Written by: Vida Michelle / Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org –
Immigration continues to be one of the top unresolved issues of our generation both socially and politically. With all of the arguments and that go back and forth in media and government it’s easy to become desensitized and completely forget that the words “immigrant” or “undocumented” are used to represent a life. Every immigrant has feelings, a family, and a story.
There was a time when immigrants living in the US were only found in a few, coastal cities like NYC, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Miami. These places have been living with immigrants and the complications that come with having a large number of undocumented residents for a long time. Some have taken on this challenge by letting the culture of the immigrant population work in their favor. For example: San Francisco boasts on being a melting pot, the Statue of Liberty in New York is known as the welcome sign to immigrants around the world and Miami is famous for its Cuban American population which seems to add flair to the already desirable vacation destination.
For others an immigrant population is something new and difficult to get used to. The Midwest traditionally had not had a large presence of undocumented residents until the last 10 years or so, but as the cost of living has gone up in places like San Francisco and New York, more and more people have relocated inland, including immigrants. Places like Columbus, Ohio are being made to address new cultures and new issues while adjusting to their new neighbors.
This story is for all those who don’t know and hopefully will never find out what it’s like to choose between breaking the law, and saving your child’s life.
My first memory is of being under the dining room table, I am on my knees with my hands together and I am praying. I am about 4 years old, and even at that age I know that the sounds that I hear are of guns and grenades. My Mom and Dad are securing the house with the maids and groundskeeper that also live with us, I don’t know where my older brother is, but I can hear him. After about half hour it stops, starts back up and stops again. Then the shooting gets further and further away until I can no longer hear it.
From the time I was born until I was about 10 years old my family and I lived in El Salvador, and the shooting, killing, and constant fear was daily life for us. My brother, younger sister and I did our best to be observant, be quiet, watch where we’re going, and follow all of the other instructions that my Mami taught us in order to increase our chances of survival. Sometimes in the mornings on the way to school there would be dead bodies on the street, most of them adults but sometimes I’d also see children it’s then that I realize, it could happen to me too. My Papi puts on a loaded gun everyday, similar to the way the Dads on TV put on their tie. Everything that we do and don’t do was based around the civil war in my country.
Besides The War happening in front of my eyes, life is good. My mom is both a nurse and teacher having earned a double degree and my dad is a business owner and travels often. My siblings and I attend private school, we have a large house complete with maid’s quarters, a lot of land, and a variety of vegetation, fruits and animals.
One day my brother and I are walking home from school when we are stopped by a truck full of soldiers. The truck stops and one of the soldiers steps out and begins asking my brother his name, his age, and where he lives. My brother vaguely replies and insists that he has to hurry up and take me home. I am scared and I begin to plan for what can happen next. Will they take my brother? Will they take both of us? Are they going to kill us? I had heard many stories of young boys gone missing, kidnapped and forced into the Army. I start to pray. As soon as the soldier loses interest in us, we begin to quickly walk away and run the rest of the way home.
When we get home we immediately tell my Mami and I can tell she is upset, concerned and maybe a little scared. That night I can hear my parents arguing and in the morning we were told; it was decided we would immediately leave El Salvador and head for the United States, and we did.
My Mom and Dad drove us from El Salvador to San Francisco. The trip took approximately two weeks, and took us through El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, the outskirts of Texas, Arizona and finally California. On our trip we were pulled over and pulled out at gunpoint many times, stopped, searched, stolen from, and humiliated. The road was dangerous and the drive long. I remember my parents discussing “pay off” money and gifts for the police factoring into the budget. We drove through Death Valley during a time when no cell phones existed, no GPS, and no guarantees, just a few gallons of water and a prayer.
That prayer got us to our new home.
We went from rich to poor in a few weeks, from having our large family and circle of friends around to being completely alone. The culture clash kept me busy, and through many struggles, trials and triumphs life went on. We settled into a peaceful life in The Bay Area where our new normal made it possible for my siblings and I to further and finish our education, graduate high school and go on to college safely.
So a few weeks ago when I read that Pope Francis called on the worlds most powerful countries to cooperate on “adopting policies and rules aimed at protecting and promoting the human person” stating that “Migrants and refugees are not pawns on the chessboard of humanity, they are children, women and men who are forced to leave their homes.” I thought back to when that was me. I know first hand that in many instances mothers and fathers have to choose one of two possibilities: break the law or save the life of your children.
What would you choose?
There is no ignoring the many issues that arise with immigration, including the impact that undocumented people have on the economy and public resources. With that said, we still end up at the place where we are comparing money to lives. The US is not the only country with an immigration problem, but because I know that we are world leaders in almost everything, I hope we become the first country with an immigration solution.