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.
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?
Me: Since you moved here you always been here?
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.
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?
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?
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,
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?
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.