Professor Freya Rojo
17 May 2011
Salvadoran Diaspora in The United States of America
The United States is a country of immigrants. Obtaining information from the official website of The Statue of Liberty- Ellis Island Foundation, even in the pre-1790 period, immigration to the United States already exists. African, English, German, and Scottish come to the States. Because of revolution around the world and people wanting to reunite with their families, join their GI husbands, and also due to work opportunities, people come to the United States and to take part in the economic boom. “Between 1880 and
1930 over 27 million people entered the United States.” Starting from the past, immigrants come to the United States “in pursuit of a dream”. They believe US provides them with a better future. This thought is still popular right now. According to the US Census Bureau, in 2007, the US population includes 38.1 million foreign-born persons. 3.5 million of them are Central Americans. They make up a total of 72% of the Hispanic population. Today, new illegal and legal immigrants still come to the United States with the same reasons as people in the past did. They bring in their own cultures, traditions, ideas, histories, and skills. Salvadorans immigrate illegally and legally to the US in search for a brighter future and some send remittances back without knowing the consequences. In order to maintain their culture in a new country, they look for jobs or set up self-employed businesses and set up their own Central American space.
Salvadorans immigrate to the States because of unfavorable conditions in their home country. Poverty, crimes, natural disasters, and lack of job opportunities are the main reasons for Salvadorans to leave their country. The U.S. State Department considers El Salvador as a critical-crime-threat country. It is not the perfect place for living. “El Salvador has one of the highest homicide rates in the world; violent crimes, as well as petty crimes are prevalent throughout El Salvador.” From Al Jazeera’s news and politics channel from the video “Obama for better El Salvador ties”, “El Salvador is ravaged by drug-related violence; it holds one of the highest murder rates in the world”. Stated by Salvadoran news Contra Punto, “according to Salvadoran police, in 2010, 3,985 murders were committed, which is estimated a rate of 69.9 homicides per 100,000 population.” Due to the high violence and crime rates, Salvadorans do not have a peaceful living environment at all. Besides violence, another main reason why Salvadorans go to the U.S is poverty. In the same news clip, Al Jazeera conveys “thousands of them migrate to the United States every year and search for a better life.” Although the poverty rates have decreased over the years, El Salvador still suffers from poverty. According to the information provided by the U.S Department of State, “poverty was cut from 66% in 1991 to 37.8% in 2009.” The World Bank’s definition of poverty is “pronounced deprivation in well-being, and comprises many dimensions,” “includes low incomes and the inability to acquire the basic goods and services necessary for survival with dignity,” “encompasses low levels of health and education, poor access to clean water and sanitation, inadequate physical security, lack of voice, and insufficient capacity and opportunity to better one’s life.” This means that in El Salvador, 2.7 million people are living in poor conditions and have low income and education levels that they are not able to maintain their own life. Because of extreme poor living conditions, Salvadorans go to the US hoping to find something better than they have experienced. Natural disasters are also a big reason why they move out of the country. Since El Salvador is located in the Pacific Ring of Fire, where it is prone to earthquakes and hurricanes, natural disasters have been an obstruction for Salvadorans.
Throughout history, hurricanes and earthquakes have killed numerous people. Taking examples from the US Bureau of Public Affairs, “in October 2005, Hurricane Stan unleashed heavy rains that caused flooding throughout El Salvador. In all, the flooding caused 67 deaths and more than 50,000 people were evacuated at some point during the crisis. Damages from the storm were estimated at $355.6 million. In November 2008, rains from Tropical Storm Ida caused flooding and mudslides that killed at least 199 and left extensive property damage in the departments of Cuscatlan, La Paz, San Vicente, and San Salvador. In 2010 property evacuation operations by the authorities prevented a higher number of deaths. In June 2010, Tropical Storm Alex killed 5 people and damaged 349 homes, and in September 2010, Tropical Storm Matthew killed 3 people and damaged 141 homes.” It can be seen that natural disasters in El Salvador not only displaced a lot of people but also left thousands of people homeless and jobless. From the above reasons- crime rates, poverty, and natural disasters, Salvadorans have no choice but to leave their home country and go to a place that would bring them a better life, better living conditions, job opportunities, and higher income.
Some people immigrate to the States with their whole family but some are just the parents who leave the country to work, earn money, and send remittances back home for family members. With reference to the background note of El Salvador from the U.S Department of State website, “remittances from Salvadorans working in the United States are an important source of income for many families in El Salvador. In 2010, the Central Bank estimated that remittances totaled $3.5 billion. UN Development Program (UNDP) surveys show that an estimated 22.3% of families receive remittances.” In the Washington Post’s article “Money Earned in U.S. pushes up prices in El Salvador,” it talks about Salvadoran immigrants send about $2.8 billion to their relatives every year for necessities such as food, clothing, and housing. “Without it, the portion of families who live in extreme poverty would jump from 6 percent to 37 percent, according to a recent study by the United Nations Development Program.” However, nobody has thought about the consequences of sending remittances back to El Salvador. It is in fact is a vicious cycle for Salvadorans. Economists are concerned that increase of cost of living may result from the flood of U.S dollars in El Salvador. “With more dollars chasing limited commodities such as land and housing, prices are rising. And because El Salvador imports most of its goods from nations that can make them less expensively, the consumption boom isn’t creating an increase in jobs. Meanwhile, the ready supply of desperate workers from the even poorer Central American countries of Nicaragua and Honduras keeps down wages for existing low-skill jobs — making it difficult for the Salvadorans who hold them to make ends meet. The impact of this dynamic is visible across this eastern stretch of the country, from which much of the Salvadoran migration to the United States has originated.” As seen, Salvadoran immigrants sending back money to their relatives back home is actually going to make things worse, the cost of living is eventually going to increase and people will just continue immigrating to the US as a solution, which is a vicious cycle.
