “We did not know we [were] going to leave that day; [we] ate as much as we [could],” Henry added. Henry continues by saying that the smugglers fit twenty people into a Dodge Ram van. The van was going to take them as close as it could to the US boarder, and the rest of the journey was going to be on foot. They started to walk at nights through the desert. Some people argue that the reason the wall of the US boarder ends in part of the desert of Arizona is to deter migrants from crossing while others argue that only the strongest migrants might be able to make the journey “because of the utterly dangerous nature of trekking across the Sonoran Desert, especially in the summer months. Many of these unfortunate migrants succumb to the effects of heat-related illness and perish along the journey. The combined effects of a dry, hot environment and the remoteness of some of the trekking corridors can quickly render a deceased person unidentifiable by visual means,” Anderson concluded. Coyotes are known to let people die in the desert if they fall behind or lose their way. As soon their water runs out, so will their lives. Henry had this fear of dying in the desert and was the youngest in the group.

Henry says “my country” throughout the interview, but means his country of origin. His concept of home is not limited to Guatemala nor the US, though the US is giving him many opportunities for his upward mobility and here he has greater chances of improving than in Guatemala. He claims his home is his family. Henry left Guatemala because he was looking to better his home and to become a father, a father he did not have. Henry claims he might not go back to Guatemala and/or live in Guatemala even if he has the opportunity because his family is living in San Francisco with him. I can relate to Henry. We are both of us are from same trajectories; we left when we were fourteen years old. WWII veteran Irving Grover said, “It does not matter how old a man is, while dying (the wooden soldiers who were brought into the ship where he was a radioman) they called for their mothers.” A man’s mother is important no matter how old he is or what era they are living in. Henry makes that clear; even though at this time does not want to go back to Guatemala, he might change his point of view in the future. This happened to me because I felt anger towards Guatemala and its people. I went back a few times to Guatemala with my mother, but it does not feel like home anymore. Both Henry’s and my concept of home is our families, the identity where we live and how happy we are where we reside. If Henry or I, like any other migrants, would have the opportunities not to struggle with life basic needs in our country of origin and to able to live happily with our families, most of us would not have migrated to the US. My mother reminds me that she buried my umbilical cord in the corner of our home in Guatemala, but more than half of my life I have not lived in that house. At the same time, I am the only one who has lived with my mother of our family members. And maybe for many of us the concept of home might be the womb where we came from; after all, many of us make sacrifices so that we can be happy with our families. Henry missed his mother and felt he missed his country of origin as well, but since his mother arrived to San Francisco, he no longer misses her by being distant or Guatemala.

Many Central American parents, especially single parents, find it impossible to feed and shelter their families and often have no option but to allow their children make a journey that could bring them into the US or leave them in the desert to die. Once in another country where they might have a better chance, they can help their families. Poverty is of one the main factors that force many parents to let their children make this unknown journey to the US. If the journey is successful, the rest of the family will follow. An unaccompanied child who journeys to the US might face possible death, sex slavery, and exploitation, which are risks people in this situation take.

Works Cited

Amato, Paul R. “The Impact Of Family Formation Change On The Cognitive, Social, And Emotional Well-Being Of The Next Generation.” Future Of Children 15.2 (2005): 75-96. ERIC. Web. 17 Dec. 2015

Anderson, S. E. “Identifying the dead: methods utilized by the Pima County (Arizona) office of the medical examiner for undocumented border crossers: 2001-2006.” US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health: n. pag. NCIB. Web. 7 Dec. 2015. <;.

Grover, Irving. Personal interview. 9 June 2015. A World War II merchant Marine, formal radio operator who was let know how his life was during the war.

Nolastname, Henry. Personal interview. 1 Dec. 20015. An interview with an accompany minor migrant from Guatemala. Push factor of living his country of origin –poverty.

Nazario, Sonia. Enrique’s Journey: The Story of a Boy’s Dangerous Odyssey to Reunite with His Mother. New York: Random House, 2006.

Rogers, Ibram. “Deep Impact.” Diverse: Issues In Higher Education 27.8 (2010): 15-16. ERIC. Web. 1 Dec. 2015.

The Path to the United States


The Path to the United States 

by Luz Hernandez, December 2015

 El Salvador is one of many countries that suffer poverty and violence, and therefore many families supporting their children are forced to immigrate to different countries in order to have a better future. A few students from the International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC) at Harvard Law School wrote a research report called No Place to Hide, which discusses gangs, the state and clandestine violence in El Salvador. According to the IHRC, in El Salvador:

“Fifteen years after the civil war in El Salvador came to an end, violence and insecurity continue to shape the daily lives of many Salvadorians. El Salvador is one of the most violent countries in Latin America. Its homicide rate in 2005 stood at 55.5 per 100,000 residents_more than twice the average rate for the region.”

Sebastian is a child of eight who immigrated with his mother to the U.S four months ago. Having the opportunity to learn from Sebastian about their reasons for moving and the experience that he had to overcome in order to get here can change people’s perspectives about immigrants. The main purpose of this oral history is to educate people about the obstacles that many immigrants face in order to get here. Choosing to interview him was a great opportunity for me and inspiration for others, showing that even a boy who wasn’t old enough to be a teenager and who faced many obstacles is still alive and ready to start a new future. The path to the U.S. wasn’t easy for Regina (Sebastian’s mother) and Sebastian; the experiences that they went through, including murder, getting sick, and running from immigration have caused them enormous trauma. Despite of the entire trauma that the trip caused for Sebastian and Regina, they feel and believe that immigrating to the U.S. was worth it because now he has a more stable, safe place to live, which has opened new opportunities for him.

Immigrating to a new country is not easy for anybody, especially for children. Because of the lack of opportunities, many people, including children, are forced to immigrate to the United States looking for a better future. In the past months, we have seen a lot of news talking about the massive circumstances that immigrants’ children have to suffer in order to get to their destiny. Sebastian is a child of only eight who was forced with his mother Regina to immigrate to the United States because of the poverty and gang violence in their native country, El Salvador. In order to get to their destiny, they had to face many obstacles, especially Sebastian. Leaving his friends and family wasn’t easy for Sebastian, but he needed to follow his mother, who made the decision for him to move to a different country. For a child of only eight, Sebastian experienced difficult impediments, such as running from Immigration, being close to dying, living with trauma. Sebastian and his mother were captured by a Mexican cartel, and where things got extremely difficult for them. Sebastian was forced to kill other people in order to save his mother’s life. The difficulties and the inhuman obstacles that Sebastian faced didn’t take away his hope to succeed in this country. Sebastian wants to be a teacher in the school that he is attending right now. Even though now he is safe and has been able to succeed, he also sends a message to all those kids who immigrate every day to this country: “Don’t come, because you never know what can happen to you on the path to here. I don’t want anybody to have my own experience.” Sebastian is one of the few that survived the trip to come to the United States, but unfortunately not all people have the same story. Despite all that Sebastian and his mother suffer, they believe is was worth it because now they have a safe place and more opportunities to succeed.

The fear of dying because of gang violence and poverty in El Salvador caused Sebastian and his mother to leave their native country. El Salvador is one of many countries that suffer poverty and gang activity and Sebastian and his mother were victims. Because of the lack of opportunities in their country, many families decide to immigrate to the United States, where they can have a stable place to sleep at the least. “We didn’t have a stable place to live.” With a sad expression on his face, Sebastian mentions how hard it was for he and his mother to find a place to sleep while living in El Salvador. Poverty was not the only obstacle that pushed Regina to immigrate to the United States. There was also the situation of the gangs that El Salvador is suffering nowadays. “There was a lot of violence, there were deaths every day; I was scared for the life of my son” (Regina). There are two kinds of gangs in El Salvador, the Mara Salvatrucha and Mara 18. These two gangs are the main reason for the high crime rate in El Salvador, causing massive numbers of deaths, and causing children to lose their lives. For Regina, it was hard to live in this environment; therefore, they were often moving to different places to try to find a sanctuary. The fact that Sebastian didn’t have a stable home brought him difficulties going to school and making friends. “I have attended too many different schools. I lasted only ten days in each one.” When he finally got to know some friends he had to say goodbye to them because they moved every ten days to a different town. In other words, constant moving and violence, in addition to extreme poverty in El Salvador pushed Regina and Sebastian to immigrate to the United States.

