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#RAICESMIGRANT(ES): Youth share migration testimonies

#RAICESMIGRANT(ES): Youth share migration testimonies

In March and April of 2021, Acción Latina hosted two art and writing storytelling workshops titled #RAICESMIGRANT(ES) in collaboration with nonprofit organizations CARECEN and Good Samaritan. These workshops built upon the #MigrantES project El Tecolote published in 2019 which challenged anti-immigration sentiments perpetuated by U.S. policies and mainstream media. In this iteration, students visited the virtual exhibition CARAVANA: Mobilizing Central American Art (1984–Present) I co-curated along with my partner Mauricio Ramírez and former Acción Latina Executive Director Josué Rojas at SOMARTS Cultural Center. We asked these brave young people to draw inspiration from the art exhibition – ultimately to define the migrant experience in their own voice. As the daughter of Salvadoran refugees who fled the civil war in the late eighties and now the mother of a toddler, the stories of these young migrants tug at my heartstrings. I hope the love and determination that radiates from each of their stories promotes a personal sense of empathy and inspires the necessary urgency for collective civic action.

—Fátima Ramírez

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Interim Executive Director and Co-Curator of the CARAVANA Exhibition

The CARAVANA: Mobilizing Central American Art (1984–Present) virtual exhibition is accessible at somarts.org/virtualgallery 

Caravana Exhibit

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J.J. 19, Mexico

My arrival to this country was easy, since I arrived by plane and I did not have to go through the same difficulties as my parents or other people who had to cross the border, risking their lives for a better future. But it was difficult in other aspects such as, for example, not speaking the language. It was difficult attending school, finding work, and even using public transportation.

Also coming home tired, only to sleep four or five hours, then work and return home, and so on. Several times I wanted to return to Mexico, but my parents told me that I would have a better future here, despite missing my country so much, the food, the parties and my family.

Over time I got used to everything. I began to learn the language more every day and got used to food, although it will never be the same. That’s why every time I visit Mexico I try to enjoy myself as much as possible. The difficult thing is to leave my country only to return.

Illustration: J.J

Many times you lose but other times you win.

J.B. 15, Honduras

I left my country running because the gangs were bad, very bad. They were bribing my family that is in the United States because they thought they were rich. I came to this country to change my life. I want to have a better future – study, go to school and be someone. I want to have a career, learn English, and learn different things to be a good person. 

Sometimes, I would like to go back to my country to see my grandmother. She is the person for whom I fight every day because she took care of me for twelve years. My mother came to the United States when I was 8 months old, and since then my grandmother from my mother’s side took care of me. 

When my mom came here [the United States], she sent money for food, and then she brought us. Now we have been together for four years after being apart for about eleven years. I [used to] only know her by photo, but I know that if she left me in my country, it was to have a better future and to have something to eat – to not have to be alone or have my grandmother work. 

I was 12 when I first arrived [to the United States]. I lived in a small apartment and there were seven of us. My four brothers, my mother, my stepfather and me. We lived in a San Francisco apartment for three months. My mom and stepfather worked hard to give us what we needed. We had food and we all had money to buy what we wanted. Then we moved to a house in Oakland and we were there for six months. It was a big house with four rooms and a kitchen but the rent was more expensive and there was little money left for things for us. There was a problem in the last two months because we had financial problems with paying the rent and buying food. In the end we lost the house, and we had to live for four months in the car or in hotels when we could pay them. Somehow my mom made sure to always give us our three meals a day. We spent Christmas in the car, and we tried to make my little brothers have a good time because they were little and we wanted them to be well after living in the car for so long. 

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Later a sister of my mom’s invited us to live in her house in Richmond, and we lived with her for three months. ​​They treated us super well, but it was difficult to contribute and there were so many of us that we went back to the streets. We lived in different shelters for almost three years. 

In 2020, my mother and my step father lost their jobs, and I lost my school. However, a month ago something changed. An organization called Compass, which helps families to pay a part of their rent helped us find an apartment.  It is still a bit difficult because my mom and my stepfather do not have a job yet but little by little we get ahead.

I’ve been thinking about how we can lose everything but in the end we win. For example, when I came here,  I lost my friends from my country but when I started going to school I won because I met new friends. When I was in my country, I studied and worked at the same time even though I was only 8 years old. I know that I was very small, but I liked to work on many things like carpentry, mechanic repairs, and I painted cars and houses. I realize I lost time to play or have a childhood and other things, but here I do not work. I am making up for lost time and trying to play with friends.

So sometimes you think you lose everything, but there is still so much you can win. My life has not been easy. I have lived many things. I did not grow up in a country where I could go out of my house at any time of day. Night time there is not like here. You cannot go out because of the crime due to gangs and because of the danger in our countries. Yet there are places in Honduras, Mexico, El Salvador, and Guatemala that are not bad – they don’t have gangs or crime. There are beautiful places. That is why I say that everything is never lost. I think that many times we think that there is nothing but there is always something. From all of this I have learned to not give up – be strong. You can fall ten times, but do not lose hope. Get up wanting to win. 

H.B. 19, Guatemala

My family is far from me, in Guatemala. In the distance I remember them, their teachings have been indelible marks on my heart; tips that guide my life today. Thank you mom and dad who gave me life, your love drives me to be brave and to strive for a better future. Every day I celebrate life, the blessing and the joy of having a family and people who love me. Near or far, family, I carry you in my heart. You are a treasure that I appreciate, care for and that I maintain with love, attention and with words of encouragement. I love you, my family.

The Empanada: My Story, an afternoon of sales: Every afternoon after school my mother and I would go to sell empanadas since we were people who struggled, people who got ahead without anyone’s help, only God. A great memory. Whenever anyone mentions empanadas, it reminds me so much of when I used to go out to sell them in the afternoons, especially of my country Honduras.
Honduran roots: When it comes to ‘baleadas,’ anyone who sees them it will bring many memories !!!! For many years, many Honduran families prepare them with a lot of love and they especially bring me many memories. Long live Honduras!!!! The name ‘Baleada” originated because when people were biting the tortilla, the pressure of the bite made the beans “burn” the sides of the tortilla. Many said it resembled bullets (balas), so they started calling the new plate “baleada.”
It filled us with joy, even with so little to offer: When I was 12 years old, we had a white car, it was in really bad shape and sometimes people made fun of us, saying there goes the “carcachita.” We never cared because even with so little, we really were happy. Now every time I see a car on the street that looks similar I say, “There goes our carcachita.” – S.S, 16 Honduras
I made this drawing with the first letter of my mother’s initial and mine, with the heart that is always with me. The hand indicates the promise that will always be by my side. Every time I see that painting, I will say that I had a struggling and successful mother in my life who always looked for the best for her children. The people of this country don’t have the capacity to have what they need, but it is better than in their country of origin. Everyone knows why they came to this country. I came to this country to be someone in life. We live to propel our family forward, so that they can be proud of me when they see that I am a successful person. There are two types of people: the person who wants to be a bad example and the person who is the example of moving forward, and I want to be a person who will be an example for others. – J.R, 18. Guatemala
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