By Hunter Flores, LAYC Youth Participant
The theme for an immigration rally at the White House I attended recently was “we are here, because you are there.” Initially, I hadn’t thought about going to the event; a friend had invited me. My first thoughts were, “I should go, because I should care about immigration issues.” It wasn’t something that resonated with me strongly, but I wanted to support my friend, so I decided to go.
When I first arrived at the rally, I was in for a surprise; I had expected a big march with people holding banners and shouting their protests. What I found was people coming up to the mic and sharing their stories, and they weren’t just Latin Americans. There was a Syrian woman, a transgender woman, a Native American man, even a white woman! At first I was confused. I thought this was a protest for immigration rights, which I had presumed was strictly a Latin American issue. I soon learned that it is more than that; it is an issue that concerns everyone, including me.
For a long time, immigration issues didn’t concern me, despite coming from a Salvadorian immigrant family. When I was seven years old, my parents had split; my father and his family became estranged from me and my mother was left raising me on her own. My mother had been brought up with very narrow views of other cultures, and this played a huge role in shaping how I saw immigration issues. I often times didn’t understand why people immigrated here and misunderstood their intentions upon arriving to this country.
When I was a teenager, my father and I started to see each other more often. During these times he would tell me about his life, about why he came to this country in the first place. Prior to his coming to the United States, my father had fought in the 13-year civil war in El Salvador. He told me about the friends and family he lost, the horrific crimes he witnessed and brutal conditions he had to withstand. He told me about his childhood hunger, about being drafted into the war, about having to leave his country because the war had torn it apart.
He told me about how the United States sent military aid to help the soldiers in El Salvador…and how quickly the aid stopped coming as soon as the war ended. Once the aid stopped he had become a police officer, but quit shortly in his career. The crime rate was so bad and the crimes so heinous that he couldn’t live another day in his own country. He did not come to the United States for a better life, but for the chance to have a life at all.
But even after hearing his stories, I still wasn’t able to piece together what it all meant. Why did immigrants continue to come to a country that clearly did not want them? Why didn’t they just fix the problems over there? At the rally, I learned why: civil wars seem to create unsafe conditions. With resources strained and a government that can’t protect its people, many have no choice but to immigrate here, where there are resources. Now that I know this, I can appreciate all that my father had been through, and I can learn more about the immigration issue from a new, more broadened perspective.