In a new column that seeks to highlight the voices of young Catholics, a mission educator shares what it means to come from an immigrant family.
I want you to imagine an 18-year-old girl. A girl, because despite being of legal age, she didn’t know anything about the world outside her little village in El Salvador. A girl whose choice to leave her home ended up saving her life, and that of her family. That girl is my mother.
The oldest of six, my mother started working at the age of 10 to help my abuela provide for the family. Most of the time, they struggled for food or basic necessities. So, at 18 she decided to make the journey to the United States.
My mother made the trek across the border with a nurse from my abuela’s workplace, who she thought she would stay with in California. However, once they had gotten over safely and arrived in Los Angeles, the nurse turned to my mother and asked: “Well, now where are you going to go?” She was being turned away, rejected in unfamiliar territory. How many refugees and immigrants are asked that same question and faced with the same rejection?
Most people don’t realize how hard it is to make the decision to leave one’s home; to know with certainty that staying, though easier, could mean death. Venturing into the unknown — while terrifying — could mean life.
Luckily, my mother was able to find a job as a nanny, and a family took her in. With the generosity of that family, she was able to learn English and earn her GED.
The thing that most kept my mother grounded was her faith. She transmitted her strength, and, most importantly, the love of our faith.
My mother is the reason I am able to do what I do now. She showed me the importance of reaching out to those who don’t have much, not only because we ourselves had come from little means, but because it was what God calls us to do. It was that love that eventually led me to ministry and spurred me to dive even deeper, into liturgical studies.
While I was born in the United States, my parents, aunts, uncles, and some cousins are immigrants, so I was (and still am) able to see first-hand the fruits and pains of what it means to be a migrant family. I grew up knowing that my family was different, that our struggles were not the struggles of some of my classmates and friends. Our family’s story opened my eyes to the reality that so many other families have gone (and are going) through the same thing.
A parish priest once called my mother her family’s “little Moses” because eventually she saved up enough to bring them all over. Our stories are inextricably tied together. My mother’s story is an extension of who I am. As her daughter, I think of where I am now. I reflect back on where I have stood and where I might stand — because of her sacrifices. Little did she know she was also fighting for the lives of my cousins, nieces, nephew…and mine.
My mother’s journey is the story of countless others who have traveled that same road. It is the story of the Holy Family, of your great-grandparents, of your friend’s mother…of your neighbor. May we never forget to extend our hand in welcome.
Featured image: Barbara Escobar (right) smiles with her mother, María Albertina Escobar, who has been her inspiration and example to help people in need. (Courtesy of Barbara and Maria Albertina Escobar/U.S.)