By Sandra Flores
There are those who migrate escaping violence, others because of lack of economic opportunity, and it’s even worse if you are a woman over 35, with no education or job, as was my case.
My name is Sandra Flores. I am 45 years old. I am from El Salvador, originally from Guazapa. I was raised by my grandmother. When I was 18, I became pregnant and a single mother. I am a warrior woman, a fighter. I know what it’s like to experience hunger, sleep on the street, and live in poverty.
I was tired of living with $100 to maintain my two children, my grandmother, pay for rent, food, school, and the medical treatment for my daughter with asthma.
I worked in homes, cleaning, ironing, and cooking. I also sold pupusas. I tried to at least have what was needed to survive. We all have the right to not flee, to stay here, but one day I decided that I just couldn’t live here. There are no opportunities.
I had heard about people going to the United States, because there they can find the American dream. In my case, it was a huge nightmare, a big mistake.
Because those of us who migrate, we risk it all. We are exposed to rape, kidnapping, being separated from our children. We face hunger, thirst, discrimination, fear, confinement in places we don’t know. We are at the mercy of coyotes, corrupt people. We risk dying or being stranded along the way. We see children alone, mothers with children, young people, hundreds of people.
In 2015, I decided to migrate to the United States with my 17-year-old son and eight-year-old daughter. I sold everything I had to go to an uncle’s house in New York. We contacted a coyote and paid him $12,000. We paid $10,000 up front and another $2,000 upon reaching the Rio Bravo. At the end, he forced us to pay another $2,000.
We left Guazapa in route to Tecun Uman, Tapachula, crossing a river in a ferry, then Veracruz, Mexico City, until we reached the Rio Bravo. We spent 30 days without knowing where they were taking us. Days without eating or drinking water.
I remember that from the Federal District to the U.S. border, we traveled in a trailer, carrying boxes of avocados. We were suffocating when my son found five tiny holes in a corner of the trailer, the size of the tip of a nail. We took turns putting our noses against the holes to breathe.
Later, in a room five minutes from the river, we endured two days of unbearable heat, sleeping with mice and cockroaches.
We finally left that place. The coyote said, “I won’t risk taking you through the river.” We walked with a bunch of people, until the end of a bridge. There, the Mexican authorities detained us. They put me in a cold room away from my children. A week later they deported us.
I had paid my rent in advance for two months, in case things didn’t go as planned. We came back empty handed, but with the strength to fight. I spent two years cleaning, ironing, and cooking. Suddenly, our lives changed.
My son and I were accepted into a program for returned migrants, offered by various organizations and the local municipality.
We received training for nine months: psychological support, self-confidence, and personal balance, I learned my strengths and weaknesses. We learned how to establish a small business, how to invest, how to monitor the needs in our areas and those of our clients, so many things that helped me grow.
With $3,000 in seed capital from a local organization, we purchased furniture and equipment. I started a business with my two children, offering catering and baking breads and desserts.
After six years, we have a prosperous business. We cater social and family events; we make refreshments for schools and churches.
A dream with my own seasoning.
And I have big ideas: to buy a motorcycle for food deliveries, grow little by little with new locations, and perhaps even internationally if possible. Offer quality service, adapting to my clients’ budgets. Our name is “Mama Noy’s Kitchen.” Noy, in memory of my grandmother, who taught me so much.
My life changed because the support system for the reintegration of returned migrants offered me a training opportunity and funding to start my business. This type of intervention by civil society organizations, local governments, and the international community can change the lives of many families and keep creating sustainable jobs in our communities.
Published on March 25, 2022.
Sandra Flores is a small business owner in El Salvador. She shared her story to raise awareness about the root causes of migration in the Northern Triangle of Central America and the possibility for sustainable reintegration into the labor market through professional training and financial support, among other strategic interventions. The reintegration process is facilitated by the Pan American Development Foundation (PADF) in coordination with local partners, through the development of a strategy tailored to the local context.
Jared (Jed) Hoffman
Regional Director for Mexico & Central America