“I feel embraced on the inside having shared my story because I have carried around all this heaviness for years, and now I feel free in telling it.”
My entire life has quite literally been centered around various coffee fincas and involved all phases of coffee production. I can probably walk you through every step from the planting of a coffee tree’s single leaf under a 60/40 shade canopy where it thrives through its harvest because that has been my life here in El Salvador.
I was born on March 29, 1963, on a large coffee finca in the lush, volcanic mountainous area of El Taurete in the Usulutan department. My two brothers and four sisters and I, like most children of coffee-working parents, had short childhoods. We played and were considered children until age ten. From the age of eleven on, we began to learn from our parents some of the easier jobs involved at the finca. These jobs included digging the holes for the plants and putting fertilizer around them. At harvest time we helped to pick the beans to increase our parents’ pay. Life was very hard, and my parents were quite poor, struggling to make a living. They needed the help of us children. None of us kids ever went to school. We worked at least eight hours a day five days a week.
We never left the finca. That was our entire world, and we were dedicated solely to living and working there. My parents owned nothing of their own and were dependent on the finca owners who provided a few rooms in a house to give us shelter there on the finca grounds.
I had a boyfriend as a teenager, but he was bad luck. Despite my parents’ objections, especially my dad’s, when I was 17, I got together with a man from another finca at El Playon where he lived, and we had a daughter when I was 18. When I was 22, we had a son together . Altogether we had a family of five children, four boys and a girl. This man liked other women, which made things very difficult for me, and I left him three times but always returned. I tried to put aside my personal feelings and think about the fact that the children needed a father. I continued to live with him until he left that finca.
At that point I had little choice but to take the children back to the finca where I was raised to be with my parents. Of course, knowing they never approved of this man to begin with made it doubly hard on me. But my mother helped me raise the children while I worked on the finca.
As I think back to this period of my life, it was the hardest and saddest time for me. Having to listen to my dad’s constant reminders that my relationship with this man was a poor choice in my life was bad enough. I knew by then, of course, that he had been right all along and that I should have listened to him, but it was too late to change things. My parents provided only a roof over our heads, and nothing more. I wanted desperately for my children to attend school, which I had never had the opportunity to do. I worked very hard to be able to afford to buy each of my children one pair of shoes and one pair of pants for their school uniform for each school year. Because I really had learned no other skills, I chose to continue living and working on coffee fincas.
My distrust for men was so great as a result of the situation with the father of my children that I never wanted to get close to a man again. I was always too afraid and feared the same situation may happen all over again. However, I learned to be strong on my own.
I was able to provide educations for four of my children. Three of them graduated from high school. As a result of an eye injury my youngest son had a visual problem which interfered with his reading. During their winter harvest breaks the children would help pick the coffee beans along with me.
In 1986 when I was twenty-three, I lived six miles up the mountain from this finca during El Salvador’s civil war. The guerrillas of the FMLN were very active. We locals were often bothered by them when they would go door to door recruiting young boys and men to fight with them. We did our best to stay out of sight and hidden. I was always fearful they would come and take my four boys. It didn’t happen to me, but it did happen to many of my friends. The FMLN actually lived here at the finca I am working at for ten years of the civil war, but I was unaware of that during the time. We did our best to keep to ourselves. We never walked the public roads but always walked through the little paths within the fincas in groups of four or five people at a time to avoid exposure for ten years. I favored the military because they were the government which I trusted.
Probably the happiest time of my earlier life was seeing my children grown up and living on their own. It makes me feel complete as a mom. Now they are all grown and have their own families. The fact that my children now can recognize the sacrifices I made for them also makes my earlier days of struggling worthwhile to me. Most of them continue to work on different coffee fincas in the area. It would be nice if they had other jobs, but there are very few job opportunities available. I am just grateful that they are working and supporting their families. Some have steadier positions working all year round while others are more seasonal employees working just three months a year.
