This piece was self published on Medium and later published by PoliticsMeansPolitics
On Thursday, January 11th 2018, I read a report that the President of the United States referred to El Salvador — along with African nations such as Haiti — as “shithole” countries. I understand that under this administration, this type of disrespectful, ignorant, and racist rhetoric has become the new normal. But let’s take this for what it is: the leader of the so called free world denouncing nations of brown and black people; deeming the individuals in these nations unworthy of the freedom, opportunity, and safety of an American life.
(It is not lost on me that our corrupt justice system and law enforcement prevents the totality of these ideals in the lives of minorities in the US.)
Upon reading this report, my heart shot to my stomach like a bullet through water. My palms moistened with sweat and trembled almost ferociously. As a first generation Salvadoran-American, I rarely hear about people like me in the media unless it’s bad news. When you hear about Salvadorans, the stories are either centered around ravenous gang violence, the separation of families, or some kind of massive earthquake. Not to mention the fact that only around 3.1% of characters in mainstream films are Latinx individuals. So I don’t exactly get to see people like me on Ellen. This vicious pattern has been further perpetuated in the past weeks. The news cycle has been filled with Salvadoran stories (and yes, it’s Salvadoran–not “El Salvadoran”). Hundreds of thousands of individuals are losing their protected status under Trump’s administration. These are mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, business owners, best friends, neighbors–as American as can be–losing what has been their home and refuge after decades of building lives. But hey, who wants immigrants from a shithole country, right?
Let’s get one thing straight: El Salvador has a lot of issues–but how did it get this bad? The country was left debilitated after a US funded civil war that resulted in an astronomical amount of human rights violations, including a US funded massacre of over a thousand civilians–half of which were children. The sitting president, Ronald Reagan, avidly supported these militant efforts against civilians and guerrilla groups. So what do you do when people are being massacred in your country? Seek refuge. During the war, Salvadorans fled the country for a better life in the United States; a free nation whose song is carried on the winds of the Atlantic and Pacific: “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”. Salvadorans came as refugees to the US, but were denied refugee status. Many were children who left families behind, finding themselves in a new, scary place–not knowing the language, surrounded by gang violence. This is how gangs such as the infamous MS-13 originated, which worsened as US law enforcement and Reagan’s War on Drugs ravaged–in place of rehabilitating–poor communities of color. Eventually, imprisoned gangsters were deported back to El Salvador and have been wreaking havoc on the country since.
When I think of El Salvador, I think of my grandmother’s cooking and the dewiness of her skin. I think of her rosy cheeks, and the fullness of her smile when she clutches onto my arm as we watch the motorcycles go by in the afternoon sun. I think of how when the sunlight bursts through the slats of her kitchen window, the yellow walls glow as if they were emitting light themselves.
Not a shithole. But a dangerous place, nonetheless. Salvadoran gangs are notorious for extortion, kidnapping, robbing, raping… just about every atrocity one can imagine is possible to be subjected to, and impossible to seek justice for. You can imagine why countless immigrants seek refuge in the United States. And so many don’t have a choice. Salvadorans migrate to the US after being threatened and even attacked by ruling gangs.
But the president would rather have Norwegian immigrants than to provide safety for brown people in need. By this point nobody should have a doubt in their mind that racism is the hallmark of the Trump administration.
To live under the tyrannous rule of a xenophobe without trying to enact change is to be complicit. The president’s remarks should be a call to action.
A call to action for all minorities to band together against white supremacy. A call for intersectional feminism. Let us not forget that the president denounced several countries–many of which are predominantly and entirely black nations. To stand together against hate is to rid our own communities of hate as well. To unite is to address anti-blackness within the Latinx community, and to fight against injustices committed against all people regardless of color, faith, sexuality, or class.
The empty, flowery talk of love and passivity will get us nowhere–we need unity and action. It is the power of a united voice that not even the President can deny, or pass off as fake news. The fervor of the Women’s March is needed everyday, for every atrocity committed by our government. If you have a voice, use it. Undocumented immigrants, dreamers, and green card holders live in this country in fear of persecution. With the privilege of citizenship, myself and many of you reading this have a duty to speak up for those who are silenced. Without fear of deportation or retaliation, we have the incredible blessing to be able to fight for those who need it.
Finally, the president’s ignorance and senselessness is our call to educate ourselves and one another. When you cannot trust what you’re being told, you have to seek out the truth yourself. Let’s not wait until it is too late.