Migration is a movement of people from one place to another, a movement which occurs due to multiple causes andfactors. Whether they migrate for better economic opportunities, access to education, freedom from political and/or religious persecutions, a migration from one's home country to another comes with a cost. The Salvadorans who came to the US felt a longingto stay connected to their homeland and aspired for a day to return someday. They did so by staying in touch with their loved ones and hometowns via transnational communications, starting with letters and call operators to the social media and WhatsApp today. Along with the interview, this paper examines the history of transnational communications between Salvadorans in the US and El Salvador, delving into how their use of modern-day telecommunications reflects Safran's understanding of diaspora -a retention of memories and a yearning to return home.
The process of migration and diaspora, a movement of people and their dispersal from the place of ancestral origin to elsewhere, is by no means an easy process. Whether the reason may stem from war, conquest, lack of economic opportunities, or politico-religious persecutions, the cost of transitioning to their host countries are costly, both physically and emotionally. Despite living in another country, migrants base their primary source of belonging to where they originate and keep alive its memories by communicating with their families and loved ones back in home.
El Salvador’s first massive exodus in the 80s from war and repression led its refugees who settle in the United States and elsewhere have not forgotten their patria, hence compelling them to keep in touch with their homeland in any means necessary. In examining the transnational lives of Salvadoran migrants in the United States, the separation of families via migrant labor shall serve to scrutinize its roles in Safran’s characteristics of a lack of belonging in a host country and a longing to return, sprouted by their deprecated conditions of labor which continued in the United States.
The first wave of refugees in the 1980s struggle with inadequate networks and means of survival due to their relative short history of migration to the United States and its government’s refusal to admit them as such. The United States government’s denial of their refugee status links to the larger picture of their anti-immigration policies which has been apparent since Ellis Island, but pertinent, towards the year of 1965 when the Johnson Administration began to intensify its efforts to circumvent immigration from Latin America, an era of high involvement in Vietnam and a rise in civil rights movements (Massey and Riosmena 294). The only exceptions are the Cuban exiles of the 1960s, a group of socio-economic elites who became allies of the United States upon their arrival in Florida, granting immediate asylum and a permanent resident status (Durand, Massey, and Pren 92). Such exceptional welcome stems from their opposition to the leftist, anti-United States Castro regime overthrowing the pro-United States Batista regime, also known as the Cuban Revolution. As for Central America, the exception applies to Somocistas of the 1980s who began fleeing the Sandinista Revolution of 1979, for the same reason as the Cuban exiles, that the United States are their allies (Massey and Riosmena 295).
"the separation of families via migrant labor shall serve to scrutinize its roles in Safran’s characteristics of a lack of belonging in a host country and a longing to return, sprouted by their deprecated conditions of labor which continued in the United States."
In contrast to the response towards the Cuban exodus and some Nicaraguan refugees above, the United States refusal to grant asylum status to the Central American refugees fleeing wars and persecutions, particularly, from Guatemala and El Salvador. Numerous testimonies speak of their ill chances of being grant asylum, which left some of them with no choice but to obtain visas as economic migrants, despite their rightful claims as war refugees (Bailey, Miyares, Mountz, and Wright 131). The United States insistence on perceiving them as economic migrants rather than as political refugees poses significant challenges to those seeking asylum, as obtaining visas requires multiple processes of papers, payments, requiring applicants to meet standard, and legal requirements to migrate for economic purposes (Durane, Massey, and Pren 95).
The lack of asylum to enter the United States throws migrants into a limbo status, a lack of documentation which limits them to menial, undocumented labor. The omnipresence of Latina/o immigrants in low-skill, low-wage labor establishing institutional barriers to regular employment, with a vast majority of jobs requiring proper documentations and IDs issued by the government plus high levels of education, training, and a relevant work experience. As a result, many of them end up in workforces which are not only minimal in pay, but also places them in spheres of invisibility under behind-the-scenes tasks in “dry cleaners, convalescent homes, hospitals, resorts, and apartment complexes,” a diminishing condition which often renders them, their daily conditions, and their humanity to be overlooked and distorted (Hondagneu-Sotelo 3).
Their difficulty of obtaining a viable means of survival further exacerbates their lack of connections in the United States due to their short history of settlement in the States in comparison to that of Mexican peoples, a latter of which has its presence in the United States Southwest since the Spanish Empire and its succeeding Mexican Empire (Hondagneu-Sotelo 8). A recent arrival group of refugees find themselves in competition against Mexican Americans and Mexican immigrants who, doubly diminishing the chances of menial survival for recently arrived refugees from the isthmus (Hondagneu-Sotelo 7-8).