One of my children, Jose, is working outside the country. He has had a particularly hard time since his girlfriend, Karen, chose not to remain in a relationship with him after she became pregnant with their daughter Celia (nicknamed Marinita). Karen left Celia here when Celia was only 39 days old, and I have been raising her ever since. Things became even more complicated when Karen was discovered among a group of 72 migrants found murdered in Tamaulipas, Mexico, just 100 miles south of the U.S. border in August, 2010, as a result of a dangerous drug cartel. Jose is a good Christian boy doing his best to find odd jobs to send money here to support Celia, but work is erratic. He lives with a group of Guatemalans whom he has known since before he left El Salvador. They are good people and go to church. Still, Jose misses his daughter and country and lives day to day with an uncertain future. He would like to return soon, but I don’t know what the reality of that is. Being a mom, I naturally worry about him in his situation and only know what he reports. The dangers in crossing the borders both ways keep increasing. Celia’s mother’s death is a prime example.
I also worry about Celia, who was only eight when her mother died. Even though they were not close, she knew who her mother was because they saw one another on occasion. I promised to explain more details to Celia when she gets older. Right now we are making certain that she is receiving grief counseling to help her overcome some of the issues she is having surrounding her mother’s death, including some confusion, nightmares and crying episodes. I do not know the specific circumstances about her mom’s decision to leave the country, so I am unable to help her understand the “why” question. I am sad because I know that someday Celia will need a mother, not a grandmother, to talk to about certain subjects.
Celia and I live with another one of my sons, his wife, and their daughter, but we maintain two separate households under one roof: one for Celia and me, and one for my son and his family. We are located in a small village called Colonial Padre Santos.
One day about a year ago a man came to the finca I was working at and mentioned to me that the woman who owns this finca needed a housekeeper and asked if I would be interested. He thought I would be a good candidate for the position and trustworthy to the owner. Before I quit my job at the finca I was working at, I came here to inquire about how long the owner expected to need someone. She said she expected it to be a long-term position, so I interviewed and agreed to make the move and accept the position.
This is the first time that I’ve worked on a coffee finca where I wasn’t directly involved in the coffee farming and production itself. I began working at this finca about eight months ago. I walk the mile back and forth everyday to and from work and have lost some weight, which has been a good thing for me. My duties include cooking, cleaning, washing dishes, doing laundry, and performing general housekeeping. I love my job. The wonderful bonus to working here is that I am permitted to bring Celia along with me mornings. Many other fincas would not allow a child to be around while an adult worked, and I am so grateful that these wonderful people here do. Celia plays around the finca until it is time to change into her school uniform to walk to school at noon. I plan to remain here for as long as I am needed to support myself and help support Celia. Working here and raising Celia are truly the best times of my life.
Raising Celia can be tiring at times because she is very active and I’m not as young as I was when I had my own children. However, the advantages of raising the next generation far outweigh the disadvantages. When I was raising my own children, it was such a busy, hectic time with all of the children close in age. Then, too, my living situation with my parents was less than ideal, and I was working hard physically on the finca with all the jobs they needed me to do to insure a good coffee crop. I never got to spend good quality time with each of my own children individually. I find that I have more time to spend with Celia alone and can be more attentive to her. I can listen to her, and I feel I really know her as a person. I treasure the time I share with Celia now and feel the bond we formed when she was so young has strengthened our relationship.
Celia is a blessing in my life. She is a sweet, delightful little girl and has lots of interests. She is good in school and wants to be a nurse or doctor. I have no dreams for myself. My dreams are to see Celia’s dreams fulfilled. I hope I can help her achieve her goals. That would make me very happy. The church does not offer university scholarships but would maybe help with books or little things for students at the university level.
If I could live my life over, I would practice my faith in God sooner. I try not to make the same mistakes I once did and feel better about my life now. After I began attending church, two of my boys also began showing an interest in attending. Also I was able to convince my parents to visit the church. My church community is very supportive of me, and the pastor is always using my family as an example of moving forward with hope in your life. Living a life of faith gives me hope. Celia enjoys going to Sunday School learning the songs and interacting with others.
You know, no one ever showed interest in my life or asked me to share my story before. Some of these things I’ve told you I have kept inside me for a long time. I feel embraced on the inside now because I have carried all this heaviness for years, and now I feel free.
Editor’s Note: And with that Lutheran Pastor Emeritus Don Seiple tells her in the church we call that a confession and he raises his hand in the blessing of the Trinity to give her a benediction as she sheds tears of relief and thanks, a renewed woman with a huge smile from ear to ear.