Aspire not to have more, but to be more.
— Oscar Romero
Counting your lucky stars is many times a matter of perspective. I am so honored to have traveled to El Salvador in 1984. I was not happy with the death and destruction I witnessed.
I met beautiful people there. However, there was rampant killing by military death squads. Just four years earlier, March 24, 1980, the Archbishop of San Salvador, Oscar Romero, while giving mass, was murdered by US-backed military.
For Madras, Oregon, mother of four, Ana Maria Mejia, her husband’s deportation to El Salvador earlier this year – right before the CV-19 viral outbreak – has left her in a triple-state of trauma.
She’s 35 and Moises, her husband, is 37. He is now living with his mother in the town of San Luis Talpa. He has to keep his head down.
“My counselor has asked me what does my world look like if my husband doesn’t come back,” Ana said.
That question is riddled with anxiety. She told me she takes an anti-anxiety prescription because of years of stress tied to the threat of her husband’s deportation.
For now, ICE and the immigration laws have barred Moises for five years from reentry to the US.
For the time being, Ana is working at home with four children under her wings. They live in a mobile home, and her oldest daughter, Amanda (she turns 11 April 25), is an anchor for the other three children — Katalina, 2, Natalie, 5, and Samuel, 10 months.
Ana’s story is rich with the power of a Latina who is steeled to weather a very trying time. Amanda asked her mother who I was while Ana answered my questions. “Well, aren’t you going to tell him about me, the miracle child?”
That miracle occurred at her birth when she was c-sectioned into this world with the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck three times. She aspirated, and was helicopter-lifted to the hospital in Bend. Those facilities weren’t equipped to handle the neonatal case, Ana said, so the newborn Amanda was jet lifted to Emanuel Hospital in Portland.
“We were put up at the Ronald McDonald House for a month.”
Ana had the support of her husband, Moises.
Crossing Many Borders
The trip for her husband from El Salvador included crossing into Piedras Negras, where ICE arrested him but released him the same day, as Moises reported he has family in California. That was March 2005.
Moises went to live with an aunt in California. He ended up coming to Madras and worked on farms, one being in Spray. He was the head breadwinner of the growing family. He has set down many roots in Jefferson County.
Ana was born in Los Angeles to a mother who had just come to the US as a widow, nine months pregnant with Ana.
She was from San Miguel del Comitlan in the state of Guerro. Her mother was undocumented, worked in a textile factory, and she eventually moved to Madras with a bunch of other people. “She worked in the fields, and it’s been 32 years, and she still works in agriculture at age sixty.”
During the Ronald Reagan presidency, amnesty was offered to Mexican workers, and her mother jumped on that.
Fast-forward to April 2005. Ana was working for H & R Block as a client services professional. She had a second job at a medical clinic.
In came in Moises Mejia, who needed a translator. He returned the following week, and he hit it off with Ana.
“He found out where I worked at this clinic and surprised me with roses. I wasn’t really ready for a relationship. But he told me he pictured us together. Together married with a family.”
That same year, they were married, Nov. 3, 2007.
Return to Sender?
The order for deportation was issued the same year Moises came into the country. After Amanda was borne, Ana said they wanted to know how to petition for his permanent residency.
While working in Spray, OR, in 2014, Moises was stopped for a traffic violation. The police officer did a background check and saw there was a warrant for his arrest.
ICE arrested him, took him the ICE facility in Tacoma, WA, and in three weeks he was released because Ana was pregnant with Natalie.
The process of hiring immigration lawyers has taken both a financial and mental toll on the family. Ana told me she has been seeing a counselor because of the stress of deportation hanging over them. Now that Moises has been deported, the trauma has increased many times. All three children are also receiving counseling for a type of PTSD.
Thousands of dollars spent on lawyers, and hundreds more for the trips to Eugene and Portland to check in with ICE, and then the expenses of filing petitions – she is stressed by the financial ruin looming on the horizon.
Ana and Moises are embedded in several communities in Jefferson County. Moises had been working for Jim, who has a small privately owned air pump company. Ana says Jim and his wife Karen consider them as family. Part of the legal fees were paid by Jim, Moises’ employer of four years. Five dozen eggs from Jim and Karen’s chickens get delivered to the mobile home.
This case is emblematic of a paperwork hell, as well as injustice tied to missing a court date.