It is around this time of context that the migration from El Salvador has taken place in search of haven from the life of fear which they experience daily back in their home country. With the combination of their absence of refugee status, partial educational and employment opportunities, and the competition from the Mexican and Mexican-American counterparts, refugees from El Salvador have to make the most out of inadequate connections in the United States, in particular, their families and relatives. Even though family connections are seen to be positive and beneficial in securing jobs, such assumptions often overlook the exploitive side of such networks. In the case of janitorial industry, the relatives and family members who introduced them towards employment are not only incapable (and unwilling at times) of defending their kin from harassment from their superiors, but have partaken in exploiting of their vulnerability, well aware of the fact that they are the ones whom they can count on, thus motivating them to expropriate their labor and make use of their undocumented status for their personal gain, well apparent in how supervisors take hold of their employees’ precarious citizenship status to commit labor violations against their workers (Cranford 390).
"The omnipresence of Latina/o immigrants in low-skill, low-wage labor establishing institutional barriers to regular employment, with a vast majority of jobs requiring proper documentations and IDs issued by the government plus high levels of education, training, and a relevant work experience."
It is around this period that Lorena Vacaflor came to the United States. Having arrived from El Salvador in the 1980s to evacuate from war, her primary focus became finding a place to live and a place to work. Like the workers who secure their jobs in the janitorial industry through their networks of kinship, Lorena became fortunate enough to secure a job as a hotel cleaner. Her quick entry into the labor force in Los Angeles became possible thanks to her aunt who had come to the United States in the 1970s and had begun to make earnings from the private sector of the economy, that is, domestic work (Baek 4). The aunt’s dedication as a housekeeper is characteristic of many migrant women who end up finding involvement in the domestic sphere - that is, as nannies and housekeepers (Hondagneu-Sotelo 71 and 74). While working as a housekeeper, she became an acquaintance with the house madam who has close relations with the hotel manager nearby, a connection which serves as a “social capital,” functioning as an asset towards Lorena’s employment (Cranford 380). Such network towards employment is apparent in the Garcia Network, a social network named after Esperanza Garcia who utilizes chains of kin-based networks to pool in migrants after migrants under employment list, benefiting employers with a list of replaceable workers should one of them become hurt or protest against inequities in the workplace (Cranford 392).
Amongst migrant workers from El Salvador prevail a strong sense of exclusion, during their early phases of entry into the United States. In my interview with Lorena’s son Andres, he quotes his mother and his aunt who summarize their early days in the United States with the following quote, “Ni estoy aqui ni alla.” Their initial sense of exclusion in their new country is indicative of Safran’s key characteristic of diaspora - a belief that they are not and perhaps will never obtain acceptance into new host societies, a belief which the resurgence of anti-immigrant sentiments confirms, the emotions of hostility which could not be better demonstrated by the building of the wall at US-Mexico Border in this current day and age (Reis 43).
In the case of Andres’ aunt who’s living with her father and paternal grandparents, she became torn between the family she physically residing with versus her mother and her maternal grandmother who first left to the United States, displaying her sentimental quote (“Ni estoy aqui ni alla”) of her incomplete sense of presence in both El Salvador and the United States (Baek 3). Examining such sentiment is in the transnational family life of children in El Salvador whose mothers leave to the United States or elsewhere, which in Lorena’s case happens to be Spain and Italy where her other siblings reside for better economic opportunities making income abroad and sending remittances back home, becoming a part of transnational community in which they establish co-presence in both their home and host countries (Barvosa-Carter 266).
With the separation of families via migrant labor came varying levels of yearning to return to their homeland. For Lorena and her family and relatives who settle in the United States, their yearnings vary from ambivalent to none. Like what Safran said, she and others are vaguely hoping that their displacement would be temporary and that they would someday return to their hometowns and relive their good old memories when their nation recovers from war and its socio-economic conditions would improve (Reis 43). Their daily struggles to survive in the face of low income plus their dismal outlook towards the post-war politics in El Salvador serves as deterrents to their actual returns to their homeland. Furthermore, the co-presence of undocumented relatives and their dismal possibility of return to the United States after their regression to El Salvador plays a pivotal role in switching their ambivalence towards their return to El Salvador to that of a definite determination to permanently stay in the United States, as they have little to no certainty towards the possibility of improvement in the political and socioeconomic situation of that country (Menjivar and Moran-Taylor 106-110).
The United States has seen a massive exodus from El Salvador in the 1980s due to its civil war. Unlike those fleeing Castro’s Cuba and Nicaragua after the Sandinistas’ overthrow of US-supported Somoza, the refusal of asylum to refugees from El Salvador places them in a limbo status as they cannot seek formal employment, hence limiting them to menial jobs. A partial examination from the migrant life of Lorena Vacaflor, the lack of documented status and low-income wage labor have brought a lack of sense of belonging in her new country, coupling by the longing to return to her birthplace and enjoy memories of her past; however, the lack of prospect towards improvement in El Salvador have left ambivalent to zero desire to return to her home country, a reason why she stays to this day.