The dangerous journey from El Salvador to Guatemala changed Sebastian’s life completely; he suffered from physical neglect and emotional trauma, which destroyed his childhood. Recently, radio and TV news shows have been covering how people suffer in order to get to the United States and some of these people don’t even make it. In order to cross the borders, people need to hire coyotes, who show them the route to get to the United States. There have been many cases in which coyotes take advantages of their authority by sexually abusing the people who are trying to get to the U.S. According to Sebastian, while he was on the way to the U.S., there were many women and a lot of children with them trying to immigrate. “There were around 26 people in the group.” In order to get to Guatemala, people need to cross a river and sometimes many people get stuck trying to cross it. According to Sebastian, “A child almost died trying to cross the river.” Sadly, Sebastian saw a child who almost died trying to cross that river and was agitated seeing his mother being forced by the coyotes to be naked in order to cross the river. He says, “My mom had to pay extra money because the coyotes wanted her to cross the river naked.” In the article called “When Immigration Is Trauma: Guidelines for the Individual and Family Clinician” analyzes the challenges that many immigrants face in order to get to the U.S and the trauma and stress they suffer after the trip. According to the article:

“We are now hearing, for example, especially from the southwestern United States, narratives of women who are crossing the borders from Central to North America unaccompanied by partners or families. Engaging ‘coyotes’ (illegal travel brokers) for passage, some have been subjected to months-long sexual assaults and forced labor, as forms of ‘added payment.’ before reaching their destinations.”

Money is all that is important for the coyotes, and if the people who immigrate don’t carry money, they have slimmer probabilities of getting to the U.S. After crossing the river, Sebastian talked about how he needed to carry a heavy backpack all day with cans of food and water. Coyotes force even children to carry their own food. Sebastian mentioned that they ran out of food and water. If was hard for them to continue walking without eating; he didn’t have energy. During the night, they slept in the woods, but Sebastian said that he was only able to sleep for a few hours because they needed to be awake just in case immigration captured them. These obstacles that Sebastian faced in order to get to Guatemala were just the beginning of his hazardous journey to the United States.

In crossing from Guatemala into Mexico, Sebastian and Regina perceived that the coyotes were putting their lives at risk by lying to them about the safety of the journey. One of the hardest parts of getting to the United Sates is crossing the border from Guatemala into Mexico. Sebastian was able to cross that line, but needed to pay a high price. Unfortunely, many people get lost in the desert and some people also die. For Sebastian and Regina, trusting the coyotes was the only means to get to the U.S. but what happened when the coyotes put in risk their lives staying in such a bad environment and running from immigration? Sebastian mentioned that they got lost many times: “I think the coyotes didn’t know the path.” Many coyotes, just for money, lie that they are experts in crossing people into the U.S. but there have been many cases like Sebastian’s in which they have left people behind or they haven’t even known how to get to the borders. Ruining from immigration in the middle of the woods is something that Sebastian remembers well. One night, they saw immigration approaching to them, so everybody separated and stared running. They were able to reunite with the coyotes after walking many miles alone. When they were able to cross into Mexico, the coyotes rented a Motel in Reynosa to stay there, but the conditions weren’t the best. Sebastian recalled, “The coyotes were always drunk so we couldn’t continue the trip to the U.S.” They stayed a month in the hotel. They were not the only ones in the hotel. Sebastian said that there were many people there and that the way they lived there was poor. “I slept on the floor with the rest of the people and my mom and there were animals like rats.” While they were sleeping on the floor in such as conditions, the coyotes had their own room. For a child of only eight, this must be traumatic and it’s sad knowing that this happens every day. Many immigrants put in risk their own health and lives at risk by trusting the coyotes, who promise them a safety trip.

Being captured by a Mexican cartel in Reynosa, which put him in a really harmful environment, was the most traumatic experience that Sebastian went through. Because of the cartels in Mexico, the country has become one of the most dangerous; there is a lot of crime every day, which Sebastian and his mother experienced. The Mexican cartels are a powerful group of people that control some parts of Mexico by violence and extortion. They are known as the most dangerous people of the region. Both Sebastian and his mother experienced the terror of a Mexican cartel in Reynosa. According to Sebastian, “They got us, I saw the cartel hitting other people because they didn’t want to go with them.” “I cried and I was calling for my mom.” This is how the most horrible experience started for Sebastian. He doesn’t remember where the cartel brought them, he just remembers that it was a small room with many people. He remembers that the people there were skinny, that they may have been there for a long time. He also said that it was hard to breathe because it was small and the doors and windows were closed. Being in that situation was hard for Sebastian and the other people asking for help. “People were screaming for help but the coyotes punished them by hitting them in the face.” The only option for them was to be quiet and wait for what the cartel wanted from them. Because of these conditions, Sebastian got sick. They only gave them food to eat one time per day, and only tacos, bad food. Also, Sebastian mentioned that the cartel smoked a lot of marihuana and he got asthma from smelling all the smoke. Sebastian doesn’t remember how many days or months he was captured, but while there he had to do horrible things in order to survive. In other words, being in such a horrible environment could have caused Sebastian long term health problems.

Facing the dilemma of saving the life of his mother, Sebastian had to take others people lives, which has caused him life-long trauma: “One day the cartel brought a real gun and they gave it to me and told me to kill a person that they captured.” The cartel forced Sebastian to kill a person, telling him that if he didn’t want to do it, they would kill his mother. Sebastian was in the middle of a dilemma between knowing what was right and what was wrong but also had to think about saving his mother’s life. Can you imagine a child of eight years being forced to have a gun in his hand and kill a person instead of being in school and enjoying his childhood? For Sebastian, to say no to the cartel would have been hard because he loves his mother and basically he didn’t have another option than to kill that person. According to Sebastian, the cartel told him that the person that he was about to kill was a bad person but he didn’t know exactly if that was true or the cartel just told that to him so it was easy for him to kill him. “I was scared, and I didn’t want to do that, I felt bad.” After Sebastian was forced to commit this horribly inhumane cruelty, the cartel wanted him to be part of their group. They were training him to be a killer like them. The cartel contacted Regina’s boyfriend in the US, and asked him for money in order to free Sebastian and his mother. Fortunately, he paid the price and the cartel let them free. They went to Immigration and told them all what had happened. Even though Sebastian was rescued from the hands of the cartel, he has to carry the death of the person that he killed for the rest of his life, which has led him to a long life of emotional trauma.

In spite of all that Sebastian and his mother went through in order to get to the United States and the long-term trauma that Sebastian may be facing right now, Sebastian still feels and believes that it was worth it to come because now he has a safe and stable place to live and a better life. After facing inhumane abuses, Sebastian and his mother were able to get to the United States and start a new life, trying to overcome all that happened to them on the path to get to the U.S. Luckily, Sebastian and his mother now are in the U.S. trying to learn English and to be part of the U.S culture. Sebastian is a child with ambitions and dreams, and even though he is a child, he knows what he wants for the future. Sebastian states, “I want to be a teacher in the same school that I’m going to right now.” Sebastian is going to a school in Hayward at a school called Palmasia to learn English. He mentioned that he sometimes feels out of the place being in a classroom that doesn’t speak his language but he feels optimistic that he will learn the language quickly. “I feel a little uncomfortable when my friends speak English and I don’t know what they are saying, but I am going to an after school program to learn more English.” In spite of all that has happened to him, I see Sebastian as happy to be here. One of the questions that I asked him at the end was where home is for him, and he didn’t have a problem answering. He said that even though he misses his friends and his grandmother, he considers home here in the U.S. He says, “Here I sleep in a room with my mom, I don’t have my own room but we are together and I don’t want to come back to El Salvador and have the same life as we did before.” Having a secure place to live where he can grow up as a child is the reward for Sebastian of being in the U.S.

Despite all that Sebastian and his mother have faced I can see how happy they are and believe that all that they they went through in order to get here is paying off, because they are living in a more secure country and both of them have big opportunities to succeed in the U.S. Also, Sebastian and his mother are in the process of becoming legal residents of the U.S., which will open a lot of opportunities to them; for example, Regina will be able to work legally. One of the advantages of being in the U.S. is that there are a lot of resources that can help Sebastian to reach his goals. I’m pretty sure Sebastian will be that teacher that he wishes to be. People could argue, how could a mom put her own child in such danger to immigrate to the U.S. alone by themselves? Unfortunately, they didn’t have another option. She didn’t have much support in her country and her mother was too sick to take care of Sebastian. Also, she trusted the coyotes that they would bring them safely to the border. Regina is also aware that all that Sebastian has gone through, such as killing a person, can have left him with a trauma; therefore, she immediately placed him in therapy and is making sure he follows the directions for treating the consequences that the trip may have caused. Saying that, Sebastian and his mother are ready to start fresh in this country and create a new story in their lives.

The enormous sacrifice that Central American youth make to immigrate to the U.S., putting their lives at risk, shows their real need to escape from the life-threatening effects of poverty and violence in their countries. The journey to come to the United States was extremely difficult for Regina and Sebastian, especially for Sebastian, because at such a young age he was forced to kill a person in other to save his mother. Not only that, but also his life was in danger running from immigration and getting sick while they were with the coyotes in Mexico. All that Sebastian went through, especially killing a person, has left him with lifelong trauma. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is an organization that provides assistance for refugees or any other kind of help for immigrants and tries to find solutions to the issues of immigration. The “2014 Annual Review of Mental Health” talks about the difficulties about health that immigrants are facing today. “There are an estimated 1 billion migrants in the world today. Despite the scale of this migration, the conditions in which migrants travel, live and work can carry great risks to their physical and mental health and well-being.” In spite of all that happened to Sebastian, he still believes that all the difficulties he went through immigrating to the U.S was worth it because now he has a safe and secure place and also the opportunity of being here has opened new opportunities for him.

