This article made me so sad. My parents got married right before the civil war in El Salvador. My dad came here in 1979, right before my brother was born. He looked for a job for six months in San Diego, before his sister found him something in New York. He found an apartment and worked for 3 years. My mother would write him and tell him about the bodies that littered the porch and yard almost every night. He saved enough money to go back to El Salvador, hire a couple of coyotes and bring my mother and brother home.
My mom had no idea he was coming. She was hanging laundry and my brother was playing with his toys when my father showed up. “It’s time to go,” he said. My mother looked at him and the two men with him. She nodded. This was real. She scooped up my brother and barely had time to say goodbye to her family before they were on their way.
They made it to Guadalajara by bus, the most luxurious leg of their trip. They made the rest of their way by foot. My mom, my dad, the coyotes, and my brother who was only 3 at the time.
They made their way through desert and jungle, mostly at night. There’s one part of the story my mom tells over and over, recalling every detail like it was yesterday. They had reached a cliff that dropped about 20 feet. The only way around it was to jump it. My mom, having carried my brother most of the way put him down as she watched one of the coyotes and my dad jump. “Jump,” the other one said to her. “No. No. I’ll go back. This is too much. I’d rather go back,” she was frightened but she did not cry. “This is your only choice,” the man told her. “I am not jumping that with my son. Leave. I’ll go back.” The man stared at her. She was serious. In one swift motion, he picked my brother up, jumped the cliff and took off, past my father and the other man. My mom did not hesitate. Next thing she knew, she was tackling the coyote and taking her son back. “It was the only way to get you to jump,” the man said.
Crossing the actual border was easy. There was a hole underneath the fence that they all crawled through. From there, they ran for what my mother says felt like forever. Through people’s yards, past their barking dogs, until they came to a truck. They piled in, along with others who were also being smuggled in. The drive was long. I’m not sure how long they stayed in the house where they were being hidden, or how they were able to get on a plane, but they made it to San Diego airport. My dad bought my brother a little toy car before they got on the plane to New York. My brother says this is the first thing he remembers.
I think a lot about this story and what my parents went through to get here. I think a lot about what life must have been like back in El Salvador. My mother tells me about a little girl who went missing, only to be found buried upside down in the ground, her legs sticking out, and a pole jammed between them. It was a real life nightmare, and even though the war is over, gangs have taken over. Not much has really changed.
The people who come to this country, especially from Central America, see the US as their only hope. If they stay where they are, they die. They can come here, and they might die on the way, but there is hope that they won’t. That’s it. Their choices are die or maybe die. And IF they actually get here, it’s only to find that they’re not actually wanted here. No one wants to help them, they can’t find work, they are literally illegal. Imagine someone telling you your entire life and presence is illegal. You are not worth anything, not even your life. You left a life of fear for a life of new fears. Fear of being caught, fear of being found, accompanied by the still too familiar fear of dying. Their idea of The American Dream was a lie.
My parents and my brother are all United States citizens now. They are hard-working, tax-paying American citizens. My mother probably knows more about American History than anybody reading this. But she still doesn’t speak English too well, and since she doesn’t wear her certificate of citizenship around her neck, people will still think that she should go back to where she came from.
“Go back to where you came from. Go back to your life of fear, of hopelessness and nothing. Go back to probably die.”
I think about this a lot. My parents also came from El Salvador during the civil war, and my mom talked to me when I was young about it a lot. People here don’t understand what it was like. My mom told me stories of an uncle who was kidnapped, tortured, and flayed alive. The military would kill women and children and leave their bodies on the steps of churches as a way to terrorize civilians. Doctors who were arrested and disappeared because they tried to save a dying pregnant woman and her child. My aunt and her twin being imprisoned for months when they were children – literal children – and being starved and literally given the soldiers’ urine to drink. My mom can’t go visit her childhood home because all that’s left is a field of rubble.
And of course, everyone glosses over the fact that the US supported and helped the Salvadoran government during this time – the same government responsible for a majority of the brutality experienced during the war.
How are we, as Americans, involved? The American government, one of the people, was intimately involved with El Salvador’s right wing government before and after the massacre. We provided them with weapons, money, and political support for a full 11 years after the massacre. The story of the massacre, while initially disputed by both the Salvadoran and American governments, has been corroborated by eyewitness accounts (Rufina Amaya, a local woman, escaped while her family was killed). A New York Times reporter visited the town shortly after the massacre and published this article. Furthermore, examinations of exhumed remains are consistent with accounts of the brutality of the killings. Despite strong evidence of mass torture and senseless murder, America stood by El Salvador´s military leaders.
You collaborate in the brutalization of a country, deny your involvement, and on top of that you have the gall to act indignant when people come here to escape the atrocities you’ve helped create?
USA: *terrorizes and upends entire South and Central American countries basically whenever they feel like it for centuries*
Americans: Not our kids, not our problem!