The Voices of Christian Immigrants ~ Yaneth ~
I am an immigrant and the daughter of immigrants.
I was born in El Salvador and came to the United States at age 4 with my mother. My parents had to make the difficult decision to immigrate. Due to the repression and violence associated with the start of the civil war. El Salvador suffered one of the bloodiest and most lasting wars that lasted 12 years. This war caused the death of approximately 75,000 people. Many others were separated from their families. Most of those who were killed were innocent children and mothers.
There were also no jobs and my parents needed to survive and stay safe. This led them to make the decision that it was safer to flee our country. Leaving their home and family to make the dangerous journey to an unknown country was not easy. My dad was the first to make the journey, once he made it and settled down, a year later my mother and I prepared to meet him.
Traveling to the U.S. is risky and expensive, but it all comes with the hope that on arrival it will change your life. My parents did not have much money in El Salvador, both come from poor and humble families. It is not easy to get a visa or work permit to enter the U.S. Either you do not have enough money to apply or you do not qualify based on all the necessary requirements. The only option my family had to get to this country was crossing the border. I want to clarify that each immigrant family has their own story. Each family has reasons why they make the decision to leave their country and how they travel to the U.S.
This is our story and it was our circumstances.
My mom and I traveled to Mexico to a city near the border. When we were there we waited till dawn with the group of people we were traveling. We walked more than 5 hours in silence and darkness for fear of several dangers. I remember seeing the fields, the moon and the cows that night, it is an unforgettable memory. I was the only child in the group. I was told to keep quiet so that the cows would not move or start to moo and alert the border patrol. After a long journey and crossing the river we arrived at a country full of hopes, dreams, and security.
Every time I share my story of how I arrived in this country, I realize how brave my mom was (is). She had to think hard about the risk of traveling with her 4-year-old daughter. She knew that the risk of staying in a country with growing violence was worst than the risk of traveling to a free and safe country. I’m grateful for the risk she chose to take.
Arriving in the U.S. is only the beginning of a better life. Nothing is free. You have to work hard and everything comes with a price. My parents worked washing cars, cleaning houses, serving others, jobs that few want to have. Everything they earned was not given. A lot of effort, hours and sacrifice was invested to be able to succeed in the U.S.
They also began the process to get permanent residency. This is expensive. They invested a lot of money. Unfortunately they encountered lawyers who preyed and cheated them. Obtaining residency is the first step for citizenship. Likewise, each person, each immigrant family has their own process in the system. A system that is broken but to which it is necessary to submit to, to get legal status. There is not a “line” that people get in to get their documents. It is years of process, thousands of dollars and a long wait.
Ten years after arriving, my mother and I obtained our permanent residency.
When I was a little girl I did not know that I was undocumented or that we did not have a lot of money. We always had everything we needed. Through the years I came to understand the opportunities that I could not have. For example, most college scholarships are for citizens only. Medical services for undocumented people are limited. Plus the wages people receive for work are not always fair. Besides these limitations, I also learned what others think about immigrants. The degrading words some use to describe us or the prejudices people have. This opened my eyes to how important my legal status was. And also the discrimination that immigrants experience.
In any case, my legal status did not prevent my family and me from striving to get ahead. I was the first person in my family to graduate from high school and college. Now many of my relatives are professionals and several also have a college degree. After living in the U.S. for 19 years and investing more money I was able to get my citizenship.
When I reflect on my story, I can see how our faith has sustained us. Through hardships, poverty and our immigration process. God has provided for every need we have faced. Including his protection by allowing us to live in the U.S.
There are several stories in the Bible that tell us about the “foreigner”. Or we read about families that moved to new lands. For example Abraham, Jacob and his family, Ruth, and even Jesus.
In Matthew 2:13 we read how Joseph, Mary, and Jesus had to flee to Egypt to protect the life of Jesus. Knowing that His family left their home, their possessions and arrived in a new country is comforting to me. It gives hope to all who live these experiences on a daily basis.
In the Bible, we also read about how to treat the “foreigner”. One of the reasons I started writing and sharing stories and experiences about my life is to be able to use my voice. I want to advocate for important issues close to my heart. I have experienced injustice and racism because of my legal status. Before and after becoming an American citizen.
I understand that the U.S. has to protect its borders. I also understand the need for laws. What I can not understand is the way immigrants and refugees are treated. Without compassion and love. Especially when most people in the U.S. do not understand the immigration process or system. Most people do not know all that those in this journey experience and invest.
Leviticus says, “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” Leviticus 19:33-34
Many are quick to incriminate children. Children who did not make the decision to immigrate. Or judge people who had to make the difficult decision to leave or flee their homes to survive. Many are quick to say that immigrants or DREAMers are taking their jobs. Or that they have free college tuition when this is not true. My parents never took someone else’s jobs. They worked and continue to work in occupations that few other people will do.
Students and people with DACA* do not have the same opportunities. Like someone who is a citizen or permanent resident. What they need is the chance to live freely in the country they know as their home. To be able to work, to use their education that many have paid with their own efforts. To have permanent legal status. Many of them have served in the armed forces. Some have even given their lives for a country that does not recognize them as citizens.
Deuteronomy says, “He defends the cause of the orphan and the widow, and shows his love for the foreigner by providing clothing and food. Likewise, you must show love for foreigners, because you were also a foreigner in Egypt.” Deuteronomy 10-18-19
I share with you a glimpse of my story. A part of the process that my family has experienced not to be judged or to defend any political party. I share my story with the hope that people will examine the attitude of their hearts. To help develop genuine compassion towards someone like me. To give a voice to the more than 11 million undocumented children, students, families. People who had to make the decision to immigrate to this country. To live a safe life, free of poverty, wars, violence and much more.
Do you have a friend, neighbor, or coworker in this situation? Do you know their story? Maybe you do not even know that someone you know is going through this process.
In the next posts, you will read about other people who are in similar situations. I ask you to listen to their voices. To read with compassion and with the desire to love, serve and advocate. To find solutions that will change a broken system. Solutions that will bring benefits to the families that live here. Families that consider the United States of America their home.
Stay tuned for the next word…
*DACA- Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals
The Voices of Christian Immigrants ~ Yaneth ~ by Yaneth Diaz is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Guest Post by Yaneth Diaz
Yaneth was the first in her family to graduate from high school and college. She received her bachelors in Psychology from the University of Houston. While in college she joined staff with Cru as an intern and then God called her to full-time ministry in 2004 also with Cru. She serves with the high school ministry of Cru and especially enjoys teaching young ladies to live a life with a purpose.
Yaneth enjoys serving and advocating for communities and people in need. In her free time, she loves spending time with her family and friends.
Yaneth Diaz is a Jesus follower, wife, and mom, who desires to write about topics that affect and shape her heart, our communities, culture, and faith.
Follow her blog, Wordless Voice.
Listen to an interview of Yaneth on the Listener podcast by Cru staff, Samantha Holland.