By Valeria Carranza FLLA ’12

My family immigrated to the United States from El Salvador during the violent Salvadoran Civil War in the 1980s.  During that time, anyone who spoke up against the government or was perceived to have a different viewpoint risked being killed. For my family, that meant staying far from politics and remaining voiceless in order to survive.

With sadness in her eyes, my grandma – my maminena – shared with me that she had once stood over my mom and uncle to protect them as the Salvadoran army pounded on their door and shot bullets through their house. My mom was only seven years old at the time. They lived in very real fear for their lives and saved every penny in order to make it out of the country alive.

Even though the Civil War has since ended in El Salvador, gangs continue to permeate communities, bringing poverty and fear. My grandfather went back to El Salvador after the war was over. Being illiterate and elderly, there were very few jobs my grandfather could do. My mom and uncle send him what little they can in remittances, and he used that money to buy himself a delivery truck. But within a few months, the gangs in the area stole my grandpa’s truck, and with it, his livelihood.

Going back to El Salvador after 18 years was an emotionally difficult but powerful awakening for me. I saw for myself the damage to people’s spirits that the gangs and the war have caused. Memories of the war are still carried heavily in the hearts of those who survived. I stood in El Jardin de los Inocentes (The Garden of the Innocent), a memorial for the children killed during the El Mozote massacre. The Salvadoran army killed more than 800 civilians in the small village of El Mozote alone. I lit a candle for all the men, women, children who fell prey to an unjust Civil War. Chills went down my back as I saw hundreds of children’s names – with ages ranging from three days to 18 years – listed on a wall that seemed to go on forever. Had my family stayed in their home country during the war, it could have been my dad’s name, my uncle’s name, my grandpa’s name, my maminena’s name, or even my mom’s name on that wall.

Like so many immigrant families, my family came to the United States seeking safety, human dignity, and opportunity. Moving from one state to another is hard enough, so I can only begin to imagine the challenges that my family faced when first trying to integrate into the fabric of American society. They had to learn a new language, culture, and way of life. It must have been scary, but my people, immigrants, are resilient – and that’s why we as a country are, too.

As individuals and as a nation, we cannot forget our immigrant roots. It’s what makes us who we are, and it unquestionably makes us stronger. Today, as we struggle through the ongoing push for reform, we need to continue speaking out the silences of those families in hiding. One day we will be able to say to our friends and families:si se pudo pasar la reforma migratoria y por fin pueden salir de las sombras del miedo(“we were able to pass immigration reform and you can finally come out of the shadows of fear”). Because pulling away from our immigrant roots is simply not an option.

Valeria Carranza is a 2012 graduate of YP4’s Front Line Leaders Academy. A first generation Salvadoran-American LGBT woman, she currently works as a Legislative Assistant and liason to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus for a Member of Congress.