This story was written by sophomore Cyrus Hansen, as a part of a series written by sophomores about moral dilemmas in our community.
CW: This story contains discussion of sexual violence, torture, and murder.
As a child Emilia Estrada was doing things that most kids do: playing outside, meeting up with friends. But that all changed very quickly.
When Emilia was 16 her mom left El Salvador and went to America. This left her having to care of all of her younger siblings in the house. The reason why her mom left was to make it easier for her children to leave.
There was a civil war in El Salvador. Native peoples’ land was getting taken, and they didn’t have anywhere to grow food. The poorer people got poorer while the rich got richer. The system was becoming extremely unfair. People weren’t able to get the system back to a balance, so the only thing they could do to try to fix it was to fight.
The El Salvador civil war started in 1979 and ended in 1992. The war was between the Salvadoran Government (backed by the United States), and the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front or FMLN (combination of left wing political parties).
But, while Emelia never experienced violence in her direct family, other family members around her did. Her father’s sister was a teacher who taught 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade. She was teaching children how to read and write. She was raped, tortured, then, brutally murdered. When people found her body, all of her bones were broken. “And this happened just because she was teaching kids to read. Because you didn’t want to teach kids to read because you didn’t want people to know a little bit more. You want to keep them grounded where you have put them as your slaves, but you know without a label like that,” Emilia said.
Emilia’s cousin’s nephews’ parents were also teachers and they also were murdered. The nephews decided they’d had enough and joined the guerrillas (FMLN). Emilia says that 18 year old boys would go missing on buses. She was happy that she didn’t have anything happen to her or her daughter.
Her father taught her about what was happening in El Salvador when she was young. He taught her by listening to the radio together, and talking about what was going on. But she said that even listening to the radio was dangerous “if they hear you, you listen to this radio, they can come and come and get you and disappear your system”.
For Emilia, leaving her home country was really hard. “You leave because your options over there are gone. But not because you want to leave.” She tells a story of a man trying to cross a river to get out of El Salvador but the river was too strong and he drowned along with his baby that he was carrying with him. Emilia’s family was offered the chance to go to Australia when she was young but they didn’t go because they still wanted to stay and help in El Salvador. She really misses her family and her country. “It’s painful to leave what you know as your land,” she said.
Her dad was reluctant to let her leave; he felt like they had to stay in their home country. Emilia didn’t want to leave either but her mom already moved to America, and sacrificed seeing her own children to let them have that opportunity as well. Also when you could be in danger in everyday life, not to mention having a young daughter, the safety and opportunities that America had were much better. So she chose that option.
When she came to the US she moved around a lot. She said that Los Angeles and D.C. were the hardest places to live. She also lived in Oregon, and she liked it there. But then she came to Vermont. Here she enjoys nature and says that the main thing about it here is the people. Emilia and her daughter felt welcomed and respected. She feels like this is a great place to live. “I [would] rather do cold and have safety, than being warm and be like, ‘Oh my God!’”
Emilia is now working at a local farm and is working hard. She feels that she doesn’t need to worry when her daughter goes to get on the school bus. She misses El Salvador very much, but is glad to be in a safer place.