From My Village to Yours

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
This short story is based off of the life of Carmen, an immigrant to the U.S. from El Salvador. It tells why she had to leave El Salvador, how she was smuggled to the U.S., her arrival in the sweatshops of L.A, her trials and tribulations until she found her way to live the American dream.

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Submitted: May 30, 2016

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Submitted: May 30, 2016

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From My Village to Yours: The Story of an Immigrant

By Max H.

 

 

 

“Carmen! Carmen! Can you help with the garden! I think that monkeys came in and ate all our crops again.” I ran outside, knowing that if I did not come fast enough, my mother would get upset. I strode into the garden. She was right. The plants were all scattered about. Our dinner for the rest of the week was in ruins. My heart sank. “I guess Dep can eat it,” I said. Dep was our cow, and our most prized possession, except for Dad’s old violin. But sadly, Dad was not in El Salvador. He had gone to the U.S. to make some money, but we never found out if he arrived, as he had not written or called in over four years. “If Dep eats our trampled vegetables, she will also eat the seeds,” Mother said. “You must pluck all of the seeds from the plants by sunset.” I was worried. Sunset was only one hour away, and if I did not give her the seeds, she would make me hold a twenty-pound bag of flour over my head until dinner time, or worse give me a beating with the leather strap. Luckily, I was able to find all of them and put them in a little bowl for my mother. Times were tough back then. We made less than five dollars a day from selling fruits in the city. I always dreamed of coming to America, with it’s giant skyscrapers, its abundant jobs, where you could make millions if you were lucky, but still could make thousands if you worked hard. I had decided that when I turned eighteen, I would run away to the U.S. I had already been saving money for the last twelve years. I had decided that when I got there, I would send some money to my mother every month. The next day, I went into the city to sell fruits. I stood out on the sidewalk for three hours with no customers. While I was daydreaming about America, a thief stole a tourist’s backpack right next to me. I caught the thief by the sleeve and returned the backpack to the tourists. He was so thankful that he gave me one hundred dollars. Right then and there I decided that I would leave for America the very next day.

~

I knew a man named Refugio. He could smuggle you across the border for two hundred dollars. I was afraid of him, though. Many said that he just left you in the desert to die. I knew that I had no other choice, though. After I went to him, I realized that he was in a gang that smuggles people across the border. I went to him and paid one hundred fifty dollars. The remainder of my savings I sewed into a belt I wore, because many smugglers have you pay extra, or they will not take you all the way across. I had also stuffed my shoes with grains, because I knew that many of them give you almost no food. I felt ready. I packed all my belongings into a backpack. It wasn’t much -- a photograph of my sisters, a book that I did not know how to read, a pearl that I had found one day in the ocean, and the most American clothes I had, jeans. The journey at the beginning went by without problems. I was in a group of fifteen people. We traveled from El Salvador to Mexico with ease. We were given little food, but I was prepared. The next morning we were hurried into a windowless van. We had almost no space, and I had run out of my food supply. We drove for fourteen hours. The driver wouldn’t open the van for fear of being discovered.  By the time the truck stopped, I was gasping for air. The smell in the van was terrible, as many people in our group had to go to the bathroom in the van.

~

The truck stopped with a thud. “Everybody out,” the smuggler told us. We were about 20 miles outside of L.A. Our entire group separated. We walked blindly. After several hours of walking, I saw a sign at a roadside diner.  It was written in a lot of words that I did not understand, but then I read ‘Sabroso Restaurantes’. It was the only thing I could understand. I walked into the street. No one stopped. The cars were almost running me down. I ran across the street full of fear. I hurried into the restaurant, afraid, out of breath, and feeling very small. Inside was an old woman. “Por favor, ¿puedo tener un poco de agua?” I asked. “What?” she said. Maybe she had not heard me, so I asked again, “Por favor, ¿puedo tener un poco de agua?” “Are you speaking Mexican? Blanca! I think this lady is speaking Mexican! Can you help translate please?” Another lady in her forties walked in. Again I said, “Por favor, ¿puedo tener un poco de agua?” “She said she wants water,” Blanca told the other lady. After I drank some water, I told Blanca about who I was, and asked her if she could help me. “Actually, we temporarily need someone to wash the dishes. You would only get paid three dollars a day, but you would get free food, and you could sleep in the back.” Amazed at my luck, I said yes immediately. Blanca talked with the other lady in a language I did not know. Later, I learned that the language was English, the language people spoke in America. She looked at me and laughed. I laughed too, though it felt I was doing so only to please her. I did not understand what she was laughing about. She laughed at me again. I asked her in Spanish, “What’s so funny?” She replied, “Your laugh, it sounds like a goat.”  At this, I got very upset. “Why did you call me a goat?” I asked, infuriated. “It is just a joke, Carmen. You need to get used to the American sense of humor.” “Why though?” I asked. “Because no one will be friends with you if you can’t take a joke.” At this, I was saddened. I had to be someone who I wasn’t in order to have friends. Only years later did I learn that the American sense of humor was actually quite funny, if you understood it.

