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by Luatani Flores
I met Ana*, during my sophomore year in high school, through my mother who worked with her at T.R.U.S.T. South L.A., a non-profit organization in Los Angeles (which you will later read about). My mother urged me to come to their community meetings, and Ana was the first person I met there. I have kept in touch with Ana after all these years despite my mom living out of state now, and I still visit her at T.R.U.S.T.. Their new location happens to be a 15 minute walk from my house.
*Ana is a pseudonym. She also did not feel comfortable sharing any pictures of herself.
Ana left her home in San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador, in 1989 at the age of 23. She was a student at the Facultad de Jurisprudencia y Ciencias Sociales where she studied law for three and a half years beginning in 1985. She chose to study law because she believed that it would give her the necessary skills to help the community. She felt it was her duty. She explains that as a student, one was involved in what was going on at a societal level. The facultad’s History page says that during the 70s and 80s, the university’s motto was “estudio y lucha” or “study and struggle.” The university wanted to prepare their students with the skills to build a more just and democratic society. In June 26, 1980, the university went under a military intervention and was forced to close. Classes resumed in 1983.
El Salvador was struggling with a Civil War that began in 1980, soon after the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero, who urged the U.S. to cease all military assistance to El Salvador. Peaceful rallies quickly turned violent when the police started shooting down crowds. In 1981, leftist parties and guerilla groups united and formed the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) to bring down the military government. This government was set in place 50 years earlier to keep the rural poor from uprising.
Ana grew up knowing that campesinos lost their lands to the terratenientes or landowners. The struggles of the campesinos became another motivator for Ana to study law because the campesinos had no one to defend them, and she knew that she could serve as an advocate for them. She remembers that students would come together and figure out ways to help the campesinos, who actually came all the way to the facultad in search of help. This situation created conflict in Ana because even though students were only helping and trying to improve the social well-being of others, the government believed that students were organizing people against it.
Ana was part of student changes that dealt with the university’s budget, specifically with student funding. She was involved in protests where students demanded more funding so that they could finish their studies. She believed that an education is a basic right and that it was their duty as students to fight for that right. She saw the organizing of students as normal, they were simply educating, but to the government anyone who studied was an enemy.
“Entonces ser estudiante en El Salvador durante la Guerra Civil, era estar en contra del sistema […] como una desobediencia civil.”
“So, to be a student in El Salvador during the Civil War was to be against the system… like a civil disobedience.” The military began to come into the facultad and attack students, wound them, beat them. She remembers having to stay inside the university buildings until the Red Cross came because only then was it safe to come out. Sometimes the military would come and target groups of students. It was not uncommon to hear of people’s disappearances.
Ana’s family insisted that it was not safe for her to live in El Salvador, so she began to prepare for her departure. She made the journey with three relatives and a woman whom she described as a mujer de la iglesia, a woman of the church, who would serve as their guide through Mexico. When they crossed the border into Mexico they were detained in Oaxaca by immigration officials despite them having valid Mexican passports. The officers let them go only after they had taken all of their money which was supposed to help them get all the way to Los Angeles.
Ana and her group made it to D.F. (Mexico City) by working odd jobs in the towns they passed through and eventually by getting a hold of her family in Los Angeles who sent them money. They gathered money to buy bus tickets to Tijuana and enough set aside to help them finish their journey. The day they were to leave for Tijuana, they waited at the bus stop where they were once again stopped by immigration officers. They were all separated from each other for questioning. Ana told the officer that she was from Oaxaca and on her way to visit relatives in Tijuana. The officer did not believe her saying that her accent was not from Oaxaca and that she did not look “indigenous” enough. He then proceeded to ask her for all of her money. At this point their bus had arrived. When she realized that she would not get anywhere with her story, she told him that he very well knew where she was from, making her Salvadorian accent apparent. She quickly explained that she was running away from a Civil War, and urged him to take the $300 she had, as long as he allowed her and her group to take the bus that had just arrived. The bus began to leave, but the officer signaled to another officer to stop the bus. He also did not take her money.
When they got to Tijuana, the woman of the church parted ways with them, and Ana and her relatives stayed at a shelter close to the San Ysidro crossing point. At the shelter, Ana met two women who had been raped during their journey to Tijuana, and so Ana let them join her group of four to feel safer during their crossing. After a couple of weeks, they found a coyote who knew the way across the border since they would be on foot and it was so easy to wander off in the wrong direction. People could end up lost in the mountains or stray too far into the dessert. They decided to cross at 3 in the morning because even though it would be the coldest part of the night, there was nearly no surveillance during that time. Once on the other side, Ana was not afraid of getting caught by ICE officials because they had already filed for political asylum. She finds her experience to be different from those of other immigrants because she has never lived with the fear of being detained and deported.
Ana and her relatives made it to Los Angeles; their journey lasted about three months. Her first job was at a sweatshop, but since she had always been a student she needed the help of other workers to better do her job. She remembers seeing other workers as subjects of study; what she was living at the moment was what she once read about in school. There was a part of her that was not completely in touch with reality. She began taking English classes because in the sweatshop she did not feel like she could fully use her knowledge and skill set.
Ana heard about a job opening at the Korean Health, Education, Information & Research Center in Los Angeles, and they were looking for someone of the Latino community who spoke Spanish to help in the creation of Latino recruitment programs. She submitted a resume, and they gave her an interview and in her broken English explained what she could bring to their organization. After about a week, she still had not heard from the organization, so she called them and that same day she was hired. Around this time she began taking computer classes at Los Angeles City College because computers were becoming more commonplace. Ana moved on to work with St. John’s Well Child & Family Center where she led outreach and family planning programs, and for the Esperanza Community Housing Corporation in their Health Promoter Network which trains low-income community members to become community health leaders. Currently, she is the Membership Development Manager for T.R.U.S.T. South LA, a non-profit organization that works with community members to fight for control over land. Ana is still interested in law, but if she ever decided to go back to school she would prefer to study economic development.
Public Broadcasting Station. Enemies Of War. Retrieved April 6, 2014 from http://pbs.org/itvs/enemiesofwar/elsalvador2.html
Facultad de Jurisprudencia y Ciencias Sociales – Universidad de El Salvador. Historia. Retrieved April 6, 2014 from http://www.jurisprudencia.ues.edu.sv/historia.html
Place of Origin
San Salvador, El Salvador
Place of Settlement
Los Angeles, Ca