MARISOL ESCOBAR DE MOLINA
“My family is sacred to me.”
Editor’s Note: I’ve been hearing glowing accounts of this “legend” named Marisol from various individuals for years and have been eager to meet her. After a phone call she appeared magically within the hour and lit up the room with her dazzling beauty and charming personality. She is an example of someone who, even at the early age of eight, had to learn to adapt and adjust. She makes the most out of her life without considering these times to be hardships, rather considering them to be opportunities to grow.
Let me begin by saying that although I would love to visit the U.S., I would never ever migrate there. I’ve personally known far too many people who were desperate enough to make that decision thinking they would have a better life only to be bitterly disappointed. Some were caught and deported by immigration officials. Others live there in fear, unable to even attend school for fear of being discovered and sent back. That is no life for me, not only because of the safety risks and high financial cost, but also I would never want to leave my husband and eight- and eleven-year- old daughters behind. I am thoroughly invested in the life of my family, my church, and my community.
Although my life has not been easy, I am proud and firmly rooted in the same community here in Canton El Rosario, Tonacatepeque, San Salvador, that my ancestors whom I can trace back at least six generations helped found. The reputation of my extended family is known throughout our area to be diligent and hard-working people. This is home for me, my husband, and our two daughters.
Longevity is a blessing in my family, and I actually had the privilege of meeting my grand grand grand grandmother! If this sounds unbelievable, understand that young people often get together when they are young. For example, my mom was sixteen when she went to live with my dad’s family; he was eighteen at the time. The reason was more than a teenage attraction. She had been badly beaten by her own mother and moved out for her own safety. My dad really wanted to have a family and was ready to separate from my mom when after being together for three years, there was no child. Finally I came along on April 10, 1976. My dad had wanted a boy, that he got two years later, and then another.
My parents have had marital problems off and on throughout their lives due mainly to my dad’s having other women. I was eight years old when my mom first left us living with my dad’s family. During my mom’s absence my paternal grandmother had a stroke, and since I was the oldest, I needed to care for her and my brothers. Yes, I was only eight years old, and it was a big responsibility. Later my mom returned and took over the role of caring for my grandmother for the next twelve years.
Meanwhile my dad bought the local food mill in the community and assigned me the job of grinding all the corn that people brought to be ground. I did that in addition to cooking meals for my brothers. Yes, I attended school, but there was no time for study after classes because of all the expectations at home.
Eventually there were six of us children. I have two brothers and three sisters. I was never a shy child but was always talkative. I always enjoyed singing, dancing, and acting.
I felt a great deal of pressure to be the perfect child. My dad was very over-protective of me, insisting I wear pants rather than dresses until I was eighteen. He would not allow me to have boyfriends until I was eighteen which he extended to twenty-one when I reached the age of eighteen!
From the time I was a young girl I felt a strong call of God. I thought I would become a nun. When I was fifteen, I attended a charismatic church retreat with Jon Cortina (Jesuit priest who worked tirelessly for the oppressed in El Salvador). During that retreat I met the person who was later to become my husband.
From that point on I have always been actively involved within the church. A bishop in the church appointed me group leader of the kids’ teenage ministry which was an evangelism group for three years. Later I moved into the worship group for ten years. My boyfriend moved right along with me assisting in those groups. In fact, that was the total extent of our dating – going back and forth to church for ten years! When I was twenty-five, my husband and I got married. We have now been married for twelve years.
I am the first one in my family to finish high school, and my husband was the only one in his family to complete high school. At that point I had no desire to continue studying so I got a job in the mayor’s office. However, when the next election came and the mayor I worked for was ousted, I lost my job. The next career I pursued was a beautician. Unfortunately I didn’t like working weekends because it interfered with my church commitments, so I gave that up quickly.
My friend who was a priest, Father Jose (“Pepe”)Maria Moratalla, encouraged me to combine my love of serving others with a career. He is a member of the Salesian order of mission priests who saw a need in our area for offering “at risk” youth an alternative to street life. He founded an organization, Poligono Industrial Don Bosco, which teaches technical skills in marginalized communities. It has eleven cooperatives doing a wide range of marketable skills as well as offers housing for former gang members. He invited me to come work there. See this site for more detailed and impressive information on this project: http://www.redeporte.org/eng/prensa_noticia_ampliada.php?id=119
My boss encouraged me to continue studying, but I was fearful of university courses. Then I overheard a conversation in which my dad told my aunt that it was his dream that Marisol would study to become a professional person. That cinched the deal for me, and I went to the university to get information and decided to enroll. My dad was so excited. He said, “Are you SURE you want to do this? I don’t want you to start and then drop out. If you are sure you want to do this, I will give you money to begin your studies and you can pay me back monthly.” So I worked days and took evening classes at the university. Because this was a long distance from my home, I lived with my cousin for two years until that became too uncomfortable for us. After that my dad would come to pick me up in his truck at 9 PM when my classes were over. I was 20 years old and was ashamed for him to have to do that because he had to get up at 2 AM for his regular duties of taking the vegetables to the market, and this made a very long tiring day for him. But it was not safe for me to be out alone at night due to the gang activity. Eventually I graduated from Francisco Gavidia University with a degree in marketing. Most important was that I had satisfied my father’s dream for me.
For nine years I worked in a foundation for an NGO followed by two years at Merci Corps, which built houses, until that project ended. Caritas in Germany worked with another NGO supporting local youth from gangs where I worked as a social worker. Their focus was on sustainable community development. They would diagnose the community, choose projects needed, and then network how to implement and develop the projects. In my role of working with gang members, my whole concept of gang members changed. Before, I saw them as bad people and judged them by their actions — killers and rapists. Through this job I saw them as persons who had problems and needed others to talk with them to help them solve their problems. In many cases they lived with only a mother and there was no father figure in the house. We held workshops to change the choices the gang members made. They often helped us choose which topics to discuss in the workshops. This is the job I most enjoyed and felt I had the most impact. I worked with people I had known since I was a little girl.
This project was not only in El Salvador, but also in Mexico, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. However, it was here in El Salvador that we were getting very good results. There is even a book on the project. The unfortunate part of this was that those of us working so very hard on it were taken advantage of, and we felt manipulated, underpaid, and discredited. Our hours were very, very long and unpredictable. We were told that we had to accommodate others’ schedules rather than have our own. Hours of 6 AM to 8 PM were not unusual. We worked within the prisons during the time the army was sent in as guards, and my husband was concerned about my safety being the only woman in that setting. It became too stressful on my health causing anxiety. It also impacted on my marriage and on my family. Our daughters were only six and nine years old. I quit the job in 2010 and was offered an alternative job by Caritas. However, that was subsequently sabotaged by someone who saw me as a threat. But I am a survivor. Currently my husband and I work together in a school bus transportation business.
Although I studied marketing, within the community, my passion is for social work. I work in a cooperative to help the farmers. I participate in an association of community development which has helped change and improve our community, including the infrastructure itself with water and streets, for example. Our humble women’s organization is currently making homemade wine while exploring other options as well. I am deeply committed to my community. My dream is to continue working with our local people. It is at this level where I see life transform.
My work within the church has been a constant throughout my life. I sing and sometimes write music when time permits. I have no disappointments in my life, only joys, including my family, that is sacred to me, my community, my music, and my ability to serve God. I have a strong desire to visit churches in the U.S. who have been so kind to my family by sharing my songs and vocal talents with them. Although I have applied for a travel visa through the U.S. Embassy several times, I have not yet been approved. I am confident that I will be approved someday.