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Celebrating Salvadoran-American Day With Personal Stories

August 6, 2012 4:51 pm Leave a comment By  | Via  
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August 6 is Salvadoran-American Day, or El Día del Salvadoreño, a celebration designated by the House of Representatives in 2006 (H. Res. 721), reports Noticia. Celebrations in the New York area reflect the growth of Salvadorans on the island from less than 5,000 residents prior to the Salvadoran Civil War —  which lasted from 1980 to 1992 – to nearly 100,000 Salvadorans today, according to the 2010 Census. Although they hail from the smallest country in Central America, Salvadorans have become the largest immigrant group on Long Island. In honor of the day, Eduardo Aldeano of La Tribuna Hispana shares stories from Salvadoran-Americans whose pursuit of the elusive “American Dream,” has resulted in very different outcomes. Find the translation below from Spanish.

August 6, 2012 has been designated as Salvadoran-American Day. The group's increasing population in the New York area has turned it into the largest Latino community on Long Island. (Photo from La Tribuna Hispana)

After poverty and violence have reached deep into the soul, arriving in a new country offers a fresh chance at life spread out before one’s eyes. For those who have experienced the most extreme poverty, it’s like walking into paradise, into Eden.  From there on, all that is required is to put down roots, assimilate, and harvest the fruits of new generations.  But after the Exodus, who are you?  A native of the country where you were born?  A new citizen of the country that took you in?  Or do you simply feel yourself to be a “gringo” because you were born here, ripping out of yourself a past no one wants to remember or which one turns to only as a fleeting allegory, like the sparks from fireworks?


When Adalberto Gutiérrez crossed the border, fleeing from the war, he had only one goal: to work, save some money and bring his whole family to join him, little by little.  But this intention ended when, in the midst of his loneliness, he met Francisca, and they both, like Adam and Eve, made children in their Promised Land.  So began his story which, as the years passed and they worked hard and bought into hopes, brought him to the point when he became an “American Citizen”…  “I am very proud of my country,” he told me once during a party as we ate some pupusas as an appetizer and then yucca with chicharrón.


His parents fled from the war, but he was born here, and Raúl was brought up very strictly, always watched over by his mother Liliana, his father Gerardo, and his grandmother Alicia.  When he entered school he had little trouble learning the language, even though he spoke Spanish at home and lived the traditions of his family.  Under his parents’ rigid discipline, Raúl worked very hard at his school assignments, and from grade school on was always one of the top students in his class.  When he graduated from high school, he had the honor of delivering the valedictory address, before the proud eyes of his parents and grandmother.  As was to be expected, he went on to university on a scholarship from one of the richest men in the country, and followed the road to success of the “American Way.”  Today he is a successful entrepreneur, interviewed by some of the most prestigious magazines in the country and regarded as a prideful representative of his Salvadoran heritage, although he is hardly ever in touch with his parents.  Not long ago I met with his father Gerardo who, among other jobs, drives a taxi. I asked him about his famous son: “He doesn’t even remember us any more,” he told me.


Ricardo was twelve when his father, Anselmo, went to El Norte, following some relatives from Cantón Agua Escondida who had established themselves in New York.  He was lucky enough that at least his father remembered him and regularly sent money home to his mother so she could educate him well.  And that’s how it went; he was at the head of his class during the first years of high school, back there in San Miguel, until all the supposed blessings turned to curses.  His father had become a citizen and filed the forms so Ricardo and his mother could come to the United States as residents.  But their joy was an illusion.  When they arrived they learned that Anselmo had another family.  “I brought you here as it was my duty to do,” he told them.  “Now it’s up to you to get ahead.”  Barely even knowing how to say “Good morning” or “How are you?”, Ricardo had to enter tenth grade.  His grades dropped not only because he didn’t understand English, but also because, right from the first day, the other students told him, “Either you join the gang, and we’ll defend you, or you get beat up by the blacks every day.”  The choice was obvious…  Some seven years later, Ricardo was a fierce gangsta… twelve years later he was serving a life sentence.


Magdalena arrived in this country when she was barely seven, along with her mother.  They were not fleeing from the war, which had ended, but from extreme poverty and her father’s violence and alcoholism.  She had to adapt to a “new family,” a stepfather who worked as a gardener, and new siblings who had been born here.  Her origins provided her with a strength her brother and sister did not have.  Between studying and working, she managed to earn her degree as a nurse, while her younger sister became a mother at 16 and her brother had problems with the law from running with a gang.  But the “American Dream” continues to be only a dream for Magdalena.  When she was in grade school, she began to have “behavioral problems.”  Her “doctors” recommended that she take some pills to “control them,” and they had an effect.  When she became an adult she developed the problem of bipolarity and, ironically, became addicted to the pills that had been prescribed to her.  She has almost everything, materially speaking: a good job with an excellent salary and an apartment where she lives very comfortably, but due to her medical condition she cannot become a mother.  The idea of being a plant without fruit terrifies her.


He lived in the Land of Opportunity for more than three decades, but from the day he emigrated and even when he became an American Citizen, Don Chema never stopped working as a gardener, a construction worker, a mason, a plumber, or at any of the other manual tasks in which he was expert.  Economically, things always went well for him. He never complained about not having enough to pay his bills. He helped his children and enjoyed life whenever he could until the weight of the years caught up with him.  His diabetes caused complications with his arteries and one day he had a cerebral hemorrhage.  He managed to recover, but was barely a ghost of the man he had been before.  As is the custom in the “American Way of Life,” his relatives took him to live in a hospice.  The lonely solitude ended up costing him his life… he was far from all the material things he had devoted his life to getting and keeping… and far away from his grandchildren, the last thing he learned to love more in this life.


His picture appeared on television and in the country’s principal newspapers.  He was a war hero, with military decorations at the age of  22, for having saved the lives of two of his buddies in the midst of combat… like the movie Forrest Gump.  Samuel was another example of a proud son of immigrants.  The son of Salvadoran parents, ever since he was a little boy, whenever he saw a movie about war, about soldiers, about heroes, he was always bewitched by the idea of following a military career.  And so it was that when he turned 18, he joined the U.S. Marines and shortly thereafter became a Soldier of the Empire.  His whole family was very proud.  What no one had ever told him was that one of his great aunts had died at El Mozote, one of the worst massacres of the Salvadoran Civil War in the 1980′s, a massacre committed by an elite commando of the Salvadoran Army who had been trained by soldiers of the very military to which Samuel was so proud to belong.  Historical amnesia in all its splendor.

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