                                                         Works Cited

“Annual Review 2014.” Migration Health Division. International Organization for Migration. Switzerland. 2015. Web. 8 Dec. 2015.

Barrios, Sebastian. Personal interview. 11 Nov. 2015. No Place to Hide: Gang, State, and Clandestine Violence in El Salvador. Human Rights      

Program, Human Harvard Law School. February 2007. Web. 8 Dec. 2015.

Perez, Rose Marie. “When Immigration Is Trauma: Guidelines for the Individual and Family

Clinician.” American Journal of Orthopsychiatry. April 2001. Web. 8 Dec 2015.

Sample Transcripts

Luz: My name is Luz Hernandez, this is just for a project of school, is nothing bad.

Sebastian: My mom wanted to come without me because it was too dangerous [to take me on] the trip.

L: What was dangerous?

S: The people who brought us, the “Coyotes,” wanted to pass my mom naked through the river.

L: Were there many people coming with you guys? If yes, from what ages?

S: There were many minors, children. If they wanted to cross the river without getting out of their clothes, they had to gave extra money to the coyotes. My mom had to pay extra money to pass the river; we almost died crossing the river; it was too much water.

L: How did you feel in that moment?

S: I was scared and I was crying; my mom was crying too.

L: Before coming to the United States, where did you live before?

S: In El Salvador.

L: How was it living there? There were many people? Was it a small town?

S: There was a college and a park.

L: So it was a nice place?

S: Yes, my place was nice and I miss it so much.

L: What do you miss most?

S: I miss my friends and my grandmother. In the afternoon, we always played before going to bed, before get dark.

L: Did you want to come to the U.S. or it was not an option?

S: Yes, I wanted to come because we were poor and we didn’t have a stable place to live, so we moved a lot to different places and I was changing school all the time and I didn’t want that any more.

L: How many schools did you attend?

S: I went to many different schools. I lasted only 10 days in each place that I moved.

L: When you got out from El Salvador, where did you get first?

S: I don’t remember.

L: What was the most difficult, cruel and sad that you remember that happened to you while you were in the trip?

S: We were in a bus, after we walk and they left us in the middle of the dessert.

L: Who?

S: The coyotes. We walked a lot; the immigration passed close to us and we were scared that immigration could see us. When the passed close to us we needed to hide from them in the woods.

L: Did you walk a lot? Does someone help you?

S: I walked all night and one day, so two days without stop. Nobody helped me; there were many people but my mom was the only one who helped me. She helped to carry the water and the bag that I was carrying on my back.

L: What was in that bag?

S: There was a can of frijoles, and old food fruits. Everything was expired and heavy.

L: How many people where with you guy?

S: I was the only one who was small but there were other minors but I was the small one; my mom was the oldest one. There were 12 people.

L: Were you always with your mom or you were separate from her?

S: No they didn’t separate us, they wanted but my mom said no.

L: The experience form the river and all this was from the Salvador to Guatemala?

S: Yes.

L: So, what is your experience from Guatemala to Mexico?

S: When we passed to Mexico we rested in a small town, after we went to a hotel to sleep. The coyotes were always drunk so we couldn’t continue the trip. We last a month in the hotel, there were animals there. I slept in the floor with the rest of the other people and my mom.

L: Everyone slept on the floor?

S: No everyone, the coyotes had their own room.

L: At the beginning you mentioned that the Cartel capture you, how that happened?

S: Yes, the cartel the people who manage all Mexico. In the hotel, there was not food so my mom and I went out to look for something to eat. We were in a bus, I was vomiting a lot, I got sick. So my mom and went back to the hotel and the people from the hotel called the cartel; it was in Reynosa. They got us; I saw how the cartel hit other people because they didn’t behavior good. One day, they brought a real gun and they gave it to me and told me to kill a person that they had captured in the other room.

L: This must be terrifying for you; how did you feel at that moment?

S: I was scared and I didn’t want to do that. They told me that the person who I was about to kill wasn’t a good person and that I must kill him. They told me that if I don’t kill the person, they will kill my mom.

L: Did you kill that person?

S: Yes, I did, but at that moment he didn’t die; they gave me a bat to hit him in the head. I hit him a lot so he can die fast.

L: How did you feel doing that at that early age?

S: I felt really bad, “sad face, and looking down.” They forced me to do it; if I didn’t do it, my mom probably would be died at this moment.

L: Where did you were when all this happened?

S: Everything happened in a small room. There were hundreds of people there.

L: What were the conditions of all those people?

S: Yes, all of them looked like they were there for long time; they were skinny. They couldn’t talk.

L: How long did you say you were there?

S: We were there for almost two months.

L: Did they give you food to eat?

S: Yes, they gave us tacos, but I didn’t like it because they put a lot of onions in them and I don’t like onions. I didn’t eat for the all day; they only gave us food once per day.

L: Did you get sick because you didn’t eat?

S: One day, I was about to die; I had cough and I had problems breathing. The person who gave me the gun was the main guy. Mom my mom was scared to ask for help because she taught he may kill her. The people from cartel smoked a lot of marijuana and coca and little white thing that you put in the noise, that is why it was hard for me to breath; the windows and the from door were close so it was hard to not small all that.

L: There was not way to asked for help?

S: One of the girl who was with us had a phone almost got kill because her phone ring and the people from the cartel noticed that she had a phone hiding. They put a gun in his head and they take away her phone. They told her if she didn’t to give her phone away, they will gave me the gun to me and I have to kill her.

L: How many people did you kill?

S: I had to kill three people, one guys and two girls. They were minor.

L: Why did you kill those two girls?

S: Because the cartel said that they had phones hiding without their permission. The girls forgot to turn off the phone.

L: Did you have a good relationship with the people from the cartel?

S: Yes, The people from the cartel started liking me because I did everything that they ordered me to do. They stared training me more in how to use a gun much better. They wanted me to be part of the cartel. They didn’t want me to go anywhere no more even if my dad pays the rescue. They dressed me like them with pistol around my jeans. They brought me to a place, to a park to practice, and they didn’t care that it was public. They are the ones who manage Mexico.

L: How did you feel in the moment?

S: I felt bad and sad.

L: Where was your dad at that moment?

S: He was in the U.S. and in order for us to be free my dad wanted to come to Reynosa where we were. He wanted to be there instead of us, but the coyotes didn’t want; my mom either.

L: How you and your mom were able to get out from there?

S: At the end my dad was able to pay the rescue and went for us to the frontera. But we were in immigration for a month before we got here, it was cold and also they didn’t treated us well, they only gave us to eat one time per day. Only a sandwich and a juice. It was dark, I didn’t know it was dark or light. everything was close, and they separated my mom from me. I was sick, and I cry and they brought her back with me.

L: Where all this happened?

S: In New York, I think.

L: What was the moment that you felt safe?

S: When I saw Alberto [my father] , I ran to hug him and I fell but I was happy when we were all together with him in the car.

L: How did you feel when you got to the U.S.?

S: I feel that I can’t never forget what happened in Mexico, when they gave me the pistol, we were in the bus when they got us. When they wanted to abused my mom, and made her cry.

I remember many things. When we cruised the river, when other kids were dying because it was dangerous.

L: When did you got to the U.S. where did you guys lived?

S: We got to the house of your friend, what is her name? Bertha? Yes. It was really small; we didn’t have money. I had a small bed, I couldn’t move, my mom and my dad slept in a bed the same size as mine.

L: What do you do now that you are here?

S: I go school, I’m studying good.

L: How do you feel being with other students that don’t speak the same language as you? You feel uncomfortable?

S: I feel a little bit uncomfortable because they speak Spanish, but I will learn English. I will be in a bilingual program after school.

L: What do you want to be when you grow up?

S: I want to be a teacher in the same school that I’m going right now, Palmasia that is the name of the school.

L: What means home for you? Here or in the Salvador?

S: Here I sleep in a room with my mom, I don’t have my own room but I don’t care because we are together, I don’t miss my country, I don’t want to come back.

L: You don’t miss your friends?

S: [Sad expression] Yes I do but I don’t want immigration to bring me back. I have all my family there, my grandparents, my aunts, but my life is here.

L: You are still scared that you might come back to your country?

S: Yes, I do, because my mom need to go to immigration; to court. And also she has a bracelet that she can’t drive but she does. She have too because she need to drop me off school but if the immigration got her she may be in trouble.

L: Do you have any message for all those kids that immigrated every day here?

S: For my friend’s even if there were my enemies I never wish them to come here because they might experience the same things that I did and that is not good because I suffer a lot.


