Last week I got into a conversation with my neighbor Mary, over the fence. Since she has a new baby (a surprise) along with her 11 year old daughter, we talked about child-raising. Oh, it’s old hat for me, she says. I took care of my brothers since I was very young. I was 13 years old when my parents both left for the United States. Mary was left all alone to care for her 6 and 7 yr old brothers. This sounds unheard of in the U.S., but remember El Salvador was at the tail end of a horrible civil war. Mary didn’t know how to cook, she had to learn. They were living in a different neighborhood at the time, and the water only ran once a month. In between you had to go to a small creek to wash clothes or haul water back home when your water ran out.
Stories like these are often told by our grandparents (or great-grandparents, depending on how old you are). It sounds like something from 50 or 75 years ago. But this story comes from a woman who is only 33 years old – it was 20 years back.
Since then, Mary’s parents have been able to send money to help their children move to a better house, and were even able to save for her two younger brothers to attend school at university level in the states on a Visa, a major accomplishment for Salvadorans.
The house she lives in is pretty nice, so before today I figured her parents were U.S. residents, probably with a professional type job. As Mary’s story unfolded, I learned it is the opposite. Her parent’s are ‘mojados’ – they are illegal aliens. I was very surprised to hear this. I wonder how hard they have worked these last 20 years to give a better life to Mary and her brothers.
Things are much sunnier for Mary’s family now. We talked about how maybe one day her mom will come back to live here. Here in a house she helped build, but has never seen, with her daughter, whom she cannot visit in El Salvador.
Yes, times were hard then, and it wasn’t that long ago.