Life in a Gilded Cage

I’m from Zacatecoluca, in the state of La Paz, El Salvador.  I came to this country to improve my life economically.  We are not murderers, like many people treat us.  We are not bad people.  We came here to work, to help our families that stayed in El Salvador. 


With the help of God we got safely to this country, but they treat us immigrants very badly here.  Sometimes we think that people here live better than in other countries, but it’s not true.   In our country we have the liberty to do everything.  And here it’s like being a prisoner—you can’t go out.  In a lot of places, you can’t go out because they are doing raids.  Immigration is going around and rounding up people.  So sometimes you’re afraid. 


Or, I have seen many cases when the parents are picked up by Immigration, but the children were born here.  The kids are left without their parents, and they really need their parents.  We parents teach them good things.  For example, I tell my child that God will take care of him.  I read him the Bible.  I pray with him, that God will protect us from everything, even from Immigration.


I will teach my son to become a good person, to study a lot.  God willing, he won’t go out in the street doing bad things, or join a gang, smoke marijuana, or hurt other people.  Since 9/11 a lot of people look at us as though we’re terrorists.  We immigrants are not murderers, we are not terrorists.  We are here to improve our lives economically.


I’ve been here about 3 years.  Here in the United States there are many good things.  We thought that people would live well, that there would be a lot of work, lots of help for us.  But having come here, we find it’s not so.  Before, my husband and I lived in one small room for $550 a month.  But when the baby came there wasn’t room for him.  There was room for the crib, but not for him to play.  He had been crawling, and just started to walk, but there was no  space.  This apartment is cheap—$950 a month.  But in other places it’s more expensive.  So that’s why we’re here.  It was very hard for me to apply for this apartment, because my English is so poor.  We’ve just moved in. 


I grew up poor.  We have 11  children in our family.  My mother got pregnant 14 times, but she lost 3.  My parents are poor and I went to school on my own.  I paid for my own education.  The others went to school up to 5th grade, basico.  For sixth and above, I had to pay—all the way through high school.  Of all my brothers and sisters, I’m the only one who graduated from high school.  I would like to go to the university, but I don’t have the money.  It’s very expensive. 


I always worked in my country.  We worked all day, and at night we studied.  When I was a child, I worked as a housekeeper.  And when I grew up and turned 19, I began to work in sales.  I always worked in big stores, and at night I studied. 


I got my high school diploma in accounting.  It was always my dream, in my country, to work in an office.  And that’s why I pursued my studies.  When I got my job, I said, okay, now I have my pay and I want to buy a house.  I didn’t want to rent anymore, I wanted to buy.  And when I applied to buy a house, they didn’t accept me because I didn’t earn enough.  I tried twice, and twice they rejected me.  So that’s why my husband and I came up here to the United States.  I hope in the future to have a good job, to save money and buy a house in El Salvador.  They don’t want us here, and we’re not going to stay. 


Right now we’re working, but we’re barely paying our bills.  My husband works in construction.  We can’t save much money, with only him working.  We send money to our family in El Salvador when we can. 


When I first came here I worked in a shoe store.  I spoke almost no English, but the majority of our customers were Latinas.  The owner had me on probation for one month, and I sold so much that I was able to keep the job.  We Latinas talk, and sell, and they treat us better. 


Some Americans are good people, but I don’t have much contact with them because I don’t understand their language.  When I worked in the shoe store, sometimes there were Americans, and when I didn’t understand them sometimes they got angry.  But some are good people:  they saw the interest I had in selling to them, because it was my job.  I worked there more than a year, then I got pregnant.  I was almost thirty years old, and if I waited much longer I might not be able to have a baby.  So that’s why I got pregnant, and stopped working.


When I worked there, I earned only $8.50 per hour.  But the lady paid me in cash, so I came out all right.  When you earn your own money it’s great, because you can spend your money the way you want.  My mother always had problems with her knees,  a lot  of pain.  And I said, don’t worry, I can send you a few hundred dollars for medicine.  But now I’m not working, and there’s nothing I can do.  In the future I hope to work, so that my mother can go to the doctor.   First I want to learn English, then study computers and get an office job. 


In El Salvador there are a lot of gangsters.  We lived in a neighborhood with a lot of gangs, and we couldn’t move out to another place because it was too expensive.  We couldn’t go out into the street after six in the evening, because if you went out the gang would kill you.  They made you pay a fee (la cuota), $10, not to hurt you.  That’s a lot of money in my country.  As for my family, we were poor, but we didn’t rob people.  I never went out into the street to steal.   If you didn’t steal for gangsters, or pay them the cuota, they’d kill you.  Here, the gangsters only bother people who talk to them.  There, you have to pay them.


In El Salvador, my husband was an auto mechanic, fixing cars.  In the future he’s willing to do anything at all.  In the future I’d like to go back to El Salvador because it’s warm, and I like the beach.  There are beaches here, but they’re colder.  I hope to work hard, and when my baby’s older, to buy my house, maybe set up a business.  I’d like to have an automotive parts store.  My husband knows a lot about cars.  And he wants to stay here.


Back in El Salvador, his family treated him very badly as a child.  He’s a little afraid to study English;  it hurts him, because his parents treated him badly and didn’t send him to school.  So he can’t read or write.  A friend gave him a first grade book and I try to teach him, but he doesn’t want to.  Sometimes when teachers give classes, they write in Spanish and he doesn’t know what it says.  He shouldn’t be afraid.  But he’s very tired after working all day.


My husband feels better here in the U.S., with his family far away.   When he grew up, the gangsters were going to kill him because he wouldn’t join the gang.  So he says that here it’s safer:  nobody is threatening to kill him.  That’s the only reason.  My husband has three good friends here, who all have families.


My husband doesn’t have much contact with Americans.  He speaks a little English, and I think he wants to learn more, too, and get a better job. 


We immigrants are people who came here to work.  Some Americans work hard, too, building houses or working in offices, and they make good money.  But as for us immigrants, we have to work more than 8 hours, standing up all day, doing cleaning, washing toilets.  Some people have two jobs, and they never get to relax.  They get up at 2:00 AM in the morning, because they have to start work at 3:00 AM.   Later they go to a different job.  They get out at 10:00 PM at night.  They sleep very little, and spend many years doing this. 


My brother lives like this.  He’s single, and he’s bored.  There’s a lot of exhaustion in his eyes and in his face because he doesn’t sleep.  He helps my parents, gives them money for food and medicine.  My parents are campesinos, and he helps them buy fertilizer.  They grow corn, beans, sugar cane, pineapple, mangoes, platanos, watermelon. 


I’d like to say that those in charge of the U.S. government should do something for us immigrants.  We came to get a better life economically, to work and study, and take care of our health.  And to help our family in El Salvador.  We want an opportunity to have a good job and a good future in which we can earn more.  They should treat us with equality, treat us with respect.  I saw on TV that when they have raids, they take people away in handcuffs, as though they were murderers.  The only thing we’ve done wrong is to be here undocumented.