Lito’s American Dream

Lito’s American Dream

by Arlesia Williams, December 2013

Since its early years, the United States has been viewed as “the land of opportunity,” and has attracted millions of people from all over the world hoping to achieve the “American Dream,” especially Latin Americans, due to how close they are to the U.S.  For many Latin Americans, this means working hard, sending money back to their families, and saving enough money so they can buy a house in their homeland for the day they return.  Acquiring the proper documentation to live in the U.S. can be a long and costly process, which causes many people to find alternative, and often risky, ways of entering the country undocumented; others are granted exile.  The U.S. allows a certain number of people to apply for exile, as long as the applicant has no affiliations with terrorists, gangs, or opposing governments.  In the mid-1980s, the U.S. offered the people of El Salvador the opportunity to apply for exile, which included temporary work visas if they wanted to escape the war.  Lito, a forty-one-year-old UPS driver and restaurant manager in San Francisco, along with his two older siblings, were granted these temporary visas.  He hoped that they would return to their homeland once the war was over, but has made San Francisco his permanent home, and has no intention of ever returning to El Salvador.  Somewhere along the way, Lito’s idea of the “American Dream” shifted from saving money to return home, to the “American Dream” so often portrayed by the media as an achievable goal by all, the idea that, if a person works hard enough, he or she is able to accomplish any goal they set for themselves and can reach great success.

Between 1980 and 1992, life in El Salvador was very difficult and uncertain due to the Salvadoran Civil War.  According to Susan Coutin, author of “The Odyssey of Salvadoran Asylum Seekers,” a 2004 article for the North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA), the war claimed the lives of approximately seventy-five thousand Salvadorans, and displaced twenty-five percent of the population.  The conflict was between the Salvadoran military government and the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMNLF), a coalition of five guerilla groups.  According to Cecilia Menjivar and Nestor Rodriguez, authors of When States Kill, “most massacres took place in the countryside” (101).  The military would invade small farm towns and torture or kill their community leaders.  The war was extremely violent and included the recruitment of child soldiers, the use of death squads, heavy military equipment, the deliberate terrorizing and targeting civilians, amongst many other human rights violations.  Although significantly opposed by the American public, the U.S. government contributed to the conflict by providing a large amount of military aid to the El Salvadoran government, and with the involvement of the CIA in torturing civilians and financing political campaigns.  According to the NACLA, “Because the U.S. was providing the Salvadoran government with military and economic aid, it was reluctant to recognize Salvadoran émigrés as victims of human rights abuses and as deserving of political asylum.”  Only three percent of Salvadorans were granted exile in the 1980s, and Lito was lucky to be one of them.

Lito was born in 1972 in the town of Son Sonate, El Salvador, and is the youngest of three siblings.  His father was a preacher and his mother was “the follower,” and they did what they could to provide their children with the basic necessities, and to protect them from getting involved in gangs or the military.  In the mid-1980s, two of Lito’s cousins and a few friends were forced to join the military, so his parents decided that they would do whatever it took to get him and his siblings out of El Salvador.  Their first thought was to hire a coyote to take them to the U.S., but, at three thousand dollars apiece, they simply could not afford it.  It was then that a relative told them about applying for a temporary visa to work in the U.S.  If granted, all they had to do was to pay for their plane tickets and their kids would be safe until the war was over.  Lito always dreamt of moving to the U.S., so this was his way out, a path to riches.  He explains, “I heard so many good stories about America growing up that it was my dream to come over here to have a better future for myself and I always thought that America was the best country to be.”  Lito’s oldest brother was the first to arrive in San Francisco in 1983, and quickly found a job and an apartment.  He sent all the money he had left after paying his bills back to his family so they could send the rest of his siblings to the U.S.; Lito was the last of the siblings to arrive in 1985.  They were not the only ones that his parents helped move to the U.S.  Lito had a friend who he considered to be a brother and had lived with his family since he was seven years old, and his parents made sure he made it to the U.S. as well.  When asked whether he thought that he could have a good future if he went back to El Salvador, Lito responded: “For work and make money, it’s the U.S.  To go back in my country and make the same kind of money I’m making over here it would never happen.”  After working in the U.S. and getting used to earning so much, he felt that, financially, he could never make a living in El Salvador.

            When he arrived in San Francisco, Lito moved in with his sister, whose goal was to enroll him in school while his older siblings worked to provide for their parents, but Lito had other plans.  His goal was to come to the U.S. and make money, not to go to school, so he started helping his sister cleaning offices and shortly after started working in a restaurant with her sister-in-law, where he was paid eight dollars a day and worked from eleven in the morning until ten at night.  Although he did not enroll in school full time, Lito attended ESL classes before going to work every morning.  According to Lito, not earning a lot of money, “it didn’t matter then because (he) wasn’t paying rent and (his) sister was helping (him) with food.”  At the time it seemed like a good deal, but, today, Lito understands that he should have been paid more but he is glad he was able to gain experience in the restaurant business, which led him to become a manager later on in his life.

            While initially carrying on traditions from his homeland was easy since Lito was staying with his sister, who was involved in the Salvadoran community, by 1995, he decided to make his own path and got into some trouble after the death of his best friend, who he considered his brother, by moving out of his sister’s house.  It was then that Lito decided to join a Salvadoran gang; he wanted to prove to his family and friends in El Salvador that he was still tough, a “real” man, and he also felt that he needed to act out his anger at the passing of his best friend.  Although he prefers not to give details about his gang life, he is proud of the fact that he was never personally involved with drugs or murder.  His involvement with the gang led him to jail a few times, but none over thirty-day sentences.  Lito admits that going through the justice system, in a way, made him more “American.”  In El Salvador, he explains, “If they find that you are guilty, they just kill you, but here they give you a chance.”  None of the arrests were gang related; they were all for drinking and driving.  He was starting to see the advantages of living in the U.S. and being protected by the law as opposed to life in El Salvador during the Civil War.  By 1998, Lito was determined to have a better life, so he left the gang and started working full-time at a local restaurant.  His best friend was his connection to home.  They dreamt of returning to El Salvador and showing off what they had become.  Without his best friend, Lito felt like his connection was diminishing and he was becoming more American each day.

            With the constant change in immigration policies in the U.S., Lito had to renew his work visa quite often.  The first visa he was granted was for three years, the second for six months, the third for one year and a half, and so on.  He was not granted a green card until 2005, his twentieth anniversary of living in the U.S.  Throughout the first ten years, his parents were not able to visit him here, and he was not allowed to leave the country.  Lito explains that “every Salvadoran, when they get to this country, they have the right to apply for work visa and that’s what I did in 1989. Then I apply for a social security number.  The only problem with that permit is that it was only valid for work, not to fly back and forth to my country.”  Once he got his citizenship, Lito’s brother was able to apply for a green card for his parents, who were granted the visa and stayed in the U.S. for a few months, but chose to continue living in El Salvador.  Life in San Francisco was too different from the life they had in El Salvador, and they were not willing to make the lifestyle adjustment.  Lito’s mother kept her green card and travels back and forth from El Salvador once or twice a year so she does not loose her status, but not his father. He did not like the U.S. and saw no point on keeping his green card.  Lito explains “My parents were never interest to move down here to live over here because they were already over 40 or 50 when they started coming to this country so they never got used to it.  They are ok over there. They like it.”  However, Lito and his siblings were able to save enough money to buy a piece of land and build a house for their parents, where they visit at least once a year.  In the past year, Lito’s father changed his mind and decided that now he is ready to live here, but was unable to get a visa.  Once a person is granted a green card, they have to commit to live in the U.S. for at least six months out of the year.  Since his father did not follow this rule, his visa was taken away, and once that happens, it can take up to a decade for a person to be able to apply for a new visa with little chance of them actually being granted one.

            In 1992, when the war ended, there was an overwhelming feeling of hope for the Salvadorian community, both in their homeland and afar.  While Lito’s parents believed their children would go back to El Salvador, the children were building a life in the U.S.  Lito’s siblings got married and started their own families, while Lito and his best friend were working hard and saving money, all while keeping a job and sending money to his parents.  Regardless of his extra-curricular activities, Lito kept his promise to his parents that he would always take care of them, in true Latino form.  In most Latino households, it is traditional for the children to take care of their parents once they start work; this is particularly true about male children.  As in most patriarchal societies, men are viewed as strong and able, while women are viewed as weak and should conform to household chores and taking care of the family.  Although Lito’s family was not as conventional as most considering that his sister took care of the home and worked, he still felt as if it was his responsibility to take care of them.  The only way he could take care of his parents was to stay in the U.S. and earn as much money as possible, and so he did.  However, this was also the time when Lito became more aware of his situation.  If he was to return to El Salvador, he would not be able to find a job that would pay him enough to take care of his responsibilities, and it would take decades of working here to save enough for him to be able to retire there.  “Every person come to this country, their dream is to come here and make money and get stuff.  Then they go back to their country to show what you got.  But at a point to myself I said I don’t feel secure in my country…I don’t plan to move back.”  The war might have been over, but the problems that plagued the people of El Salvador were not far from it.

