El Salvador: America Offers One Family The Chance To Forget Fears

This piece was first published on Claudia Castro Luna's blog

This newspaper article, written exactly 36 years ago, marks the beginning of my immigration story. Those people in the picture are my parents and my sister. I am the one sitting, with my fists turned awkwardly in the foreground. When the photo was taken we had been in the US exactly 13 days. Before that we survived in a war zone. For decades the article lived folded inside a manila folder until the day I realized how lucky I was to have such palpable evidence of my family's arrival in the US.

I have to say that in my rebellious college years the headline struck me as jingoistic. But over time I have come to appreciate the confidence in the sentiment. There is pride in that headline. The pride of being a prosperous, generous country welcoming others into the fold. This is how America saw itself before my family arrived on its shores and how it has seen itself for the thirty six years we have resided on its soil. This welcoming, generous attitude has been a core American value. Until this week.

I have collapsed several times over the past twenty four hours unable to hold in my mind the terror the refugees being denied entry into the US have encountered in the countries they are fleeing. I think of the shock and desperation they must be feeling at being so close to hope again only to be told they may not leave the airport.

To immigrate is a form of death. No one leaves what they know and love gleefully.

To immigrate is a form of death. No one leaves what they know and love gleefully. In my family's case, my parents left everything they had: brothers, sisters, friends, possessions, jobs, culture, language, the safety of the familiar, to give their daughter's a chance at life. Literally they sought an opportunity to save us from the destruction and massacres destroying El Salvador in the early 1980's.

Despite my youthful misgivings, it turns out that the newspaper headline was correct after all. America did offer my family and me a chance. A huge chance. To dream, to conjure possibilities, to know what is like to plan ahead, to almost take for granted that a new day will come.

The stance taken by the Trump administration comes from a small America, from a US no longer confident in its greatness and in its ability to offer respite to those escaping unspeakable brutalities. It is unbecoming of this nation to take such a narrow, prejudiced stance. It sullies its own history.

I am, and forever will be, grateful for the chance America offered my family. I venture to say everyone who has been given the same chance appreciates it keenly, and every day.