I met Claudia a few years ago on my first trip to El Salvador. Claudia is a 24-year-old Salvadoran, and she is one of the brightest, kindest, most loving, intelligent people I’ve ever met. Life has not been easy for Claudia. She was born during the brutal Salvadoran civil war of the 1980s. Her family fled to escape the fighting and spent some time living in a refugee camp. The past twenty years after the war were filled with struggles for Claudia and her family. While Claudia was growing up, her mom managed to find odd jobs to bring in some income while her dad and brothers did agricultural work. The family made just enough to ensure there was at least some food on the table.
Beginning in middle school, Claudia held a part-time job. Even with a scholarship for high school, Claudia and her family struggled to pay for her schooling. To save money, many days she skipped meals and walked the six kilometers home rather than spend money on bus fare. Claudia wanted to go on to college, but the cost to attend university for five or six years until she finished her degree would be much more expensive than high school.
When Claudia’s mom saw just how determined Claudia was to continue studying, she made the decision to travel illegally to the U.S. to try to earn money to send back home to her family. Two months later, her dad did the same. Claudia’s parents migrated to the U.S. because they wanted their children to have an opportunity to go to college and have a better life. Claudia’s parents knew there was a very slim chance they could receive visas to travel legally to the U.S., so they went without proper documentation. They went illegally not because they wanted to, but because there was no other option. It would have been far better if Claudia’s parents could travel legally to the U.S. to find work. The journey would have been much safer, they would not have to live in constant fear of being caught, and they would be able to return home to visit their children.
Claudia’s parents have been in the U.S. for about five years now. Her mom currently works at a laundromat and her dad has been unemployed for about a year. Claudia is almost done with her university degree and now two of her brothers also attend college. Claudia’s parents send home money to pay for the college tuition as well as their children’s general living expenses. Without this money, there is no way Claudia and her brothers would be able to attend college.
Claudia has seemingly simple yet profound dreams for her future and for the future of her family. She wants to graduate from university, find a good job, and help her brothers graduate from university as well. She also wants her parents to return to El Salvador so they can all be together as a family once again.
I have read and heard many stories about people affected by migration, but Claudia’s story has touched my heart in ways that no other immigration story has. Perhaps it is because Claudia and I are practically the same age. Or perhaps it is because I have spent a considerable amount of time with Claudia and she has become a friend. Her story helped me understand the complexities of the situations that push people to migrate, and her story and her friendship strengthen my resolve to fight for immigration reform.
We all need to meet someone like Claudia, a person who will help us better understand migration and become better advocates for immigration reform.
For those of us who already believe we need immigration reform, a “Claudia” will help us continue on to fight for change even when it seems like change might never come. The fight has become personal for me. I want the best for Claudia and her family, and I know a legal option for Claudia’s parents to work in the U.S. is one thing that would greatly improve this family’s situation. For those people who are not yet convinced that comprehensive immigration reform is needed, a “Claudia” can help you grow in your understanding of the need for immigration reform.
Personal stories and interpersonal connections help us get past the numbers and see the children of God behind those numbers. We need to be intentional about meeting those people who are impacted by migration, and we need to be compassionate when learning their stories. Most importantly, once we know the stories, we must take the responsibility to do something.
Melissa Johansen lives in Carol Stream, IL and is a recent graduate from the Social Justice graduate program at Loyola University Chicago. She spent time working with pastors and other leaders of the Lutheran Church in El Salvador. She is passionate about educating others about injustice in the world, especially injustice faced by the people of El Salvador.
Please note that the views expressed do not necessarily represent those of everyone associated with G92 or any institutions with which the blogger may be affiliated.
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