            During the Civil War, there was a love-hate relationship between Salvadorans and the U.S. due to how the U.S. was supporting the government that was killing the people.  According to Lito, this sentiment has not changed, but the reasons are different.  When asked if he thought that the U.S. was a part of the reason why El Salvador is still in bad shape, Lito explains: “To me, in my mentality, yes it is.  Because they applied, introduced the American dollar over there without teaching people how to use it.”  With the dollar came inflation, which was not helpful to a country that was already in financial trouble.  Aside from the financial issue, there is also the violence that has increased since the U.S. started massive amounts of deportation in the past few years.  A large number of gang members and criminals were sent back to El Salvador, creating a hostel environment for Salvadoran, who cannot count on the local police to help them, since most of them are corrupt and, unless you can pay them off, will not help you.  Moreover, some laws set by the U.S. government have been implemented in El Salvador in hopes of restoring some order after the war, but they have done more harm than good, since the police department is corrupt and take the laws into their own hands, sometimes threatening or even killing people to get their way.

            Lito’s prospective has significantly changed since he was a child growing up in

El Salvador.  When he was a child, he dreamt of coming to the U.S. and making a lot of money so he could return to his country as an “important person.”  While he was still close to his best friend from childhood, it was easy to remain connected to his roots, but after his death, Lito started to see the world in a whole different light.  Suddenly, moving back to El Salvador was no longer an option; he had become too accustomed to the “safe” lifestyle that the U.S. offered.  He became friends with people from different backgrounds, built a career and a life in San Francisco.  Throughout our interview, Lito spoke of El Salvador as “my country,” but when I asked him whether he had any intention on returning to his homeland he said, without hesitation: “I never thought about it. I feel like I was born and raised in San Francisco so I like San Francisco and I plan to stay here.”  Although he did not move to the U.S. until he was a teenager, as with many immigrants who move here at that age, Lito felt as if he did most of his growing up here because that is when he made the transition from childhood to adulthood.  In addition, that is also the time when he became aware of the corruption and violence that was going on in his country, from an outsider’s prospective.  His dream is no longer to return home, but to build a life here.  When asked whether he thought that he could have a good future if he went back to El Salvador, Lito responded: “For work and make money, it’s the U.S.  To go back in my country and make the same kind of money I’m making over here it would never happen.”  After working in the U.S. and getting used to earning so much, he felt that, financially, he could never make a living in El Salvador.  The American Dream he so imagined for most of his life has been replaced by the one that all U.S. citizens know well.  He wants a steady job with benefits so he can support his future family, his “American” family.  Although the idea of moving back to El Salvador seem unrealistic for Lito, he hopes that one day his people can find peace, but he will be at a safe distance when that happens.

Work Cited

Menjívar, Cecilia, and Néstor Rodriguez. When States Kill: Latin America, the U.S., and Technologies of Terror. Austin: University of Texas, 2005. Print.
Coutin, Susan.  “The Odyssey Of Salvadoran Asylum Seekers.”  NACLA Report On The Americas 57.6 (2004): 38.  Web. 6 December 2013.
Wright, Mathew.  “Diversity and the Imagined Community: Immigrant Diversity and Conceptions of National Identity.” Cambridge: Harvard University, 2005. Web.  6 December 2013.
Deaux, Kay.  “An Immigrant Frame for American Identity.” New York: New York University, 2011.  Print.


Me: When did you move to the U.S.?

Lito: Back in 1987

Me: Can you describe what your hometown was like when you were living in El Salvador? Was it like a big city a small town?

Lito: We grew in a small town and after that we moved to the big city. I lived there for a few years like 3 years and then I moved to California.

Me: Ok. Do you have a big family small family?

Lito: My family is like 9 total 7 kids and my dad and my mom

Me: Ok.  When you moved here to the U.S. did you move here with your family or by yourself?

Lito: All my brothers and my sisters moved away one by one.  I was the very last one in ‘87

Me: Oh ok and how old were you moved here?

Lito: I was between like 14, 13, 15

Me: So early, early teenage years umm now when you moved here were you legal did you move with papers?

Lito: No I just came as an immigrant through mexico

Me: Ok, how does that work? Like when you are trying to leave el Salvador. Which way did you take? Did you know somebody or did you know other people that had moved here first and they showed you the way?

Lito: No I did have all my brothers and sisters over here, my parents find someone to bring me down here

Me: Oh ok, did they have to like pay them?

Lito: Yes they did.

Me: Was it a lot for the time?

Lito: I’m not really sure how much it was but I believe back in the day it was more than $3000

Me: Oh wow, in the ‘80s that was pretty big amount of money.

Lito: Yeah nowadays it’s like $8000.

Me: $8000 to come to the country? How long did it take for you to get here, from the day you left El Salvador to when you got here?

Lito: I remember if I’m correct it was something like 15 20 days.

Me: Wow how did you transport did you fly? Did you take a bus a car how was the journey from?

Lito: We did a majority in the bus from el Salvador all the way down to Mexico and in Mexico city we took an airplane to fly over the desert all the way down to Tijuana.

Me: When you got here did you stay with your family?

Lito: Yeah, with my older sister.

Me: Were they in San Francisco or a different city?

Lito: She was in San Francisco

Me: Ok, so you always stayed in San Francisco?

Lito: Always

Me: Since you moved here you always been here?

Lito: Yes

Me: Now, before you moved here what did you expect? Like, why did you move here in the first place? Did you come to work or did you want to be with your family?

Lito: We were, me personally my parents were looking for a better life for me because el Salvador wasn’t getting any better.  The military was recruiting younger kids like 14 16, and the guerillas and the other side of the hand were recruiting they were recruiting either I mean they were recruiting too, so my parents they were scared to keep me down in el Salvador.

Me: Did you have any friends or family members that joined the military, did you know anybody that joined the military or were forced too?

Lito: My parents ….. to me a couple of his nephews they were in the military but they were me personally I met a couple of times but I never got to know them better.

Me: Ok, alright, how did you when you moved here did you go to school or did you start working, how did you live?

Lito: My sister tried to put me in school but at the same time I just wanted to work make my own money make my own life and that’s what I did.

Me: So you just hung out with friends?

Lito: Yeah I just hung out and worked and things like that.

Me: Where was the first place you worked when you got here?

Lito: I was helping my sister as a janitor cleaning office and after that I was working with this lady cleaning houses and a few years later I started working at restaurant business.

Me: Ok, how long did you work did you work in the restaurant business?

Lito: Like literally like when I was 17 until like now I am still on call at the restaurant job.

Me: What type of work did you do in the restaurant?

Lito: I started washing dishes back in the day took like a year or two to become a line cook a few years 3 years later ask me if I wanted to do something like else prepping having more responsibilities like doing orders and stuff like that bout 5 years later I started being assistant manager.

Me: Where do you work now? You said that you were still on call at the restaurant and where do you work other than the restaurant?

Lito: I work at UPS right now.

Me: Ok. And what do you do there?

Lito: I am UPS driver and I do some part time preloading.

Me: So when you first came here and you weren’t going to school were you did you get into any kind of trouble as far like with the law and kind of trouble then in your early years?

Lito: Not in my early years. That was after like 95 96 that I started getting in trouble.

Me: Up until then you just worked lived with your family still at some point you went off to live?

Lito: Yeah I moved out of my sisters house I think It was 94.

Me: Ok

Lito: Since then I have been living by myself.

Me: When did you get legal status? When did you get a green card?

Lito: It was in 2005

Me: 2005 are you a citizen now or you still have a green card?

Lito: I still have a green card.

Me: Before you got your green card did you ever travel back home to el Salvador?

Lito: Never did

Me: You never went back home before then?

Lito: No

Me: Are you parents still in el Salvador? Or are they here?

Lito: My daddy you to fly back and forth in the 90’s then for some reason he didn’t want to come back to the country, now my mom is the one flying back and forth.

Me: Ok so she comes to visit?

Lito: Right

Me: So she comes to you guys.  Ok. Now when you were working were you sending money home to the family?

Lito: Yeah always have.

Me: The rest of your siblings they were doing the same? Like sending home money?

Lito: Brothers and sisters yeah they were too

Me: So everyone was taking care of the family? Back then,

Lito: Right.

Me: Before you moved here what were your expectations of the united states, like what did you think was going to happen when you got here? Did you think you were going to make a lot of money? Did you think life was going to be harder than it was before?

Lito: It was I heard so many good stories about America growing up that it was my dream to come over here to have a better future for myself and I always thought that America was the best country to be.

Me: Now when you came here and started working was it what you expected was the US all that you thought it was?

Lito: Not really whatever the good stories I heard was not really what I expected, but it was better than where I was before.

Me: Now did you like here in San Francisco did you have a lot of people from your community, do you know a lot people from el Salvador is there a community that has events and things that carry on the traditions I suppose?

Lito: They do there a lot of el Salvadorian events especially for September 15 day independence day for el Salvador some other occasions for other events the bring some music band and artists from el Salvador just to collect money to help others down there, but yeah I go sometimes to those events. But I know a lot a lot of people from El Salvador just………..

Me: People that you are used to?

Lito: People I hang around with sometimes.

