By Elizabeth Ramos
Life in the 80’s was very difficult for citizens in El Salvador. The country was in the midst of a civil war between the government and the left winged groupFMLN. Life was interesting for those who lived on the countryside which is where soldiers would fight. Christian was born in 1973 to a very humble family in Intipuca, El Salvador. He was mostly raised by his grandmother whose occupancy was cigar rolling and selling. Christian was seven years old when war broke out, he didn’t understand at the time why there was a war. All he knew was that he needed to work as much as he could so that his grandmother could be safe.
Before the war began his father moved to America in 1978. Christian, only being five years old, was upset that he wouldn’t be able to see his dad every day, but his mother explained that he was going to look for a better life for them. Christian thought he had the best life- he had both of his parents, had a loving grandmother, and multiple cousins that were like brothers and sisters to him. What else could he want? There was nothing else to want. He had the most fun where he was, he wouldn’t want to have fun anywhere else. His mother told him that there was a whole other world that they had never been to and that his dad was exploring to see if he and his mom would enjoy this new world. A year later in 1979, his mother left for America as well, leaving him alone with his grandmother for the next six years.
As a child in El Salvador, education was nowhere near as important as a job. Christian didn’t go to school often because that wasn’t a priority to his family nor anyone else’s family in Intipuca. There was only one school in the whole town with no more than four teachers- the only “real” professionals in town. Kids did not have a role model to look up to besides their teachers or anyone who did manual labor or was a maid to people in the town over. These professions required zero education. Kids of Intipuca were sure that they would grow up and have jobs like their parents so everyone (including parents) were unamused with the option of school. This didn’t mean that he would spend his days lounging around. It meant that Christian began working at the age of six. First, it was small tasks like cleaning shoes then it went to picking fruit from the trees and selling it and later turned in to learning to roll cigars like his grandmother and selling them across town. Being able to sell the cigars “on the go” was very convenient for Christian because they were only being sold at their house which made income limited. This new form of income allowed Christian and his grandmother to go to the market at least once a week and helped them live more comfortably.
Their home was small, an open space with only one bedroom that only had space for one bed. In this humble home there were four white plastic chairs and one small table big enough for only a bible in the living room, a long wooden table with two chairs that acted as the dining room and Christian’s grandmother’s office space where she rolled her cigars, and a small mountain of stone that acted as a stove. Christian had to bring pounds of wood each day for his grandmother to use to cook on her makeshift stove. He would walk down to the small forest about a mile from their house with all his cousins, each one carrying a DIY’d container for the wood and an ax. They chopped down branches and small trees so that they could take the wood home. While most kids only made one trip to the forest, Christian made three trips a day. He knew he was going to be leaving so he wanted to gather as much wood as he could for his grandmother. He’d walk back home, climbing the somewhat steep hill and see his mud house with palm trees and mango trees surrounding it and the hammocks tied to those trees. He was happy to call this his home, it’s all he knew and all he wanted.
War broke out. It became normal for Christian to hear gunshots and bombs going off all day. Being seven, it was scary for him at first, but he came to accept the fact that it would not stop so he had to continue working to take care of his grandmother. Unfortunately, he saw many things that would leave anyone traumatized. But for Christian, he was able to overcome the fear by praying. He and his grandmother would pray all the time and he truly believes that is what kept him alive and with his grandmother. When it came time to get the wood at dawn, he’d see bodies (sometimes dead or unconscious) laying everywhere from the night before. This scared him, immensely but through his faith he was able to talk himself through this pain. The only times when these killings decreased were around religious holidays like Easter and Christmas. He would spend these holidays with his grandmother and other family except for his mother and father. Christian knew that there was nothing he could do about it, but it angered him that they weren’t there for his grandmother. He had spent his whole life working hard in order to reduce his grandmother’s need to work but all in all he was happy with the life God gave him. He enjoyed the simplicity of El Salvador and how rewarding it was to take care of those you love the most.
Sometime in May of 1984, Christian received a letter from his mother stating that he was going to come to America through a student visa. He was so excited, and he ran to tell his grandma. She embraced him and began to cry tears of joy and tears of sadness. Being almost 12, Christian understood why his grandmother was saddened by this news. He knew that his absence was going to be hard for her. He began to spend every minute of every day with her knowing that soon enough this company was going to come to an end. And to and end it came.
His uncle bought him a small suitcase to use for his belongings. He took all he had- four shirts, two pants, two shorts, one pair of shoes, and a watch his grandmother gave him. He had been praying more than he usually did. He feared leaving to another country he knew nothing about, but he was terrified of leaving his grandmother in a country where it seemed things could only get worse. He knew the power of prayer and prayed for his grandmother’s safety and health. Once he was done packing, he met his grandmother outside and said their goodbyes, a moment he will never forget. He knew that he did the best he could to take care of her.
The flight to America seemed to have gone by faster than he ever thought. Before he knew it, he was stepping into his new home. There was so much in this small apartment. His parents had couches, a fridge, a gas stove, a sink, a bathroom, multiple beds, a television, and his newest discovery an A/C unit. It took him months to adjust to this change. He cried for his grandmother every night. He thought coming to America would mean regaining his family but that didn’t happen. His mother worked multiple jobs and so did his father, but he was also a drunk.
He thought that America made people better, but in fact it felt worse than being in El Salvador. He started going to school in September not knowing any bit of English. He hung out with other kids who had a similar story like his and they all became good friends. His new focus became his friends, not school. School was not enforced onto him, he went because he had to, but he did not want to learn because he did not know how important it was. His life became harder when his mom had twins when he was 16.
He began working more to pick up some slack where his father was lacking. His grades dropped drastically but that didn’t matter to him. It only mattered when he almost didn’t graduate. He finally understood how important his education was and was able to graduate with his class. At this point he knew that whenever he would have kids, he would do whatever it takes for them to value education and family over everything.
He met his future wife on a summer night in August. They got to know each other well and fell in love. When he got married, Christian and his wife decided to go visit his grandmother. They went back to Intipuca and Christian was reunited with the woman who raised him. The moment was beautiful, a feeling of peace and accomplishment. They talked for hours and nothing had really changed. His grandmother wanted to keep everything simple so that she could remember back when she was fully content with life. He offered to bring her to America where she could live with him, but she didn’t want to leave her home. He was so happy that he was able to give her a hug one last time and give her money to keep her comfortable for months to come
Now Christian and his wife have three great daughters. He had to go through some very difficult moments in life but is able to say that he appreciates everything he has ever gone through because he would not change anything about his life. Christian is thankful for having been able to come to America. Although he did not take advantage of the opportunity, he learned that he has compassion for kids who are struggling which led him to work in the foster care system. Christian is able to find good families for kids who don’t have them. He is also able to be the person he needed when he was struggling for kids who are passing through difficult times. He has been able to become the father he felt he didn’t have. Christian has made education the number one priority for his daughters so that they successfully have the opportunity to achieve and live an easier life than he did. Although he believes that there are some aspects of America that should change like the tolerance for racism and discrimination, he loves how diverse America is and how many different stories there are to share. He has grown a love for learning about new cultures and traditions which is something he wouldn’t know if he hadn’t come to America. Christian is thankful for America for allowing him to give his family more opportunity than he could have ever thought of and for allowing him to play a big role in the lives of kids in the foster care system.