~

I started the next day with some delicious fried eggs and hash browns. Soon, some customers started coming in. I got to work, scrubbing the dishes all day. It was hard work. I had to make sure that every dish was spotless. I worked until after lunch, when I got a ten-minute break. “You are a hard worker,” Blanca said. After that, I worked even harder to impress her. By the time my work ended at nine o’clock, Blanca came to me, “ I have a surprise for you,” as she led me to the back of the restaurant. “I put a TV in your room.” “A TV!” I thought. I had seen one of these in El Salvador. They were supposed to give you all of the information in the world. “It’s not much, but I thought you would like it,” Blanca said. I was ecstatic, but when I turned it on, I realized the channels were all in English. Nevertheless, I watched two hours almost every day. I learned a lot from it. I learned how to speak English through the soap operas with subtitles. I learned from news channels that there were many countries in the world, and that many of these were also in poverty. I felt like there were many people like me.  Sometimes late at night, when I saw all the advertisements for the beautiful clothing, the cars, and perfume, I wondered if I would ever have the chance to be an American.

~

After about six weeks, I started looking for another job. Blanca had told me to look for work in factories. She had said that you could make a lot of money in them. So I set out, looking for work. Almost immediately, I found a job in a toy factory. It looked very appealing, and I really wanted to get that job. At the start of the interview things went very well. Question after question, I felt I got them right. I was so happy, until the supervisor asked: “Do you have legal documentation?” I was afraid. I told him “Yes, but I forgot to bring them.” The man looked at me suspiciously. “Well, please get me those tomorrow.” The interview ended abruptly, and I never came back to that place because I was worried they were going to arrest me. The next factory I went to, I had a little better luck. It was a textile uniform factory, where they did not ask if you had documentation or not. I made about twenty dollars a day, if I made twenty pieces of clothing. I finally had enough money. Sadly, the restaurant that I had worked at closed, so I had nowhere to sleep. I asked my friend at the factory, Andrew Young. He said that he lived in old army barracks outside of the city. After work, I went to the barracks to see if I could live there. They were renting one room for fifty dollars a month. I took it, and this is how I started living in the barracks.

~

Life in the barracks was not that bad. I had very little space, but everyone there was like one family. Everyone gave some money to an old man, who would then use the money to buy food for everyone. If someone was out of work, they could take care of the elderly, instead of having to give money. I finally felt I had a home in America. There were many programs where if everyone gave one dollar, the doctor would come by and give everyone a checkup. If a person owned a car, you could take a ride with them into the city. It was all organized by the old man. He knew how to use money so that everyone would benefit from it. We stuck together like a pack of wolves. I lived in those barracks for forty years.

~

One day, when I was coming home from work, I saw a lady that was wearing a shirt that was made in my factory. I asked her how much it cost. She said it cost her one hundred and fifty dollars. I was astonished. I earned about two dollars to make one of those shirts. “How much money would I have to make in order to buy one of those shirts?” I thought, “but is not everyone equal here? Or are some more equal than others?” I was infuriated. “I thought this was the land of the free, not the land of those who take advantage of others.”

~

While I was working in the textile factory, I met my future husband Pablo. He was kind, funny, and well-mannered. He was not my ideal husband, he was a hunchback, and had crooked teeth. Nevertheless, he was the nicest person in the world. Every day he would find a bright flower and give it to me. After about one year, we were married by a priest in the barracks. I wanted to have children, but Pablo said that we could only have children if we both made more money, and had steady jobs. I figured that he was right, so every day, after work, I looked for a new job that would pay more. I had found many, but you needed to have graduated high school in order to get them. I was very sad. I had always wanted to go to school as a kid, but my family could not afford it. I stepped into the job office. Inside was a man named Mark. He and I were friends, because I was always in the office. “Did anything come up? I asked.” “Actually, yes,” he said. “There is a hat factory in downtown that needs a highly skilled seamstress.” I had learned that seamstress meant a woman who can sew very well. I was ecstatic. The very next day, I took the bus downtown to the factory, where an old lady was giving interviews. There was a long line in front of me. I was scared. Out of all of these people, why would she pick me? After what seemed to be an eternity, the lady called “Carmen! You’re next.” I walked into her office. There were piles of colorful cloth lying everywhere. She said, “I only have one question.  Can you use a double thread sewing machine?” “Of course!” I said, “I have worked in a textile factory for three years.” “Great!” she said. I got the job immediately. The best part of the job was that I was getting 14 dollars an hour. I was making so much money. Even better, Pablo was able to work as a cashier at Walmart.