Me: Yeah now did you how different is your life here from what it was like in ES you know aside from its different its always different but like here do you feel more comfortable here than you would there.  Like if you had to go back there do you think have a good future as far as work and family or do you think that the US is better?

Lito: For work and make money it’s the US.  Do go back in my country and make the same kind of money I’m making over here it would never happen.

Me: Now when you moved here did you speak English?

Lito: Nah

Me: How did you learn? Since you didn’t go to school initially, how did you start to learn English?

Lito: Just my sister tried to put me in school, I didn’t like it at all I didn’t want to have any of the responsibilities homework and things like that, but at the same time I was having my job and going to school in the mornings you know like adult school just to learn English, computers or whatever.  I used to go here and there for like 6 months.   The majority of the English I just learned, like practicing talking to people you know trying to get a better job a different level when you learn more English.

Me: When you started working in restaurants because while you cleaning offices you were working with your sister, but when you started working in resturaunts did you feel discriminated against in any kind of way, did you feel they were paying you less or treating you differently because you weren’t from here.

Lito: Not really in the beginning because I was just helping out my sister, so my sister was just giving me some money because I was helping her. And then my sister in law had a restaurant and back in ’89 they were giving me $8 a day and it started from 11 to 10 and early in the morning I was going to school like I was saying like until 1030.   Then I would go work over there after school.

Me:  Did you start getting paid more after you got your green card, or did you demand more money because you had more experience?

Lito:  What I think is that it’s the experience that make more money. If you have more experience, automatically the money will fall on you. Uh, when I was washing dishes I was making like $3.75 back in the day.  So, when I was a cook and a prep and I was doing orders for this manager, I was making like $7.75 and, and, after a year I was making $8.50. After 8 years I started being a manager at Chevy’s, so I started making $42,000.00 a year.

Me:  That is really good money.

Lito:  Back in the day, yeah.

Me:  When you went through the process of getting your green card, huh, how did you apply for it? Were you living here illegally?

Lito:  No, because I was legally because every Salvadorian when they get to this country they have the right to apply for work visa and that’s what I did in 1989. Then I apply for a social security number.  The only problem with that permit is that it was only valid for work, not to fly back and forth to my country.

Me:  How long do you get to keep this permit?  For as long as you want or is there a limitation?

Lito:  It was a limitation like every…well, the first one I had was for three years. The second was for a year and a half.  I had to always renew it because there is always different laws because of the war.

Me:  Now, does this permit make it so you have to work in a specific field or you can work anywhere?

Lito:  It is for any type of work, the only thing is that the permit was for a person who applied in 85 to 87 were the only ones allowed to get this permit.

Me:  So, it was only for that period of time and it doesn’t happen anymore?

Lito:  No, for people coming in the 90s, it was a different law.  Because in the 80s in El Salvador it was the war going on and all that kind of stuff, like, Honduras people when they go to this country in the 90s because of the hurricane, a lot of people came to this country because they had the right to apply for a visa because they couldn’t survive over there.  So the U.S. gave them a permit to work only.

Me:  So how did you have to apply?

Lito:  When the visa expires, you go back to renew and tell them that you are afraid to go back to your country.  If you follow every single step for 10 years, then they tell you can apply to stay in this country.  And is up to them if you get the green card or not.

Me:  Oh, okay.  From the time you applied, how long did it take you to get the green card?

Lito:  With my first lawyer, we applied in 99 or 2000.  I got it about 5 to 6 years later.

Me:  When it came time for you to get the green card, did you have to go through an interview process or you just get the paper when they approve it?

Lito:  It is an interview that they do to you, it’s a step that they have to ask you why you were here in the first place and why you want to stay.  I said that I was a minor and I came here to get away from the military or the other side of people fighting and I was a student.  So, they basically ask you all those questions in the interview and if you follow every single step, they will keep in touch with you but they don’t give you the green card right away.  But you have to have a good reason why you want to stay.

Me:  How long did the war go on in El Salvador and is that still going on?  How is life in El Salvador now?

Lito:  Right now that I go down there and visit is…before we leave the country the war was going on and now I don’t feel that kind of safe because all the gang bangers that used to live in the U.S., back in the early 2000 they got deported, so now they are doing the same thing there.  Whatever they were doing over here, they are doing to our country.  And they are destroying the country.  All the garbage they didn’t want over here, they (the U.S.) send them back to their country, so now all the things they were doing in jail and on the streets over here, they are doing over there.

Me:  So there’s more gangs and more violence?

Lito:  It’s very dangerous.  Because over here everybody thinks twice before they kill somebody.  In our country, you just kill somebody and start running and they don’t find you.  The laws are not the same.

Me:  Now, you said you had a little trouble with the law in the 90s.  Can you tell me a little bit about that?

Lito:  I was back in 95, I had a brother, he wasn’t blood but he grew up with us.  When he was 7 he stayed in our house and my parents paid for him to get down here.  He is like my real brother and, uh, in 95 he passed away.  And (pause) I got a little bit depressed and missed work and started drinking a little bit more and started getting in a little more deep into the gang and stuff like that.  I think it was my way out to relieve my anger of loosing a brother. So, the police got me a couple of times and I got 2 DUIs, but it didn’t do anything.  I just got angrier and in deeper trouble.

Me:  Did you get arrested?

Lito:  Yeah, the longest I was ever in jail was like 30 days.  I still had my work visa, but because I didn’t have to go to an interview when I was renewing the visa it didn’t affect it.  I was a little worried when I went for my first interview for my green card.

Me:  So what happened in the interview?

Lito:  They were talking about my criminal record and they were saying that I had about 8 DUIs, which wasn’t true but I had to prove it that I had only two and they were not trying to help me at all but things got better and I still got my green card.

Me:  Now, did you have to get a lawyer?

Lito:  I did have a lawyer in my first interview but they didn’t want to talk to him.  They wanted me to talk about myself.  They denied me the first time.  The second time I went back with the police reports to prove that I only had 2 DUIs and they denied it that moment.  After that, later, like a year, my lawyer told me that they were looking for me because I was approved and nobody told me for a whole year.

Me:  Did you feel like you were being discriminated against during the process?

Lito:  Not the first interview, but the second time, the person was from the Philippines and he had the same situation as our country.  He was asking me things like what would I do if I got deported.

Me:  Was he threatening you a little bit?

Lito:  Pretty much.

Me:  Are you a U.S. citizen now?

Lito:  No, I just got a green card.

Me:  Do you plan to become a U.S. citizen?

Lito:  Yes, as soon as I qualify.

Me:  How long does that take?

Lito:  I qualify now, I just kinda very busy and lazy to fill out the paperwork, but I know in the future is very important to have your citizenship.  That’s my next goal.

Me:  Do you have kids?

Lito:  No, but I plan to have some one day.

Me:  Are you happy that you are in the U.S. and you are able to provide a future family all the things in the U.S. as opposed to being in El Salvador?

Lito:  Yes, that’s one of the main reasons why most of the people come to this country.  If you have plans to have kids you don’t want your kids to go through all the things you went through.  Not without tv, not without toys that everybody wants.  You know now you have a job that you can make good money so you can provide your kids with somethings you never had when you were kids.

Me:  What did your parents do when you were growing up/

Lito:  They were a minister, my daddy was a pastor and my mom was a follower.

Me:  So they raised you very religious?

Lito:  Yes, 80% of the people in El Salvador are very religious.

Me:  Is there a lot of domestic violence in El Salvador?

Lito:  It used to be back in the day but today women I think woke up and prefer to be single and not with somebody beating them every day.

Me:  Is life in the U.S. what you expected?  Are you happy the way your life turned out?

Lito:  Of course not, nobody is happy about waking up at 2 to 3 in the morning to go to work everyday, working 16 hours a day, but, you know, like I said before, better offers to be here and not in our country because at least we have a job over here and can make money.  We make triple in one day what they make there in one week

Me:  Did your parents ever have any interest in moving here?

Lito:  My parents were never interest to move down here to live over here because they were already over 40 or 50 when they started coming to this country so they never got used to it.  They are ok over there. They like it.

Me:  How often do you get to visit them?

Lito:  Now I go once a year and stay about 3 weeks. My mom comes here every 6 months.

Me:  Does she have to apply for a visa every time she comes?

Lito:  No, my brother is a citizen so he applied for my parents to get a green card.  She flies back and forth every six months so she doesn’t loose her green card.  My father had a green card too but never applied to renew it because he like El Salvador better.  Now he regrets that because he wanted to come over here but it’s a little too late.  We would have to do the process again.

Me:  Is it expensive to do that?

Lito:  You have to have a secure job and you need to make more that $28,000 a year and a letter from your job to prove to them that you have a job and they pay you enough

Me:  When you first got here, did you think that you would ever go back to El Salvador?

Lito:  Every person come to this country, their dream is to come here and make money and get stuff.  Then they go back to their country to show what you got.  But at a point to myself I said I don’t feel secure in my country

Me:  So, security became more important than showing off what you had?

