I was born in El Salvador, the smallest country of Central America. It’s also considered one of the most violent. But I remember my home country differently.
The memories I have of El Salvador are peaceful. I remember going to school, picking fruit off trees and visiting my dad at his plant nursery. I came to the U.S. when I was 5.
My parents focus on the good rather than the bad: the beautiful landscapes, their own sense of belonging, and wonderful food. However, they don’t avoid the bad memories, like when my mom was assaulted in broad daylight, or when my parents lost their small business after too many robberies.
Since we came to the U.S., our family has not been able to return to El Salvador even for a visit. My dad’s family is mostly in the States. So our move was especially difficult for my mom, who had to leave her entire family behind. I can see the strain on her — more these days — as her parents are aging. As a result, I’ve had to grow up without knowing my mom’s family and not knowing if I ever will.
In recent years, the news stories coming out of El Salvador are bleak. They paint a picture of a violent place where citizens have no choice but to flee. My childhood memories are becoming overshadowed — even getting replaced.
In this climate I can’t help but ask my parents, “Will we ever go back?”
The answer is always, “I don’t know.”
There was a time when my parents held out hope that one day they could return to El Salvador. That hope is disappearing as the violence worsens. Last year an uncle of mine was murdered. Two of my cousins have come to the U.S. after being targeted for recruitment by local gangs.
My parents are nostalgic for times when violence hadn’t overwhelmed the country. But they are growing to accept that the place they left behind isn’t the El Salvador of today. Still, we all dream of a future where we can one day set foot in our home country again.
This story was originally published August 2, 2018.