I am from El Salvador. When I was a teenager attending college, the civil war was raging between the government and the guerillas. One day I arrived at school to find the dead body of a guerilla soldier on the floor of my classroom. Soon after this, the college closed completely. For my safety and my future, I decided to immigrate to the United States.
I secretly went to Mexico using a tourist visa. In order to fool the Mexican authorities, I spent two months learning how to be Mexican: I practiced a Mexican accent, learned about Mexican history, and borrowed identity papers from a 17 year old Mexican girl. (I was 23 at the time.) Then I got on a train heading toward the California border.
Sure enough, when the train was stopped, I was apprehended by the authorities. They found candy in my bag that said, “Made in El Salvador.” They spent hours interrogating me to get to me to admit that I wasn’t Mexican. But my story held up. They even asked me to sing the Mexican national anthem, which I did!
Once free, I found a coyote to bring me across the border. My first two attempts failed. Both times, I was caught by the police and sent back into Mexico. On my third try, the coyote led our group across a large canal. I told him I couldn’t swim, but others in our group assured me that they would lead me across. When the water became deep and I felt the strong current, I panicked and began to drown. My body sank to the bottom of the canal and I knew that I might die.
Underwater, I prayed to God to help me. I said, “God it’s not my time!” Miraculously, I felt my body floating to the surface, where someone threw me a piece of wood to hold onto. I’m convinced that God saved my life that day because I had a purpose in life. Once I got to the United States, I learned what that purpose was: to fall in love with, marry, raise a child with, and eventually care for Luis Armour.
Luis was the son of the wealthy couple I worked for when I arrived in Los Angeles. They didn’t want their son to marry a poor girl from El Salvador, but Luis and I didn’t care. We were so in love and having so much fun. Later on, we discovered that we couldn’t have children biologically. My 16-year old niece in El Salvador became pregnant and asked me if I would adopt her baby. This is when God brought Beatriz into our lives.
From early on, Luis told me he had diabetes and would become sick. In 1994, he had his first kidney transplant. In 2004, I gave him my kidney. But by then his pancreas was in bad shape and he had begun to have strokes. For the last 12 years of his life, I was his full time caretaker. From the time she was a little girl, Beatriz also learned how to monitor his insulin and help me take care of him.
We lost Luis in 2013. He is buried in the Old Pine memorial garden. Beatriz has started college in Glenside, PA and I’m working at the Arch Street Preschool. Working with children is what I love most in life.