Lito:  Right.  I don’t plan to move back there.

Me:  Is your plan to stay in San Francisco?  Do you ever think of living anywhere else in the U.S.?

Lito:  I never thought about it. I feel like I was born and raised in San Francisco so I like San Francisco and I plan to stay here

Me:  Do you feel like the situation in El Salvador could get better in the next 10 years?

Lito:  I don’t, I don’t see that coming.  It’s getting worse

Me:  Do you feel the U.S. is somewhat responsible for how the situation in El Salvador has changed in the past 30 years?

Lito:  To me, in my mentality, yes it is.  Because they applied, introduced the American dollar over there without teaching people how to use it.  Before you used to buy like 2 eggs for 1 colon, which is like 15 cents over here, now you buy 2 eggs with one dollar, which it was 8 colons over there.  Literally, you spend like 8 times on what you are spending or more than what you were spending like 10 years ago.

Me:  In your opinion, do you think the U.S. had something to do with the war that was going on in El Salvador?

Lito:  When I was little I didn’t realize is that, is that when I was growing up, and when I was 8-years-old I figured out that, yeah, the U.S. got a little responsibility for that. Like lately, new law that they introduced over there is the same.  What happens is, the criminal has more rights than the civilians over there.  Like, if someone comes and robs you in your own house and they point you with a gun and you shoot them first and they got killed in your house, because you killed him in your property, you get arrested for life.  Is either way.  Either you dead or they dead but the law over there is the same law over here, but they don’t look at it the same way. Ok, it’s self defense, sorry you killed him, and one year in jail and that’s it.  No, they don’t think that way.  They put you in jail like you are the criminal.

Me:  Is the law there pretty corrupt?

Lito:  Some of them because, I think, criminal have the same rights as the government, I think.  If you are a security guard in some place or if you are a police officer in that area, they will pay you to close your eyes.  Either you take the money or you are dead.

Me:  Is there a big drug problem, I mean, a big drug trafficking problem in El Salvador or is it more of the Civil war that is the problem?

Lito:  Is more of the Civil war going on between gangs and the people, because if you have a small business, literally selling like $10 a day, in your little liquor store or whatever you have, they will come and take those $10 and whatever you make on the day time, or you are dead.

Me:  Oh, wow.  When the situation got a lot more violent with the gangs, was it between gangs and the government, or gangs and the people, or was it everybody fighting for their lives?

Lito:  It started between gangs, you know, people knew each other on the street and they went over there and they started fighting each other.  And after that they got along and they started getting on the regular people.  You know, like, you coming from shopping or whatever they, they pull up a knife or a gun, they just take whatever you have.  And that’s their territory and whatever rule they were following over here or in jail, you know, like, you give up your booty or you give up your food, or whatever, and they are doing over there the same rules on the street.  And I don’t that’s fair.

Me:  Were they involving kids in this, like, recruiting kids?

Lito:  Oh yeah.  Like 10, 12-year-old kids.  Because basically the law over there it is the same as the law over here.  If you are a minor, they send you to the, uh, not the person can do to charge you because you are a minor.  Over there they a minor, if a minor kill somebody, they are gonna get only one or two years and they are gonna be out and it’s easy for them.  But when you are over 18 or over 20, if you kill somebody, they know they are gonna give you the 20 to 25 or whatever.

Me:  Do you know anyone that live in San Francisco that, that, had to go through any type of gangs like that?

Lito:  [hand signal suggesting he didn’t want to talk about that]

Me:  Are you forced to go into the military in El Salvador

Lito:  You used to before when it was the army, they take you like when you were strong enough.  It didn’t matter if you were 14 or 16 or, uh, they forced you to go.  Now they don’t have a military that, like one like the army.  They do now only have like regular police and you have to have to have a degree to get into it they are the most corrupted.  They will tell either my family go through or will be dead.  So police just walk around like they didn’t see anything and they just get there after they are dead and say somebody got killed.  It happens all over the world. You call 911 over here and they ask “are you bleeding?” so they go “oh, ok the police will be there in half an hour.”  In Latin America is even worse.

Me:  Overall, in your opinion, why do you think people move to the U.S. from your country?

Lito:  I would say that, my country, El Salvador, people move for a more secure, more safe. They just wanna come and make some money for the family over there.  And for the rest of the Central America, either they got two options: either they go down to El Salvador to sell something or to work over there for a dollar, an American dollar, and they go back to Honduras, Panama, or Nicaragua, it triples, eight times the money.  They bring some dollars to their country.  But for us, we do it for the money and for a better life for our family, or the security and status, that’s much better.  People come from the other countries to make country sometimes like they cross the Rio Grande.  They come to sell things and they can’t get caught because is against the law.  They have the choice to try to come to the U.S., or they take their chances in El Salvador.  You can build a fence, but we will find a tunnel.  Exactly like the U.S.

Me:  Well, thank you very much for your time.

Lito:  No problem.

Exile for Yedel

Exile for Yedel

by Ruth Alemu, December 2013

Has it ever boggled your mind why people want to leave their counties and struggle through different cultures just to start a whole new life? Or have you ever wondered why some people don’t just work hard in their own countries and better themselves? Well, people leave their families and countries to find better life, peace, freedom, money or love. A conducted interview with an immigrant named Yedel Sew, who currently resides in the Bay Area, explains why people are exiled to other countries. Yedel Sew is from Ethiopia and grew up in a good neighborhood in the historic city Bahir Dar. He was exiled to the United States to find freedom for himself because he was punished for criticizing the Ethiopian government about forbidding the freedom of speech and the choosing of one’s own political party. For a long time, he had refused to give in to anger or exile; instead, he resisted the government threats.The government accused him of being a terrorist when they found out that he was working with the opposition political parties to bring about a fair democratic government. Despite the fact that no accusation had evidence, many of his friends were imprisoned and killed. Yedel wanted to leave the country when he realized that most of his friends had been thrown in jail or killed. According to Yedel, the torture was extraordinary; for instance, the males were forced to carry and pull heavy weights tied on their genitals until they pointed out one of their political member. For this reason, Yedel left his country and exiled himself to the United States of America (USA), and suffered through lots of misery. He left his good job, family and fiancé behind. His exile to the US was more devastating for his fiancé and his mother, not only because he was their source of income but also they couldn’t flee with him. During his journey, he was hungry, slept in refugee camps, was imprisoned, and almost lost his life while he was traveling on a boat. Although arriving to the US seemed to promise a life with freedom, being an undocumented immigrant made it difficult to find jobs and start a new life all over again. Until he acquired legal papers that allow him to stay in the US, he worked under the table, which was difficult for him because employers often felt free to pay him low wages and ignore dangerous conditions since he had no legal way of complaining. Along with significant language and cultural barriers, exile left him with a lengthy bureaucratic procedure until he established his new legal status. People that are facing political problems in their counties, like Yedel, should exile themselves to other countries in order to gain freedom regardless of encountering multiple setbacks and struggle during the journey because it will help them live better lives.

Being a refugee from third world country was challenging due to the rising of anti-refugee sentiment in many industrialized countries; the journey to the US was not as smooth as Yedel assumed. He started his journey from Ethiopia to Cuba with legal visa (a passport), but from there to the US, his passport was useless not only because he was travelling by car and boat but also because he was coming from a third world country, which didn’t guarantee him a pass or respect. He described how he left his passport in Ecuador: “I threw away my Ethiopian passport since it is no longer helping me to transfer, because I couldn’t get any visa with Ethiopian passport” (Yedel). Having an Ethiopian passport definitely prevented him from getting a visa because most of the people from third world countries are running from their homes scared of war and poverty, like him. His long travel includes the countries Cuba, Ecuador, Colombia, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico and lastly, the United States. Yedel and his two friends started the big journey together without any knowledge of where or how to go. Eventually, they contacted some smugglers to assist them through their journey. Besides the payment paid to the smugglers, they had to bribe the officers every time they got pulled over. He wrapped a stack of pesos with a U.S. dollar and handed to the police officer to make it look like a lot of U.S. dollars because he couldn’t afford to pay them in dollars every single time they pulled him over. Long drives, walking, staying in refugee camps and being thrown in jail without knowing for how long they would be kept, the journey was extremely distressing. There was a time when Yedel almost lost his life; he was trying to cross the border between Colombia and Nicaragua with a small boat made out of wood that carried around fifty people without any access to restrooms. He says, “The smugglers told us we will arrive in two days, but it took us eight days. We were lost in the middle of the journey and the boat run out of gas, so we put bed sheet to move the boat with the help of wind. The phone inside the boat stopped working; they said no battery. Also, we were moving without any compass and we didn’t eat anything else except one apple a day” (Yedel). It was a life and death situation for him to be in that boat because there was lack of basic survival necessities such as food, water and restrooms in addition to getting lost in the middle of nowhere. The boat was overcrowded, making it potentially dangerous, but they continued with the journey. The trip lasted days; the waves were high and they suffered more when the motor stopped and they began moving through the help of the wind. When they finally reached land, it was like liberation. Even though being from a third world country was a setback on his journey, he felt liberated when he reached the freedom land.

