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A Salvadoran Woman’s Journey: Looking for the Land of Promise

In El Salvador I had a house. I asked for a loan from a lender in order to buy a stand at the market and the merchandise that I was going to sell. The lender asked for the title to the house in exchange for the money. When I repaid him, he would return the papers to my house.

I put my house up for sale in order to pay the debt of the loan and buy a more modest house outside the city. I found a buyer, but wen I tried to locate the lender so we could sign the papers, he didn’t return my phone calls. He could not be located anywhere. Finally, I found him and made an appointment with the lawyer so we could arrange all the papers to sell my house.

He never arrived. By now I had moved out of the house. I took all my things to houses of my brothers and sisters. Everything was spread out in different places. But finally the house was empty and I felt happy because now I was going to sell the house and pay my debt.

A few days later, a person who works with the lender gave me a notice. He told me that this man had already sold the house to the same buyer that I had obtained. I went to see the lender and he told me he was not going to give me a cent, that he had made the transaction and besides, the time was past for liquidating the debt. Therefore, he could keep my house. I tried to find help from a lawyer, but he told me that the process could be long and costly.

My stand at the market had been temporarily closed because they were going to remodel. In the meantime, I started to sell coffee, milk, and rice pudding in the street in order to have some money. I went to live with my mother outside of the city. I needed a place to stay after having lost my house.

I moved with my two children and grandchildren. My mother’s house is a very small house. We were twelve people in a two-room house. My sister also lives there with her children. With this living together, problems began. My son could not stand such a drastic change, from having his own space to having to share everything, besides having to travel a long way to go to school. So he decided to go to live with his godfather in the city. My daughter left with my grandchildren to live in a friend’s house.

I stayed eight months living with my mother, sharing the same bed. She has been a great help to me in this situation from the beginning.

Later, I went to live in a poor, marginated area in an asentamiento. There I was part of a group of women with few resources who received help. There were battered women who were victims of violence, and the majority were single mothers like me. Violence against women in my country is a serious problem. I participated in meetings and protests. I lived in a champa, a temporary house made of sticks, cardboard and plastic. I lived there for a year.

Two months after I was living the asentamiento, I found out that they had taken away my stand at the market. I saw that they had already returned their stands to the other people after the remodeling. But not to me.

I went to speak to the local authorities to see what was happening. It turned out that they had seen me on a video in one of the protests and had taken photos. Because I had supported the FMLN (a political party in my country which had been trying to help us), they took away my stand at the market without any further explanation.

I felt like I was dying. My own people were rejecting me. They told me I was not from that area and that I should leave. They had taken everything I had. I was left with nothing, as if I had just been born.

Time passed and I continued selling things in the street in order to survive.

On the 28th of September I met José. A friend introduced him to me. The night he arrived he became very ill. He has rheumatoid arthritis. He could not get up. My mother helped me. She went to get him and took him to her house. She cared for him for a month and he began to recuperate. José was very grateful for what my mother had done for him. He promised to look out for her and for me, in gratitude.

José was the one who suggested that we come to the United States. I didn’t know what to expect, but I thought I couldn’t lose anything by trying. A neighbor of the champitas called Manuel learned of our plan and wanted to join us. His grandfather gave him some money and José had some and the three of us started on our journey.

We left El Salvador on January 10, 2014. It was raining hard. I came so that my family would be able to buy a house to live in and not continue living in other people’s houses, so that people would not look down on them for not having a house to live in. The journey to Tabasco, Mexico was hard, but I never imagined that it could get more difficult. Almost impossible.

In Veracruz, we had our first economic loss. In order to evade checkpoints, we went through the mountains. We walked with faith in God that we would arrive in the United States of North America. There were moments when we couldn’t find anything to eat because there wasn’t any place to buy food. We ate one meal a day, sometimes two, and we walked without resting until we found a safe place to rest and eat. And so we arrived in Matamoros. We were already close to the river and we went to look for a person to help us cross the river, but that person took us to the cartel, where those kidnappers held us from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. They asked us for money. They left us in a place called La Playita. Someone gave us an inner tube, like from a trailer, put it in the water and I sat on it and my friends put all the backpacks on top of me and tied them to the inner tube with a belt. One of my friends was pulling the belt with his teeth to be able to swim and the other was swimming with one hand and, with the other, pushed the inner tube. The current took us under, but thank God, I don’t know how, Manuel pushed me to the shore. He helped José and we got out of the river. I looked for something to hold onto and what I grabbed turned out to be a human bone. We saw that it was a bone. I don’t know if it was a leg or an arm. I threw it away.

We got dressed and left. We got up and walked until nearly 12 at night. Then we sat hidden because dogs were barking and we saw lights. Later, we got up and went walking and arrived at a place that was like a plantation at four in the morning. We slept until eight in the morning. We left very wet and covered in mud. Our shoes were very heavy because of the mud and water. We went out and walked on the street.

We met a man who was gathering the grass he had cut. We asked him which way was North and he sent us to the South, and we ran into the wall between the United States and Mexico again. We had not eaten much and hadn’t eaten since breakfast the day before. We were very, very hungry. We sat inside a cement pipe and covered the hole with grass.

We didn’t move because out front was an immigration police car. After nearly two hours they left. When we saw that they couldn’t see us, we got up and ran, and after a long while we went out again onto the street. I prayed to the angels and Michael the Archangel that God put one of his angels to watch over me. While we were walking, we saw a man who was talking on the phone and José went up to him. José could speak English. He approached the man, greeted him and said, “Can you help us with some socks?” The man looked at us in amazement and asked José where we came from. He answered that we came from El Salvador, Central America. The man let us in and called his wife. She arrived in 10 minutes and gave us dry clothes. This man took us to Casa Romero in Brownsville. A month later, we are in Houston, but to get here we had to walk for four days and five nights to Sarita.

We suffered a lot because we didn’t eat for three days. We didn’t drink water and we were without any strength to walk. We couldn’t stand our thirst any longer.

Manuel wept a lot this day. Perhaps he had a sense of what was going to happen. He decided to go with a young man from Guatemala that we met at Casa Romero to search for water for all of us. This was the last time we saw him. He never returned. We waited for him until 9:00 at night. We believe he got lost. There all the trees are alike, and perhaps he did not know the way back. Later I learned that he had been deported.

José and I sadly continued on our way.

When we were 20 minutes from Sarita, we didn’t stop calling out to God and his angels that He put someone in our path because we couldn’t go any further. God did not abandon us. We were fainting. We prayed for a way out and at two in the morning there was a blessed train that God put there for us and we got on. We were on the train for 12 hours. We got off at Victoria, Texas, without knowing where we were going and looked for a place to hide and a man was working on his house. We talked to him and, thank God, he helped us. That is how we came to be here.


Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. XXXV, No. 3, June-August 2014