Now Reading
Take it from a first generation Central American: your voice matters

Gabriela Alemán

Pasa La Pluma is a new kind of column, envisioned by Acción Latina’s Gabriela Alemán as a space for  women of color to collaborate, share their narratives, be published and have that work spotlighted.

With the termination of TPS and the repeal of DACA, and the Latinx/people of color experience too often being homogenized, the voices of Central Americans and of Afro-Latinx’s, of our Indigenous and of our queer community members are that much more important and deserving of a platform on which they can speak their truths.

Our communities have been on the receiving end of U.S. policy for decades, but have time and time again been omitted from the national dialog.

If it were not for U.S. intervention in the internal affairs of El Salvador and Nicaragua during the ‘70s and ‘80s, my sisters and I would not exist, a reality I had not really considered until these recent attacks on TPS and DACA.

If it weren’t for the instability caused by said intervention, my dad wouldn’t have fled Nicaragua to study in Chile and later start a life in Costa Rica. If it weren’t for poverty, my mom wouldn’t have only received an elementary school education, but worked as a pharmacist, before having to resort to selling cheese to feed her children when the Salvadoran Civil War began.

The author with her dad on Father’s Day, 1995. Courtesy: Gabriela Alemán

If it weren’t for that violence in El Salvador, my mother would not have crossed borders, boarded a plane and arrived at SFO with 50 cents to her name. If it weren’t for revolts in Nicaragua, my father wouldn’t have flown to Mexicali to find himself lost in the desert trying to cross the border. If it weren’t for U.S. foreign policy, they would have never left their homes, met in San Francisco and extended their respective families.

The only country I’ve ever known is the same one that tore my parents’ lives apart, that forced them to flee their homes and ultimately start over here in the very country that made them refugees in the first place. They were marginalized and yet still managed to succeed, which is incredible, but hardly unique.

To be first generation has meant constantly grappling with the want to connect with dialects, lands, and customs I do not know. To be first generation Central American has meant running circles around Chicanx narratives that do not include me, but nonetheless supporting and wanting to be represented so badly. (As a child I was desperately looking for a reflection)

The author with her father in Nov. 6, 1995. Courtesy: Gabriela Alemán

To be first generation Nicaraguan is to dance folklore in attempts to participate in a community that can teach me history and customs in a way my father could not. To be first generation Salvadoran means speaking the colloquial Spanish I was raised with and hoping my words don’t stumble. To be first generation has meant being the product of resilient brownness and survival, but still being expected to wave the American flag with undeniable pride.

The story of my parents is the reality of the victims of this country, who have paid with their blood, but who will live on through their stories. My parents’ stories are no more special than anyone else’s stories. They are a few of the many voices that carry generational trauma and stitch the fabric of the Latinx experience in the Americas.

To the father with a college degree and policy work experience he could not use in this country but managed to provide, to the man who has had books for all our questions—whether it was history or heartbreak—Constantino Aleman, who has always told me there’s a book for my questions. To the mother who taught her daughters how to walk into a room commanding both attention and respect with an “I’ll do it if I want to” attitude found in the sons of our community— Gabriela Ramirez, who has taught me not to quiver at the mention of something being too ambitious, because when it comes to survival, there is no space for self doubt. To the individuals who teach their children to decolonize their beauty and their minds, to bet on themselves, to take up space and to not accept “wait your turn” as an answer, this is for you.

I write to share the truths of my communities and personal experiences, and I am pulling up a chair for others to join me.

Story by: Gabriela Alemán