Elsa, Amalia & Brian

  • Elsa, Amalia & Brian, Tucson

“I don’t have money but I know I have love to give.”

Elsa’s story:

I am from El Salvador. I have lived in the United States for 30 years. I crossed the border as a ‘wetback’ but with thanks to God, now I am legal and have documents. It took me 9 years to go back to my house in El Salvador.

My story is long because when I came back in 1986, a big earthquake happened in El Salvador and I couldn’t get a hold of my mother. I finally communicated with her after 9 months because there was no electricity, no phones, but I had faith that my family was alive and my mother had faith I was alive.

I suffered a lot here and I didn’t speak English. My first job was taking care of kids that were called ‘vegetables.’ I worked there for two years, and the woman who got me the job told me to find a way to get my legal documents, she needed me to give her documents. I didn’t have any so I found another job with another American lady that trusted me a lot. I worked with her for 15 years and she gave me residency documents. It was hard, but I had a job and I was able to bring my kids to the United States. I have two kids and three grandkids. I lived a lot of years in Los Angeles and I also helped at a house like this one. It was a church, and after church we would prepare sandwiches to give out in Los Angeles where people were asleep on the streets. I feel these are things that God likes, helping other people. I don’t have money but I know I have love to give.

I came to the United States because my husband left me. I wasn’t working so my mom gave me a little bit of money for me to come here. In El Salvador, we are very poor, our economy is bad so I came here to have a better life. People tell you beautiful stories and tell you that you will find job very fast and it’s not true. I came alone, and there was a time I had to take food out of the trash but now I feel proud because I got my documents. I got here thanks to my God but I had to go through a lot.

Amalia’s story:

I am originally from Guatemala but I’ve been living in Arizona for 18 years. I came to the United Sates to live the American dream, the stories sound so beautiful told by the people who do. I saw the American dream in the movies and wanted to know if it was true. I wanted to come to the United States.

It is very hard to live here but there’s a lot more opportunities for my kids, especially to get a good education. Even though it is hard, I am teaching my kids to be humble and to value what they have, even if it’s only a little. I’ve taught them that they need to earn what they have and that not all things are easy, you have to work to get them. I’ve been through so many hardships but I see my kids doing good here so that makes me happy because I know my kids have a future here.

I started working at Casa Maria 13 years ago, I started as a secretary. I am undocumented and when you go apply at places like Food City they ask you for documentation to work full time. The people at Casa Maria have known me for many years, so they have given me the opportunity to work there without documents. I work the hours they have for me and when there’s no work for me, I come here to help in the kitchen, then I go to the other house to clean over there. All of my kids are at school and nobody is at home, I don’t want to go home and sit and watch TV, I prefer to come here and help.

Brain’s story:

I’m from Los Angeles. I lived there until I was probably 25, except for one year while I was at school in Oregon. I moved to Northern California for a few years, then I moved here in 1983 and lived here since. I lived in Sacramento at the Catholic Worker House doing the same type of stuff we do here. I wanted to get out of Califas, I was getting divorced, so I threw my backpack on and hopped on the bus to hitchhike across the country and go to Catholic Worker Houses. The first place I went from Sacramento was Tucson, and I never left. I visited other places doing this type of work, and then I came back. The priest that started this place said, “Bro, I’m burned out, I gotta go. Would you be interested in taking this place over?” I thought about it and thought, “Yeah man, I’ll do that.” That was in 1985.

I like Tucson because I’m from L.A. I’m from the most failed place in the world. L.A. is so ugly, it’s so congested, it’s so smoggy. It’s a good place to grow up, there’s a lot happening, but then you gotta get the hell out. Here it’s so livable. You should see the Catholic Worker House in L.A., like this but on Skid Row. Man, when I went there and did this kind of work in L.A. it was like going and working in hell. It’s so ugly, the drugs are different, it’s meaner, it’s just like a living hell on Skid Row. Coming here, my barrio is very tranquilo. It’s a little like being in Mexico, being in South Tucson, we don’t have very many rules or regulations. They don’t have enough money to pay guys to regulate everything. There’s chickens and all kinds of stuff. It’s immigrants, way too much poverty. Like 68% of the houses in South Tucson, within one square mile, are renters. The average family income was $15,000 dollars a year – I heard it went up to $18,000. But there’s a spirit here that’s tranquilo, it’s not like L.A.

My family is probably from some place like Europe. I don’t want to know about it, it would probably just piss me off. I don’t look into my roots, all I know is that I’m white. The conquistadores, the primrose del mundo are the cabachos, the white people who came out of Europe. Who else has 50,000 nuclear warheads that can enforce the economic superiority of this country? And the rich people of this country are white. They have incredible armies and weapons systems. It’s like the absolute sin of the world. So I consider my world kinda like penance for my rasa, my blanco rasa. But we are all human beings, and the way to true revolution is through winning hearts and minds. So instead of being judgmental and saying I hate white people, that ain’t where it’s at, even though I certainly have to battle with these feelings. The revolution happens when their hearts and their minds are converted. That’s the most revolutionary thing that can happen. That will undo the economic superiority of white people, of the U.S.

I think that to do the work that I do, and do it as good as you can, you have to have thick skin. Then just go out and fight, like you’re Hugo Chavez or Fidel or Muhammad Ali. You just have to go do it. It’s a spiritual thing. Where you can develop that thick skin. I don’t want to sound cocky, I’m white so I have privilege and I need to be conscious of that, but then you just have to go out into the streets and organize and work to transform hearts and minds. The church’s heart and mind, the peoples’ heart and mind. At that point there’s revolution.

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