The recent hypocrisy of the Obama Administration is infuriating. Yes, the president cried during his much-needed gun-control Executive Order speech, but the same day his administration released a letter that justified the deportation of everyone––including children and mothers––who crossed the border after January 1, 2014, the year the United States had a “crisis of unaccompanied children at the border.” But there have been children immigrating for quite some time (i.e. I was an unaccompanied minor in 1999). In 2014 alone, it is estimated that over 100,000 families crossed the border. My question is: Why does the media not see that the people crossing the US-Mexico border are just like the refugees crossing the Mediterranean?
Someone-We-Love’s two-part story is a brief compilation of several interviews. I call her Someone-We-Love because she’s our grandmother, mother, aunt, sister, cousin, friend. She’s someone we know, across the counter, at the checkout-line, walking on the sidewalk. I hope you can have compassion, share her story, and see her humanity—something the media often erases.
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It’s two weeks before Christmas and I am sitting with Someone-We-Love at the small café she works at. She just clocked out for the day. I jot notes on a small pad as she sips her coffee. What I understand is that migrating from El Salvador was her last resort.
Someone-We-Love gave birth to her daughter Maria when she was only 16 years old. Her husband Juan was twice her age. He was a retired Atlacatl Battalion soldier (the most ruthless faction of the military during the civil war), so he got a pension.
“I thought he was handsome in that olive-green uniform,” Someone-We-Love says. “To this day, I don’t know why I liked him.”
Beatings and verbal abuses happened too many times the nights he would stumble through the door. Someone-We-Love says, “He spent all his money on cheap cane vodka. He hung around with the village drunks. He would get so wasted and recall what he did during the war. He said if he really wanted to, he could kill me with his bare hands. That he could kill anyone, that that’s what the army taught him.”
When that occurred, Someone-We-Love and her daughter would walk in the dark for two kilometers on dirt roads to her parent’s house. It wasn’t until Maria turned five that Someone-We-Love garnered the strength to leave Juan for good. Even then, from time to time he would yell at her from the street when he was drunk. He had never helped her with money. She worked with her mom at their pupuseria, but their earnings were not enough. Her sisters, who had fled to the U.S. years earlier, sent her more money once she got separated from her husband, but still, it wasn’t enough.
In 1999, El Salvador changed their currency to the dollar and with it, the cost of living increased. Around the same year, gangs started to take hold of San Salvador. News began to spring up about a gang-tax for local businesses. Someone-We-Love and her parents lived far away from the capital, in a small coastal town, but as the years went by, so did the strength and spread of the gangs.
By 2006, fear of murders, extortions, and shootouts, were a reality as Mara Salvatrucha controlled Someone-We-Love’s town. Townspeople started to find bodies on the side of the streets like they had during the civil war. Instead of jeopardizing her parents and her daughter for fear of a gang-enforced business-tax, Someone-We-Love decided to take a shot at a U.S. visa. Her sisters sent her the 120 dollars to apply, 120 dollars is an average month’s salary in El Salvador. The plan was that if Someone-We-Love migrated and made more money in the U.S., her mother would not have to sell pupusas anymore. Avoiding the gang-tax.
With a 6th grade education, no bank account, no land or business (all unofficial requirements); Someone-We-Love got denied by the U.S. embassy.
“I had no other option, but to try and reach the U.S. by land,” she says.
She knew of the dangers of crossing Guatemala and Mexico by land. But she knew a trusted coyote who had recently completed many trips with local women and nothing had happened to them. She paid the man and made it to California in less than a month. She considers herself one of the lucky ones.
“The decision was hard. I didn’t want to leave my 11-year-old daughter. But I don’t think she could’ve made the trip at that age. I didn’t want her to. I’d heard stories. I wanted her to be older, or to try another way.” Her eyes began to water as she told me this.
Do you regret not taking your daughter with you?
She promised Maria she would return and/or send for her as soon as she got enough money. But in California, Someone-We-Love couldn’t find a job where she earned enough to pay her sisters back for the 8,000 dollars for her own passage, to save the 10,000 dollars to pay the coyote to bring her daughter, AND send Maria and parents some money every month.
“It was very hard for me. A part of me regretted coming here. I felt so alone. I missed my daughter so much. I was missing out on her childhood. But I didn’t want to stay over there and not have enough money for her education,” she said rubbing her hands as she spoke.
“On top of the financial hardship, I was scared of La Migra. They came to where I worked (a local supermarket, where she earned six dollars an hour), but I wasn’t there. I was scared La Migra would come again.”
Two years passed, she switched jobs and started cleaning houses, but still she couldn’t raise enough money to bring Maria here.
Someone-We-Love met Carlos at her apartment complex. He was quiet, hardworking, and loved her so much.
“He was the complete opposite of Juan.” Her eyes stopped tearing up and glistened. “I love Carlos.” I asked Someone-We-Love what it was like for Maria to learn about Carlos.
“It was really difficult telling Maria I had met a man I loved and that we were thinking of having children.”
Someone-We-Love didn’t know what to do. She cried so many times. She wanted to have a baby with Carlos. But she knew it would mean Maria would be mad at her. She didn’t know if her daughter would, or, could understand.
Someone-We-Love had promised Maria she would return for her quinceañera. “I left her when she was eleven. I didn’t want to break that promise.” Someone-We-Love had never had a quinceañera. She always dreamed of buying her daughter a big dress, cake, and throw a big party, so Maria would celebrate with her friends.
“I want her to have everything I never had.”
Part of Someone-We-Love didn’t want to return to El Salvador because the gang-violence had not only continued, but it had gotten worse in her hometown. She knew she had to go back to see her daughter, to watch her grow, to show her mother’s love, to keep her daughter from resenting her.
“Maria had grown distant. Sometimes when I called, she wouldn’t answer the phone. Or she would be short with me. But she would always ask when I would return.”
Someone-We-Love knew the physical distance had begun to pull her daughter away from her. She repeated, “I didn’t want her to resent me.”
“And God forbid, I didn’t want anything to happen to her. I wanted to protect her from the violence. I wanted to be there with my daughter.”
In 2010, Someone-We-Love willingly got on board the first airplane of her life—a US Immigration Customs Enforcement flight to El Salvador alongside other deportees. But the difference was that everyone else on that full flight, hadn’t chosen to be there. Her love for her daughter called for her.
But it wouldn’t be long before the circumstances in El Salvador worsened. And she would have to make the 3,000-mile trip back to California.