Underground America, narratives of Undocumented Lives, edited by Peter Orner, is a collection of first person accounts of individuals who have migrated to the U.S. seeking a better life. They come from places like Mexico, Iran, Bolivia, Guatamala, Colombia, South Africa, and Peru where they were persecuted unmercifully. Their tales are gut-wrenching. They have traded one set of suffering for another set once they arrive in this country which is neither sympathetic nor welcoming.
There is a chapter in this book on a thirty-seven year old man named Jose, from El Salvador, who like many, migrated to escape the atrocities he witnessed during the country’s civil war. He endures so many hardships in the U.S. that you fear turning the next page to continue reading. Yet while he is in prison he learned a variety of marketable skills, earned his GED, kept his faith, and longs to return to El Salvador. “I can help a lot of people if I go back to El Salvador. I would have to get used to life over there. It would be lonely. Most of my family, they’re gone. Most of them have moved here. “ p. 232
As we constantly interact with individuals during our visits to El Salvador, common threads pop up in our conversations. One of those we keep hearing is the drive or passion to return to the country.
We probe for a reason that some who lead comfortable lives in Canada or the States have a need to return here to a struggling nation they call home. Here are a few of the answers we hear.
I left when I was nine years old and longed to return to my memories.
We brought back my grandma’s ashes from Canada as per her request to scatter here. Now that we are here, we see why she loved this place and plan to return regularly.
I missed the food – the tortillas, pupusas and all the fruit.
I missed the way people live in community here. In the States everyone lives as individuals.
I felt a need to return to my great-grandparents’ estate to re-habilitate it.
I wanted a better quality of life. I wake up every morning happy.
I want to do something for my country.
I missed my family.
The slower pace of life here.
The beauty of this country.
People are more genuine.
We visit my family often to renew our relationships and help out.
What brings us North Americans back over and over again?
Phil Anderson, an ordained Lutheran pastor, gave tirelessly to the most vulnerable of the world as he dedicated his life to peace, justice, and human rights. He worked not only at an organizational level, Lutheran World Federation, but he committed himself at a personal level with individuals such as helping a woman obtain legal status.
The Latin Americans had a special place in his heart. When he realized his health issues were at the terminal point and his death was imminent, he returned to El Salvador to say his final goodbyes to those individuals with whom he had personal connections and attachments. What an exemplary life all the way to the end!