Desperation makes Salvadorans enter illegally to the United States. Some Salvadorans are so hopeless that they would rather risk their lives on a freight train to the United States for an uncertain future; they become the undocumented immigrants in the country. From the YouTube video, Immigration: Central American Migrants En Route to Arizona, Frank from El Salvador who has a pregnant wife and two children back home, shares his situation on the route to Arizona, passing through Mexico and try to get to the United States. “We know it’s illegal, but we’re doing it to help our families.” These undocumented immigrants know that they are risking their lives but they still give their best effort. The journey is definitely not easy. There are cases like a boy losing his left foot while jumping the train. Frank reveals that “here one suffers from hunger, at night it’s cold, it’s a hard journey. When one loves ones family, you want to give them everything so that they don’t suffer. We don’t need a life of wealth, the only thing that I ask is that you allow people to improve their lives.” Frank believes that people just want to improve the lives of their families and he thinks that everyone should be allowed to make that happen. He simply wants to work, therefore he risks his life and gets on the freight train because he believes that it is easier to find a job in the States. He is going to do whatever job he can find such as painting houses and construction. From Frank’s case, it can be seen how emotional and hard life is for him. We always have an assumption that undocumented immigrants are bad people because they enter the country illegally, in fact they are not bad people at all but just people who want to make their own and their family’s lives better. This video provides a clear picture of the desperation of Salvadorans going to the United States seeking for a better future. However, the people entering the States by getting on a freight train in Mexico and enter through Arizona is only a portion of them. There are still many other people who try different ways to illegally enter the States.
After the Salvadorans come to the States, they search for jobs immediately as they need a source of income to take care of their family members. Quoted from Fragmented Ties- Salvadoran Immigrant Networks in Americaby Cecilia Menjívar, majority of the Salvadorans are involved in restaurants and markets. “According to the 1990 U.S. Census, of the 38.7 percent of Salvadorans who were in service occupations in San Francisco (in contrast to 15.7 percent among the general population of San Francisco), close to one-third were engaged in food preparation.” With reference to the 2000 U.S Census, Los Angeles County has 350,087 Central Americans including 176,206 Salvadorans, which is half of the Central American population in Los Angeles County. Los Angeles alone has 238,191 Central Americans including 126,197 Salvadorans, which are the largest number in the LA County. A lot of them settle in Van Nuys, which is in the San Fernando Valley region. From my several field trips to Van Nuys, I realize that Van Nuys is packed with mostly restaurants and markets. La Tapachulteca is one of the markets I saw in Van Nuys. Getting knowledge from the La Tapachilteca website, it is a renowned market with a really long history. The first La Tapachilteca is located at downtown San Salvador. “Thanks to their work and entrepreneurial courage, Don Sergio and Mrs. Irma that little store made one of the companies most important for El Salvador since 1999 had thirty-two stores in territory Salvadoran and two stores in South California.” As a large-scale chained market, the La Tapachulteca Market provides a large variety of Central American choice for customers. It has bakery, hot deli, meats, vegetables, fruits; entertainment like music, television and game machines; and services like money exchange. Most of the products they sell are Central American products. For example, the fruit drinks “Ducal”
that they sell are product of Guatemala. This offers a great space for Central American immigrants to shop for their very own native food. It is extremely accessible for them to collect materials for a native Central American meal. Flags of Central American countries are also hung on the ceiling of the market. This conveys a sense of Central American space as the decoration and music are related to Central American countries. I talked to a lady in the cashier and she says she is the only one in the market that speaks English. This shows how native this market is as she told me the rest of the workers are all from Central America. From the past until now, La Tapachulteca has been providing native Central American products to customers; it is also very accessible how customers can get a hold of Central American groceries so easily. This is the reason why they are still very popular today. Central Americans space is created as there is a native market in Van Nuys, the market is able to stand for so long because of the native products they provide and the customers they attract are Central American immigrants.
While some immigrants are content with their situation as they have well-settled in the United States, some other undocumented immigrants are fighting for their legal statuses in the United States. In Google News’s article on May Day 2011 “Thousands March to Demand Immigration Reform,” thousands of immigrants go on the street on May Day and demand President Barack Obama to fulfill when he promised during the campaign to give legal status to millions of undocumented immigrants in the States. “Most were immigrants from Central America and Mexico demanding the immigration reform Obama has promised for some of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States to gain legal status.” Without being legalized, undocumented immigrants are not only hindered from services and benefits in the States, they also cannot go home and see their family. They come to the United States to earn money for the family and they deserve to go home and gather with their beloved ones. Being undocumented takes away a lot of their freedom; therefore undocumented immigrants voice out and hope President Obama will soon fulfill his campaign promise by legalizing them.
All in all, Salvadorans immigrate to the United States both legally and illegally as they risk their lives to get here via freight trains. They do that to avoid poor living conditions, crimes, poverty, and natural disasters in their home country; they therefore search for a better future in this new country and send remittances back home for families. However, not many people have paid attention to the harm it is going to bring for Salvadorans and to the country. Some Salvadorans immigrants fit in happily in this new country with its own Central American space, but some undocumented immigrants still have to seek for asylum every day.
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