~

We had three boys, all of them three years apart. I decided that they would graduate from high school, go to college, and become important people. The only problem was, that we did not have enough money to pay for tuition, let alone be able to supply them with food. Many days I wished that we could have a garden the way we had it in El Salvador, so we would not need to buy everything. I was able to solve this by buying some of the crops grown by my neighbors who were sharecroppers. I got a discount, and they got a steady stream of income. The next problem was, how would I be able to get my kids into college. I decided, the only way was if they could get scholarships. I immediately tried to help them not get anything worse than a B. They were the top students in their class, and I was so proud of them. Once they were in middle school, they could do all of their work on their own, which was good, because hard times had come.

~

My husband had lost his job. Because of this, he turned to alcohol. Some nights, he would come home at two-thirty in the morning. One day, he just left. My life became very hard. I had to work three jobs, one in the factory, one as an assistant daycare supervisor, and one as a nanny. I felt overwhelmed. I had only seven hours at home every day, and I knew there needed to be change. Luckily, after about one year of grueling hardship, I got promoted. I was now making twenty-eight dollars an hour. It was not much, but because I still lived in the barracks, it was easier. I still missed my husband though because I was working many hours alone. Going through the hardship, my kids were much more courageous than I was

~

After about six months, I saw a poster in the factory ‘Adult school lessons.’  I learned that that meant a school where adults could get their high school diploma, even if they were sixty. I started going there. The day always started off  with a U.S history lesson. This class was three hours long because many people wanted to use this time to study for the citizenship test. I learned how to read in English quite well. I also learned how to cook simple American foods, even though my cooking was much better than the teacher's.  I also learned simple math, which I had not known in El Salvador. I felt so powerful.

~

At school, I had met a woman named Anna Gomez. She was also El Salvadorian, and we had very similar lives. Because of this, we were best friends. She lived in a one-bedroom apartment with her husband and two children. Every morning, she would go to work and stay for as long as she could. She worked day in and day out. One day, after she came to work, she told me that she  would start buying Lotto tickets instead of a retirement fund. She played two tickets a day, hoping that she would win one day. I was also playing two tickets a day, so we decided that if one of us won, the other would get half of all of the earnings. One day when I won a hundred dollars, I gave half to her.

~

Six months later, I got a call from Anna saying that she had bought a brand new house and that the kids and I could come visit. It was a huge mansion, with two pools and a tennis court. I asked her “Did you win the Lotto?” “Yes,” she said, “WE WON!” I was so happy for her, my best friend had won. We had lunch, which her servants had prepared for us. Then I asked her. “Did you save any money for me?” “For you Carmen? Umm…,” she said. Then she immediately changed the topic. I asked her again “Did you save any money for me?” This time, she said “ I think it is time you should be leaving.” I got very upset, “But we had agreed that we would split it.” “Carmen, honestly, no.” I felt like I had been backstabbed by my best friend. How could this be? We had both grown up in the same town? The next day, I went to church, and the pastor told a parable about how money can influence greed and hate. I felt like maybe if was for the better and better for my soul that I did not receive half of the money, but I still felt cheated.

~

Just one month later though, I was overwhelmed with joy. Ronald Reagan had signed the Amnesty Act, and I could now apply for a Green Card. I could now get social security for the future! Four months later, I went to the podium to swear my allegiance to the United States of America. I have always loved that name ‘United States of America.’  It makes me feel like I am part of something larger, and that I am contributing to that greater thing. I swore my oath flawlessly. When I came home to the barracks, I saw my sons and all of my friends yell, “Surprise!” My sons had put together a surprise party for me. We had a huge barbecue, where we ate to our hearts’ content. Then we partied until three in the morning. Best of all, Nelson, the oldest of my sons had told me that he had gotten accepted into USC on a full scholarship. I was full of joy. I had been able to live the American dream. While it may not have been the one I had thought of as a little girl in El Salvador, it was the true American dream -- Life, Liberty, and The pursuit of Happiness. I looked into a glass of water I had. Inside, I still saw the reflection of a little girl from El Salvador, going with the smuggler to Los Angeles, and missing her home very much.  But this had now become my home, where I was able to raise a family and lead a happy life.

 

 

 







 


© Copyright 2017 Max H.. All rights reserved.

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