Thursday, June 21, 2007

Two tales of Salvadorans in the US

Two different stories appeared in US newspapers this week talking about aspects of the experience of Salvadorans who have left their home country and taken up residence in the US. The first story appeared in the Washington Post and talked about a new coordination among groups of Salvadoran-owned businesses in different parts of the country:

Until recently, the groups have focused on helping Salvadoran-owned businesses in their communities network, promote products and navigate local government regulations. The accords signed Tuesday created the first official connections among the U.S.-based groups and signaled the growing clout wielded by immigrant business owners....

The expatriate community in the United States is a prime target for El Salvador President Elias Antonio Saca as he tries to jump-start his country's economy by opening export markets and encouraging foreign investment. Salvadorans living in the United States accounted for a vast portion of the nearly $3.3 billion sent home in remittances in 2006, according to the Inter-American Development Bank. Most of that money has gone to families for food, shelter and personal use. The Saca government would like to cultivate more direct investment in projects such as commercial development and tourism.

The success stories of Salvadorans who have established businesses in the US is only one side of the emigration story. Another news story from Santa Cruz, California, describes the lives of some members of the Salvadoran community there, some of whom are here illegally and some who would be illegal if they did not have Temporary Protected Status:
"Without legal status, we can't move forward and improve our lives," said Castaneda Merino, who would like to work for a large factory some day but can't because he doesn't have the proper documents.

All three men said they remember the disasters and wars as though they occurred yesterday. Jose Delores, the eldest, recalled with tears how his father was killed in the civil war by government forces who mistook the farmer for a revolutionary. "We had to move to Honduras after that," he said of his family. "We lived near the northern border, in the town of Cabana"

The trio of men claim they left their country because of the lousy economy, and they say the country has been that way ever since they can remember. The cataclysmic events just made it worse. Like many residents of Third World countries, the men cast an eye at the United States, hopping a freight train that's known for traveling through most of the interior of Mexico. From there, they made their way to the border towns of Tijuana and El Paso.

The stories of both the Salvadoran business leader and the Salvadoran manual laborer are part of the complex web of ties between the US and El Salvador. So long as El Salvador's economy is not generating jobs and opportunity, and the US economy is, the lure of the North will remain.

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