Carlos | Contributor
My name is Carlos and I am a Salvadorian, even though I wasn’t actually born in El Salvador. I see myself as a Latino and a middle class person. My family history is a very strange one, but I’ll spare you the details, so long story short, my whole family as far as I know is from various parts of El Salvador, including San Juan Opico, Metapán, Santa Tecla and more.
The only people who aren’t from El Salvador are me, my two uncles, one of my two aunts, and all of my cousins, and we were all born in Denver, Colorado.
My family is very important to me. My family has always been very supportive and they are just the best people to be around. My family has also been through some stuff too. Like coming over here for example. So, my grandma came to the US from El Salvador because there were labor shortages, she had two daughters, and she had to find a way for her and her family to survive. My grandma, Melby, left her two daughters with her mom, but when her mom died, her sister in law, Carmen (also her best friend) took care of her daughters. My grandma then took a bus from the capital of El Salvador, CA (Central America not California) to Juarez, Mexico. Carmen is like my grandma too, and to my mom and aunt she’s like their second mom.
While my grandma was getting off the bus she went to get a visa, that’s where she met my grandpa. They both walked from Juarez to El Paso, TX. Then they caught a ride from El Paso to Denver, CO. As soon as they got to Denver they got jobs and went to work. My grandma worked as a cleaning lady for an office, then she worked at an italian restaurant as a dishwasher then got promoted to making salads and pizza. My grandma and grandpa had arrived her in Denver in 1983 then they bought their very first house in 1990, that was there house until 2015, so we all grew up there except for my baby cousin Sebastian.
Once she had bought a house, she bought a plane ticket to go get my aunt and my mom from El Salvador. That plane ride took them from El Salvador to Tijuana, Mexico, then from Tijuana they separated to get to Los Angeles. My grandma and aunt had to run across the border from Tijuana to Chula Vista, CA while my mom, looked like a white baby, had crossed the border in a car with a white family. That white family had driven my mom to LA and that’s where my grandma had picked up my mom. Then from LA they all together went on a plane ride to Denver.
The transition was hard for my aunt and grandma, they missed their culture, traditions that aren’t celebrated here, church, grocery shopping, which is a way different experience, and how everyone was so open and close with their neighbors. Everyone after coming home from work would do out and hang in the neighborhood. The neighborhood was a family. They both obviously missed their friends, family, and the food. My grandma had a hard time being away from her kids that long. Everything was much different but my grandma knew she made the right move for her and her family. Immigration is important to me because families like mine can come from dangerous backgrounds or come for a better life. My family came for both reasons.
My grandma and Carmen had both experienced two wars in El Salvador. War is important to me because people truly do suffer from war and it can be a traumatic and scary touchy subject for people. It was hard for my family to share this with me. Carmen and my grandma both went through the Football War and the Civil War of El Salvador. They went through the Football War together, but went through the Civil War differently. Carmen was 20 while my grandma was 11. The Football War was fought between El Salvador and Honduras that lasted all about four days from July 14, 1969 to July 18, 1969. Carmen helped protect my grandma. Carmen is from a town called Jayaque Departamento de la Libertad, El Salvador, while my grandma is from a town called San Juan Opico Departamento de la Libertad, El Salvador. Carmen and my grandma stayed huddled in a room together while hearing all the gunshots and bombing right outside their home.
Living at that period of time was very dangerous. Grocery shopping was turned violent, you had to run to and from the store to not die. Electricity for the city was cut off at 5pm. No one could be out on the streets from 5pm to 5am. They couldn’t see anything but could hear everything happening. The people living by the Honduras El Salvador border saw and heard everything. My grandma was terrified that she was going to be bombed, even in her own home because their were planes flying around throwing bombs everywhere. They were forced to stay in their homes for their own safety. Another war which was much more worse for them was the El Salvador Civil War. The civil war was fought between two of El Salvador’s military. It was a military conflict that lasted from 1980 to 1992. My grandma and Carmen experienced it differently since they were in different parts of El Salvador. Carmen was in San Miguel at the time while my grandma remained in San Juan Opico with my three year old aunt. My grandma had the electricity cut off whenever. There was no schedule like last time. Some days there was electricity and others there wasn’t. She could hear the gunshots and the bombs going back and forth between La Guerrilla and La Fuerza Armada. It was a hard time for my grandma because everyday she was in constant fear of her and her daughters life. Everyone at that time wasn’t assured a return if they stepped out of their house. No one knew if they were guaranteed another second of precious life. A lot of civilians and innocent people were killed during that war. A Catholic Archbishop of El Salvador Óscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdámez was assassinated during church during that war. A lot of priests were also killed in that civil war. A lot of people lost their lives which was sad and placed a burden on a lot of people. It was very ugly and scary to live within that time period. But, as the amazing mother that she is, she had to keep looking after her daughter.
People couldn’t even sleep at night they were so terrified and traumatized. One thing my grandma had pointed out to me was that having a dog helped out in that war, she had one, and the reason dogs helped out was because they were warning people of danger. Everytime someone would pass by a house or by the neighborhood, dogs would start barking, and everytime a bark was followed by gunshots and bombings. People had to sleep under their beds like my grandma. You had to put your mattress under your box spring and frame to sleep under some protection. All that my grandma experienced was within 3 years, she left 3 years into the war. She had to evacuate. Then she had my mom in 1981, and with my aunt now being 4, she knew she had to get her daughters out of there. So that’s when she fled to the US. Carmen on the other hand, stuck through all 12 years of that war. Carmen experienced all the things my grandma did and more. Carmen had already had her 4 kids and while being a worried and protective 32 year old mother, took in my aunt and mom. Carmen passed 3 years of the war with her sister Hilda and the other 9 with her husband and my mom and aunt. The 3 years she had passed with Hilda were crazy.
Carmen lived with no electricity because of La Guerrilla. They all stayed locked away under beds the whole entire war. La Guerrilla would enter people’s houses looking for people and kids but since Camren and Hilda’s kids were “stowed” away, nothing happened to them. If kids were found in houses they were killed or forced to help kill people. In that town of San Miguel, they had a park where they had dug a hole to dump all of the dead bodies in. La Guerrilla found Carmen and forced her to go crush corn and make tortillas to feed their army. She was protected along with the other people who made food so that their source of food wasn’t killed. Camren was in constant fear because she knew that at any point in time they could’ve killed her or if not La Fuerza Armada in planes could’ve because she was “working” for them. La Fuerza Armada had the planes this time and was attacking La Guerrilla. La Guerrilla were the bad people, and La Fuerza Armada were the good people. La Guerrilla took over a town called El Triunfo, Usulután. But, when La Fuerza Armada got their La Guerrilla quickly retreated. La Fuerza Armada took over and protected that park and town now for a week until they made sure La Guerrilla was gone. The town was once again put in a curfew. It was also 5pm to 5am, if anyone was seen on the streets, they were killed on the spot. Then after that everything died down and everything was calm again, at least where Carmen and Hilda were. My grandma, when she left to the US had left her kids with her mom, then when her mom died, Carmen helped out and took them in and went over to their house still during war. War will now have an impactful importance to me. Before hearing my families war story I used to think and wonder what people went through, now that I know my heart goes out to those in war, who’ve lost someone in war, or those who are constantly worried and terrified because of it.
In order to fully understand me, one has to know me and my family’s background and what is important to me. For the record, my family has all their papers and legal documents now. (I) Carlos, come from an amazing family, and want to help out in this world while at the same time being a pediatric dentist. This is who I am.