From Rocks, Stone, and Dust

Reina Ortiz Morazan, El Salvador

Interviewed by: Leslie Castillo

"I was nervous of getting caught, I didn't want to go back home."

My name is Reina Ortiz, and I was born in Morazan, El Salvador. Torola is a little town, and it is very beautiful. The weather is very fresh and it is a very nice place to grow crops. I remember that when I was little, the streets were just made up of rocks, stones, and also dust. Torola has a beautiful church. I always remember how the bells chimed in the morning and woke me up every day. I can't remember much but all I can remember is that Torola is such a small town but it is [overflowing with its natural beauty]. When I was little, my whole family lived with me. I lived with my uncle, my mom, my grandma, and also with my brothers and sisters.

 Some of the things that we would do for jobs is that we would buy things or materials from the market for others and delivering the items to their houses. We also get some cantaros, which is a water container, from restaurants and then we would walk with them for miles over the long and rocky hills. Then we would fill it up with fresh cool water from a public well and then we would walk all the way back home so that way others can get some water, too. We can We can use the water to drink and also to cook.

 I remember the type of food we made such as chilate con nuegados and we also made a different type of enchiladas. All I can remember is that we would fry the tortilla and it had a salad on top of it. Very delicious. Some of the crops that we grew to be able to make food, is corn, and mescal, which is very good to make rope, and many fruits and vegetables. Many of these types of food, I wanted to bring them with me to the United States.

  My aunt wanted to bring us to the United States because there was a war commencing when I was a little girl. My uncle moved all of my family from Torola to San Salvador to live there until the most gruesome part of the war passed. After that, my aunt called and sent for us to travel to the United States. Then my aunt began to prepare everything. She paid a pollero, who is a person who helps people who don't have documents cross the border, to get us to Mexico and then onto the United States. When we were ready, I began to think, "why am I going to the United States?" My aunt then told me that I should learn English because you will get a better job if you know English and another language, which is Spanish for me. When it was time to leave, the pollero arrived at our doorstep. The pollero took us all the way to the United States because since were born somewhere else, we didn't have any documents. That is the way people came because these days, it is a little more difficult because of the tall fences, the immigration police, and also the greater risk of dying. The pollero would lead us to Mexico with a big group of people toward the airport.

 My journey was a very long journey. First we traveled from El Salvador to Mexico in an airplane. Then we got off and waited for another plane to take us to Guadalajara, Mexico. At the airport, that is where I had my struggle. I accidentally went to the wrong waiting room. The pollero already told us where to meet and I still went into the wrong waiting room(laughs). Then a cop came up to me and said, " If you give me twenty dollars, I will not bother you with the immigration police." Then I said that I was there waiting for my family to pick me up from the airport. I was saying a lie that way the police wouldn't be suspicious on me being there alone in the waiting room. So I just gave the cop the twenty dollars, then the cop said, " Okay, I won't bother you anymore." So he walked away. From there everything else went smoothly. From there, we waited and got on a bus to Matamoros. While riding in the bus, I felt like my life was going to suddenly change. I felt the amount of pressure that was on me right now but at the same time, I was relaxed, excited to be going to the land of opportunity. At the end of the bus ride, we waited anxiously for the pollero to come and help us cross the border into Texas. Crossing the border was harder than I thought it would be. You feel very weak, very tired from walking or staying awake but as soon as we got to El Rio Grande, this was it. We were really close and now, we had to cross the river.

The river felt very cold and all I could hear were the crickets chirping their nightly song, and also the tiny splashes of water causing the ripples all around us. The sound of the cool breeze whispering through the trees and bushes made the night very soothing to my ears. When we finally got across, we were close to the check point for immigration. Here my heart began to pound. I was nervous of getting caught. I didn't want to go back home. I wanted to see my life progress and I wanted to be successful. There we waited for a while. There were two check points and a bunch of trees and bushes along the way. We would hide in a nearby ditch because there were people and cars constantly passing by. I was scared to even move because I would hear the rumble of cars moving slowly; trying to hear if anyone was trying to sneak past them. We waited there for about thirty minutes and then when the next patrol car rolled away, we sneaked very carefully and quietly past the check points. Then the pollero signaled someone by radio to bring us a taxi. We waited about ten minutes and when the taxi came, we got in and drove away as fast as the car would go. A few hours later, we arrived in Brownsville, Texas. 

    As soon as we got to Texas, since there were a lot of people in this group, we all stayed in one tiny apartment. Then the pollero came and told the other people, including me, that our families were waiting or us. He then called my aunt and a few weeks later, my aunt had sent my family plane tickets from Texas to San Francisco. When we arrived, I stayed with my aunt because she wanted me to stay with her and also to study. That is what she said to me when I came here. It wasn't difficult to find a home because she was there waiting for me when I arrived. She has been supporting me ever since I came here. This is when I began to learn how to speak English. 

 English is everything. Learning English is like when you are learning your ABCs for the first time. It is also like going to school for the very first time. You feel excited, anxious, waiting to see what will happen the next day. To me, it was very difficult to learn English but once I learned some of it, I practiced it and I will continue to get better. I learned to speak English at school in 30th Street in San Francisco and also at a senior center. There I learned then found a job with some people that were born here in the United States. There I learned so much because the people had the patience when I didn't understand something, they would help me try to understand what they were saying. Learning English helped me out a lot because it helped me ask questions, when I go to the doctor, and it even helped me when I have a job interview. It helps out a lot to know English, and it is a very good idea to learn English. To compare English and Spanish is like comparing El Salvador and the United States.

It is very hard to compare the United States and El Salvador because El Salvador is my native land. So the culture, and the love that I have for my country. I can't compare it because one comes to the United States to progress in life. I have had my daughters. I came here to study and I have been working and I guess that is why people come here: to work. One person doesn't leave their native land behind them because a person loves the place where they came from. Well to me, people come here to progress in life., but they wouldn't forget their native land. I can't forget the culture that I was raised in because that is the way they were raised with. For the years that I have been living here, I still continue with the traditions I was raised with. 

I have been living in the United States from 1985 to 2007. Which I think is about 20 years. The reason why I have lived here for so long is because I have raised my daughters, and I got together with your father and that really helped me here. I have my family, my whole new life and I know that that is the reason why I am still living here. I have worked doing many things. I have done baby-sitting, housekeeping, also worked in the cafeteria of the Academy of Science. I have done many things in my life living here in the United States especially meeting your father. 

  I was very lucky meeting your father because he really helped me out by raising my daughters, buying a household, and raising the family. I met my husband or my boyfriend (laughs) in 1987. I found him (laughs) at my aunt's house. I was talking to my aunt and I noticed him fixing a car and then we started talking. That is how we met. It was love at first sight. That is how we found each other. Throughout the years, I have raised three beautiful daughters. The oldest one is 18, the second one is, let me see, (laughs), 15, and the youngest one is 13. All of them are very friendly, smart, and loveable. They have a little mad side. From the father, (laughs), but they are beautiful inside and out. 

 I think that it wouldn't be very hard to return to El Salvador because once a person is missing their culture, I believe that they have an urge to return and just go back to the way they were. The way we were raised. The way I was raised. I am not really sure how long I should continue to live here because as long as my daughters grow up and they have their jobs and they finish their education, that is all that I am thinking of right now. I don't know how long I should continue to live here. I don't know. From living here these years I have learned many things. New ways to adapt to new environments. To meet new people and also to learn new ways to do things around the United States and also all over the world. There is a big difference from how I lived in El Salvador and the way I live here in the United States. I have learned how to progress in life. I love the life that I am living right now but I don't know when to let go of it. 

Translated from Spanish