Although Yedel wanted to stay in Ethiopia, the government dictatorship made him run from his country due to the fact that there was no equality between ethnic groups and also political difference was not accepted. While he was in Ethiopia, freedom of speech was like a dream. The dictator leader wouldn’t let him live because he was against the system. He explained his experience in anger: “While I was in Ethiopia I had a very nice job with the field I graduated and I had a good life. But I have been jailed and beaten around three four times only because I was spoken the truth during community meetings. When you say I need freedom, they will look for trouble and beat you up” (Yedel).  The so-called “Democratic Party” controls the country. If a person talks about what is wrong and what is right, that person will end up in jail. That is why an independent and ambitious young man like Yedel could not live in Ethiopia because he believes in speaking out. He fought not only for himself but also for people who can’t fight for themselves as well. In reality, he doesn’t have security or the guarantee of his life because they can throw him in jail any time. Hence, Yedel left his country even though he wanted to stay and do something tangible to improve his country. Before he left, Yedel was becoming wealthy because of his hard work, but the ruling party was not happy with what he was getting and wanted to destroy him. In the 2005 election, Yedel and his friends participated in the opposition political party. The idea was to push the government to have a free and fair democratic election but the government was harassing the opposition parties and was using systematic political control, which made the election difficult. At that time, the majority of the people were supporting the opposition party, so, if the government didn’t want to have a fair election, they wanted them to give up power peacefully but when the government found out about their plan, they put his life in danger. Yedel fought until he couldn’t take it anymore; however, waiting for his death was not possible for him because some of his friends got imprisoned, tortured, were deprived of sleep and food and lastly killed. Given these actions, Yedel left his country in order to flee from extreme and almost humiliating politics.

Knowing his basic rights helped Yedel to gain his freedom, yet many times he was denied it. While crossing a border, there was moment when they put him in jail without letting him know how long he had to stay there. They were caught at the Nicaraguan border by the border police and imprisoned for forty-five days. During those forty-five days staying there caused a lot of suffering; the food was not etable, the hygiene was bad and they were sleeping on the floor. Because of the bad treatment they received, Yedel and his friends planned to do a hunger strike in order to fight for the basic human rights they were denied. The hunger strike went very well as he explained, “We didn’t eat for eight days while we were in the journey and again we did four days food strike, so some of the people got constipated and sick. Normally, they are not allowed to have under age prisoners in the facility but one of the guy that fainted was not even eighteen. They were scared of being sued so they begged us to eat and promised to let us go” (Yedel). This shows that they knew this strike would attract human right fighters’ attention, which in the end helped to free them. Besides, the guy who fainted was not even eighteen years old; thus, he was not supposed to be imprisoned with them. Fighting for their rights allowed them to continue their freedom journey. Then, Yedel and his friends left Nicaragua because the Nicaraguan government asked them to pay for every night they stayed at the camp. As they had planned already, they continued their journey to the United States and left Nicaragua. In the book Underground America, a collection of the narratives of undocumented immigrants compiled by Peter Orner, a storyteller, Abel, was abused by his employer but knowing his rights and fighting for it saved him from abuses. He said, “Some of us are more comfortable speaking up about our rights—we know what we are entitled to. We speak to Americans, people who do have papers, people who work at organizations, people who can do something for us. The bosses of the companies are afraid of these organizations because they support us” (Orner 132). Even though he didn’t have legal papers to stay in the country, knowing his rights helped Abel to fight for himself. Yedel did the same thing too; he stood up for his rights, looked for organizations to fight for his right. Therefore, knowing his basic human rights minimized the suffering during the exile.  

Although Yedel felt ambivalent when he discovered that his expectations about the United States were unrealistic, he was happy because he gained freedom, which was the center of his journey. Life in The United States started out great for him though it was not as he expected. Although the job market and the economy was not as good as he expected, he did not complain since his main reason of moving to the US was to gain freedom. He said, “The main reason I exile from my country is because of freedom so I am okay with any economical or personal disappointment like missing my family. I was not respected in my own country but I am living here freely. Nobody touches you” (Yedel). While he was in his country, he had a good job but in the United States, because of his legal status he wasn’t able to get a better job and he was a little bit disappointed by that; plus, by the time he arrived in the United States, the economy of the country was not in good condition. The other thing that makes him disappointed is missing his family; in fact, he can’t reach his family any time soon. Yedel has missed not only his family but also his longtime fiancé who he was about to get married to within a month before leaving the country, but he was waiting for her to graduate. He was preparing for their wedding but sadly he had to leave right away to avoid putting his life in danger. During his journey, he couldn’t communicate with her because he was not in good condition either. That created a big gap between them and it was too late to fix the problem because she got married and had kids. She couldn’t wait for him since he was not able to go back to the country. Yedel said, “It is hard to get that kind of love right now. I don’t have that kind of satisfaction and happiness right now.” He loved his fiancé too much and can’t bring the old time feeling and satisfaction with anybody else.

Things haven’t gone smoothly with his family either; the family business that he took care of is now out of service, and the cafeteria he owned was sold to cover his expense in the United States. His family is not at the same economic level; his brothers got fired from their jobs because they were working for a government office and, since they are connected with Yedel, the government took revenge on them. After four years, one of his brothers started working some low level jobs even though he is a graduate from the university and had been working for long time. Yedel was full of anger when he talked about the crises in his family. He couldn’t support and provide his family like before because in the United States the working situation is different. He doesn’t have motivation like before when he used to go to school while working long hours and taking care of his own business. He said that he was taking care of all that responsibility just to get rid of the stress he had in his country. More or less, he is happy in United States, though he is not in the position that he supposed to be. Altogether, Yedel lost three major things in his life: his family’s economic status, his job, and his fiancé.  But freedom has balanced all his losses.

Even though it’s hard to predict the future, Yedel believes change will come through time with the help of an endless effort. In the future, Yedel has some expectations for his life and has already planned to do lots of things in the coming New Year. He wants to go to school, work hard, start a family in the United States, and help his country to gain a free media because the ruling party controls most of the media. His passion for his country is still fresh. Surely, he wants to participate more in politics; so far, he writes articles and gives donations every month to private medias organizations because he believes the media plays a big role in politics. The Ethiopian government has banned almost all private media outlets for reporting facts about the government’s hidden actions. “The Anointed Leadership,” an article written by Makau wa Mutua, shows the current image of Ethiopian journalism: “Human rights groups estimated that over 60 journalist have either been imprisoned, detained, or are awaiting trial for being critical of the government” (Mutua 2). Government authorities have imprisoned journalists on a mass scale on terrorism charges only for speaking of the truth. Only government medias can talk about politics; around twenty non-governmental magazines have been closed but four private magazines are still open only because they allow the government to manipulate their messages. They will not report reality; they do not talk about the people who are lost in the dessert while trying to escape from the country. Even though he lives from paycheck to paycheck, he knows that, if he contributes something, it will help a lot. He said, “I support the media because I want to know what is going on in my country and the only means I can get that report is from the private media. I cannot forget about my country. I will not sleep until I see freedom in my own country like other countries” (Yedel). This shows the last ultimate vision of Yedel is to see the free flow of information and freedom of expression without the influence of political units. Ethiopia lives in a world where information is literally fabricated for the people as truth but nowadays bloggers play a big role in spreading information. Yedel helps these bloggers financially. One of the anonymous bloggers said in the articleThe Hazards Of Dissent,”“The blog carried reports and analysis of the trial of opposition leaders. In some cases, international human rights group like Amnesty International have followed through the leads in my blog and demanded the government stop its human right abuses. Under pressure, the government released some prisoners and closed torture chambers” (Zagol 62). Not only do the bloggers increase the flow of information but they also help justice to be served. Therefore, because people like Yedel supported the media, for example the blogger mentioned above, the increase of the flow of information has brought the government to reconsider their decision, which fulfills Yedel’s hope for change.

 In conclusion, although people like Yedel go through multiple setbacks and struggle when they flee from their countries due to political problems, finding freedom and living in a country where freedom of speech is respected brings feeling of accomplishment in life. Migrating would also allow others like him to continue helping their countries as he has with the support of media as mentioned in the above paragraphs. On the contrary, others may think that, instead of fleeing from one’s country, one should stay and face the problem in order to solve it. People like Yedel do not choose to flee from their countries to make money or to relax; instead, they are exiled to the US to spare their lives from ending up like his friends—imprisoned or killed.   


Work Cited

“The Hazards Of Dissent.” Index On Censorship 36.4 (2007): 59-63. Academic Search Premier. Web. 12 Dec. 2013.

Mutua, Makau wa. “The Anointed Leadership.” Africa Report 39.6 (1994): 30. MasterFILE Premier. Web. 12 Dec. 2013.

Orner, Peter, and Tom Andes. Underground America: Narratives of Undocumented Lives. San Francisco: McSweeney’s, 2008. Print.