Fleeing Violence, Fleeing Death
Refugee status was a given to Moises’ brother and the children of another brother who was murdered in El Salvador by the international gang, Calle 18 (also known as Barrio 18, Mara 18, or simply La 18).
Even when Moises was a kid (he was born two years before I visited EL Salvador), there was a lot of violence perpetrated by military death squads. Moises has become a bus driver (his uncle owned the transportation business) and attended school to be a mechanic.
Ana’s never met her mother-in-law – they have talked on the phone and exchanged photographs. Ana says her mother-in-law is highly devoted to her church. She wants her son to go back to Madras “where he belongs with his wife and four children.”
For Ana, her goals have not been put on hold – she is an early childhood development student with Central Oregon Community College. She works for Early Head Start through the Oregon Childhood Development Commission.
“What are you going to do next is a question my counselor keeps asking me. It’s not easy to think about. I can’t move to El Salvador with my four children. What kind of education would they get there? It’s not safe. His brother was murdered, shot in the head in 2009. That is no life for me and my children.”
I met Ana through the non-profit program I am heading up, both in Lincoln County and Jefferson County. Family Independence Initiative of Oregon is a pilot project collecting valuable stories from working families in exchange for $840 for one-year participation.
The quarterly deposit of $175 I had just put into her account precipitated Ana to contact me. She told me the money helped her make a car payment. She also is attempting to get more people in Jefferson County to sign up, or at least to email me.
I was thinking about El Salvador before I embarked on interviewing Ana. Another Oscar Romero quote comes to mind: “The ones who have a voice must speak for those who are voiceless.” This is profound, especially for the Madras Pioneer, if they eventually let me publish this story about Ana and Moises.
Ana sings in the choir at St. Patrick’s, and she is part of a large volunteer contingent. She states her social capital in Madras and surrounding communities is deep. Many people at her church have offered help.
What she learns everyday about the situation in El Salvador is valuable to her own friends and family who are from that country. The quarantining measures there are much tighter than those in the US.
I’m also thinking about my own involvement in protesting the US involvement in the politics and military of El Salvador. The Salvadoran Civil War lasted from October 1979 to January 1992. I still have one of the pamphlets the Salvador military was passing out in the countryside — the infamous “Be a patriot! Kill a priest!” pamphlet.
I’m also involved in the literary arts in Oregon. April is National Poetry month, and I am recalling Carolyn Forché, an American poet, translator, and memoirist. Her books of poetry are In the Lateness of the World, Blue Hour, The Angel of History, The Country Between Us, and Gathering the Tribes. Her memoir, What You Have Heard Is True, was published by Penguin Press in 2019.
I don’t know if Moises knows about this American who lived in El Salvador for some of those years. Forché’s now legendary poem, “The Colonel,” describes a harrowing dinner with a Salvadoran military officer. Her a memoir is about her political education during those years. The title, What You Have Heard Is True, is from the first line of the poem “The Colonel.”
A quick Q & A
Paul Haeder: What did you do as a family before Moises was deported?
Ana Maria Mejia: We spent time enjoying the outdoors. Going to the park, taking our children to play. We always we watched fireworks on the 4th of July. We were always going out, including the fair and my children enjoyed petting farm animals and the carnival portion. We went to movies with our children and went to our friends and family gatherings
PH: What gives you strength?
AM: What gives me strength is my faith in God and my family.
PH: When I say “community,” what comes to your mind?
AM: Community is culture, diversity opportunities, welcoming, sheltering family and home stability. It’s a group of people gathering to connect together to affirm we all are in this together. It doesn’t matter the religion, race, color or where you’re from or what language you speak, we all come together.
PH: Tell people why your husband (like thousands of other wives and husbands) deserves to be repatriated to the USA?
AM: My husband deserves to be back to this country because he is a hard worker and he is not a criminal. He is a number one provider for our family. My children and I need him to be with us. No family should be separated.
PH: What do you love about Madras, and Oregon?
AM: I love Madras because I lived here all my life. I was brought over from Los Angeles California and to me Madras is my hometown. I love the community because there’s a lot of people that are very supportive of schools. Also, there’s a lot of great events that my family and I enjoy going to and being a part of.
PH: What does your older daughter want to do when she grows up? Does she know?
AM: At the moment my older daughter does not know what she wants to do when she grows up, but she enjoys drawing, music, and dancing. Art inspires her.