This is one story of migration from El Salvador to the United States. The pathways by which Salvadoran families establish roots in the US have been and continue to be numerous and diverse. Since the time of the Salvadoran Civil War, Salvadorans have come by plane and by foot, seeking safety, education, work and The American Dream. Conscription of children into military forces and threats from death squads during the war, devastating earthquakes in 1986 and 2001, Hurricane Mitch in 1998 and the rise in gang culture and gang violence in the 2000's, along with economic crises along the way, are identifiable events or phenomena which have caused Salvadorans to migrate north. Once established, family members attract other family members or friends with desires for unification or stories of success. Families established themselves, with documents or without.
In El Salvador, just about every family has some relative living in the US. Roughly 20% - 25% of living Salvadoran citizens live in the United States. Salvadorans work in all different sectors of the US economy. Those without documents, find work in a variety of informal ways, and can suffer abuse by unscrupulous employers. Salvadorans have a pretty strong reputation has hard workers, many holding down multiple jobs to earn enough to live in the US and send money home. The river of financial support that flows from the US to El Salvador is a river of life which sustains Salvadoran families and makes money-transfer companies a healthy profit.
While economic survival or pursuit of The American Dream have historically drawn Salvadoran family members north, changes in US immigration law enforcement have diminished the desire to migrate for purely economic reasons.
|I can't work because|
the gangs will not let
me leave the house...
|My mom sells but what|
little she earns she has
to give to the gangs as rent...
|I feel helpless because|
of the impossibility of
When the threats follow families from community to community, and there is no place left to hide, families make the difficult decision to send their young people north. Witnesses to murders and victims of persecution by police make the decision to seek asylum in the US. Family members established in the US try to help their family members who are endangered in El Salvador, sometimes working with the visa system, sometimes paying for a smuggler to bring their loved ones north, sometimes paying legal costs when their family members are in the asylum process.
The Salvadoran Lutheran Church Migration Ministry is working with the regional Migration Tables on a workshop which helps families to talk about migration issues in a safe space. The pastor who coordinates the office of Migration Ministry wrote a book entitled Pasos y Hellas (Steps and Footprints - the Route of the Migrant. The conversation points and illustrations in the book help families to identify the fears which exist in their communities. The book raises up reasons for migration, discourages migration for economic reasons, describes the journey north and what it is like to be deported. In a recent Migration Table workshop, my husband and I were trained on the use of the book, along with community leaders, pastors, police, and health workers. We used drama to act out portions of the book, which made it very comfortable for everyone to then ask questions or share real life experiences.
|In the plane they had us|
chained from feet to
hands, worse than if
we were delinquents or
|That which was the|
American Dream before,
now is the nightmare
Illustrations and captions taken from Pasos y Hellas - La Ruta del Migrante ©2016 Sinodo Luterano Salvadoreño Pastoral del Migrante