Jose’s story is the second installment of senior oral histories in our My Life, My Stories series. Jose and MLMS founder, Brittany Bare, spent many hours together recording his reminiscences.
Their conversations run the gamut from his decision to flee San Salvador for the US during the Salvadoran Civil War to quiet moments when he describes how much he savors his wife’s tamales.
JOSE: I’m from El Salvador, from San Salvador.
When I was, when I was still living over there, I was working in my last job in a company, Monsanto, and they took care of business about agricultural system over there. It was a good job and everything, but then the problems with the government and the guerrilla begins.
I remember one night, I told the mother of my kids, ‘Bring the kids down, and we sleep in the floor. It was too much to bear. Next day, I buy my first um, pack of cigarette. So, dueing to too many problems over there, the company closed down business.
I knew it was going to be impossible to find a job...everybody begin to come over here. Everybody.
My two babies were just little one. I remember Carlos Eduardo was only six months. And Roxanna...I guess, like, she already have uh, like uh, two years. They got sick. The mother of my kids told me...Aracelli, ‘Jose, Jose, we have to go to the hospital. I’m worried about my girl.’ So we went.
That night, we find a lot of people over there dressing up from the guerrillas. And they told us, you know, go back...whatever you do, do it tomorrow.
So after I see that and Monsanto leave us without a job, I talked to her, and I said, ‘Listen, I’m going to the US. I’m gonna try to go over there.’ And then I came like everybody else was coming in those days. I grabbed some money and I paid a pollero, the one who cross with the border. And the guy was so afraid to come to cross the border with us, that he leave us in Mexico in one of those hotel at the border.
The place where we were, it wasn’t a big river, it was a little creek...kids were playing over there. And then I saw people crossing and they calling, ‘Come! Come! Come!’ And I follow them. And we crossed the, the river. People were watching us, they say, ‘Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! Go! Go! Go! Go! Go!’
At the other side, I managed to find some people and they say, ‘I got connections, you know, I can get you over there to Los Angeles.’ ‘Oh? Good.’
We reach Los Angeles about four o’clock in the morning. And I remember they just open the door of the car and they say, ‘Okay, you are in the US, good luck.’ And I found a lot of friends over there. Because like I learn since the beginning of the New Year that someone is renting a big apartment, two rooms apartment. But the live like tacos. When you open the door, you have to crawl, because there’s one sleeping here or you’re here or you’re here or here. Lot of people.
I don’t wanna be over there is Los Angeles. I say, no, I wanna go to San Francisco and then they say, ‘Okay, listen, we have plans for my mother, she want us to take her to San Francisco, and you go to San Francisco, so you go with us, and you stay over there. Oh! Perfect!
And that’s the way I came to...went to Los Angeles and from Los Angeles to San Francisco.
Though Jose has been granted citizenship since his border crossing, Brittany has asked we not use his last name because of the contentious current political climate around immigration.
My Life, My Stories, founded by Brittany Bare, is a local non-profit working to gather oral histories of Bay Area seniors — with a larger mission of engaging elders in general. You can contact Brittany Bare at email@example.com or at (510) 671-5875. To find out how you or someone you know can get involved, check out My Life, My Stories.
My Life, My Stories is hosting a live event at 7pm on November 11th at Adobe Books. Seniors will have a public platform to share their memories and stories with audience members. The evening's theme is focused around the question, "What brought you to San Francisco?"