Times were Hard, Then   6 comments

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.

6 responses to “Times were Hard, Then

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  1. I have mixed feelings about exporting one’s own people to other countries to create a remittance culture. It has the value of creating “instant wealth” which allows poor people to obtain goods and services they were once unable to obtain. However, when the glamour and cash exceed the capacity of wisdom and foresight, people run into problems. There is no longer incentive to improve the state of affairs in the home country and there is a growing dependence on exporting the next generation to foreign countries to generate cash.

    I have a problem with this. Japan was blown to smithereens in 1945 with two nuclear weapons. The country came out of a horrible war with giant casualties and a deficit that overshadowed El Salvador’s. The Japanese experimented initially with some immigrants leaving for USA, Mexico and Peru. Eventually, the Japanese saw this was a drain on their own country’s talents. So the Japanese collectively decided to stay in Japan and improve their conditions with sacrifices and discomfort. Over the decades they soon became a giant economical force.

    I think El Salvador is possibly capable of this, but they have to cut the umbilical cord of comfort and remittances and accept discomfort for an unknown period of time. Yes, this must be tempered with strong leadership and a shift in the paradigm towards importance in accessible education and abandoning material wealth and “lujo”. Japan and El Salvador are very different. One is a very homogenous disciplined society and the other is a society still trying to find itself. Yeah, it does take time…sometimes decades; but isn’t it worthwhile for the generations that will inherit El Salvador?

    • I understand what you are saying, but I don’t think you can compare Japan with El Salvador. If Japan is anything like China, many of the parents are super disciplinarians. I read that Chinese parents drive their children so hard that when those kids finally do have free time one day as adults they don’t know what to do with themselves and are not very creative, because as children, all their free time was spent doing hours of homework and practicing an instrument until they became perfect at it. I don’t see that type of discipline here in E.S. In some ways, it’s a good thing – I think parents are a lot more relaxed with child raising and as a result I think many children here are emotionally and socially content and not as neurotic as their western (and asian-eastern) counterparts, but that relaxedness demonstrates itself in the economy of El Salvador. And kid’s raised by tias and abuelas getting money each month don’t quite “get it” yet even parents who kill themselves here to raise disciplined children do not always end up with success due to the limited options for decent professional jobs in this economy. It’s many things, but truly the interdependency with the U.S. with remesas and the now “assumed job” after cruzando la frontera has become a bit assumptive. El Salvador needs to focus on manufacturing and get serious. Why the heck does my refrigerator label say “hecho en Costa Rica”? I think E.S. never did fully graduate from the “Cafetal” economy into a robust manufacturing economy. I think it was always anemic, with a few handfuls of rich people ruling legions of peasants. Then the war came, and here we are now. A bit better, with some pockets of middle class, but still anemia.

  2. I think saying we can’t compare Japan with El Salvador is copping out to El salvador as a failure. I think we should say, El Salvador can be compared with Japan. The USA succeeded in many areas as Japan because they saw models from industrialized nations and commercial partners and adopted/improved on the technology to excel in exportation. Export businesses create a domestic force to harmonize and profit because other countries are buying your widgets. Once the domestic profit soars, the working class can enjoy the fruits of their labor. Once the domestic working class develop a solid base of income, they can spend cash on domestically produced products.

    You see stuff at La curacao like fridges and stoves made in Costa Rica because El salvador is an artificial consumer created by the remesa culture. The temporary wealth has stunted any desire to improve or follow the model I described. Because there is no internally generated wealth created by Salvadoran companies who export mass products overseas, the level of wealth will only be as healthy as the job market is in the USA. Hence, your local Salvadorans will almost never create locally produced technology for internal sales because it would actually cost the locals more $$. It’s a basic economic principle taught by Dr. Robert Merton in 1957. This solid rule still holds today.

    When I worked as a private military contractor, I worked for a company in Florida that outsourced our services to “maquilas” in Mexico. Though Mexico and El Salv are two different nations, they share the same language, same maize culture and many similarities. My team provided security for Japanese and Korean executives at the Hyundai and Sony plant in Mexicali and Otay Mesa. These executives never asked other Mexican employees to do things that they wouldn’t do themselves. They led by “example”. However, I never once saw,,,ever,,,a Mexican worker accept willingly, assignments such as working overtime, working on weekends, sacrificing extra hours to complete a time sensitive project. For the Mexican worker, they did their 8 hours and punched out. You couldn’t bribe them with a million dollars to stay and work past their end time.

    Children should not be laissez faire or left to be comfortable. Comfort, solace, complacency are seeds for laziness, discontent and rebellion. Compare Asian students and Norwegian students overseas with Salvadoran students and you’ll see the difference. No one is better than another human being. But our fellow human beings can be superiorby exploiting their maximum potential and enduring discomfort to reach perfection while others sit back and play Playstation 3, smoke weed and listen to Reggaeton.

    • I have to agree with this. We had a 17 year old, remisas-raised nephew staying with us in California for a few months and we had to coerce him into getting A’s. He really had no ambition of his own. I later learned that his mother would do his homework for him when he was back home. We got him a computer to help with school, but he announced to us that it wasn’t good enough because he wanted something that could play the latest games.
      I paid him to do odd jobs around the house at $10 an hour and he was scared that he wouldn’t get paid. I explained to him about work ethics, keeping your word, and delayed gratification, and he seemed to be buying it, but eventually he decided that he just wants to move back to El Salvador to live off his Grandmother.
      I asked him what his plans are after she dies and he doesn’t know, but America is too hard. His mother, another remisa tragedy in El Salvador, supports his plans. She doesn’t want any stress for her son.

      There is no doubt that remisas have ruined this otherwise intelligent family and only they can help themselves at this point.

  3. An interesting thing happened to me yesterday when I went up to main street to drink a beer and eat a snack. Two adolescent boys, probably between 15 and 17 came by, selling keychains. They told me the common story of “ni hemos almorzado” (we havent even eaten lunch yet) – at 6pm. I said “Come ON, come up with a better one than that, its the same one as the old ladies selling in restaurants tell me.” But I will note – they were selling these key chains for only 25 cents a piece – nothing! and yet there they were, getting OUT and walking around to sell these keychains they’d made themselves. I bought an incredible hulk one. More than I can say for my nephew and brother in law, who sit in my mother-in-law’s home, waiting for the next meal to be cooked and served to them, leaving their dirty plates behind for that same 70 year old woman, who feeds and cleans after them, and has more business sense in her left pinky than they do in their whole body.

  4. I’m totally opposed to the remesa culture, too. It is a false sense of security for the Salvadoran people…especially if their families are illegal in the U.S.

    It’s not that I oppose illegal immigrants. I don’t. I oppose the idea of dependence on something as fragile as the American economy; instead of confronting the root of the problem — the denial of wealthy corporate leaders in El Salvador creating decent jobs with liveable wages. The short-sided thinking of pocketing so much profit at the expense of your country’s economy is ridiculous. It creates the third-world environment that El Salvador is, instead of allowing the country to advance to a place where people are working hard to build the country from within.

    El Salvador’s employment ideas are archaic. They not only broadcast ageist hiring practices by demanding employees be between the ages of 19 to 35, which is barely wet behind the ears in knowledge based employment practices; but they exploit so many of El Salvador’s natural talent by paying them slave wages. It’s this provincial thinking…the feudalistic approach to humanity…that keeps El Salvador from becoming a great country. It certainly has great people. It certainly has great natural resources. It has great education. So what keeps it down? The corporate elite provincials and the attitude they foster of teaching their countrymen to rely on remesas for advancement.

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