In 2018, nearly 500,000 migrants from Latin America were apprehended at the US border (Bialik, 2019). After being driven out of their countries by extreme dimensions of violence and insecurity, they journeyed to the US, hoping to take refuge in a nation that could offer them a safer life.
Though their pleads for a second chance were often dismissed by US politicians, they still managed to attract the attention of many political and civilian groups who were inspired to advocate for their cause. Combining their power and influence with those of various media channels, these groups were not only enabled to document the many obstacles faced by Latin Americans throughout their journeys, but also the motivations that led these migrants to travel to the US in the first place. Ultimately, this documentation has worked to warrant the empathy of many residents around the nation who now speak out for the rights of Latin migrants.
In attempt to further highlight the conditions that often lead Latin Americans to migrate, I sat down to speak with an individual whose own story of immigration reminds us to approach the topic with significant levels of understanding and compassion; particularly for the hardships faced by individuals who choose to migrate. When looking at the immigration story of twenty-two year old Marvin-Mundo Hernandez, as well as that of his mother’s, it can be learned that often, the only chance that individuals have at a better life is to fight for it, even if that means fighting for it by leaving to another country.
At the age of just 13, Marvin Mundo-Hernandez had illegally migrated to the US from El Salvador. As his hometown was taken over by gangs looking to recruit young, impoverished children, he was at a constant risk of being forced into the gangster lifestyle. As his mother became concerned for his well-being, she commanded that he travel to the US, as it was no longer safe for him to continue residing in El Salvador. Accepting this, he did as he was told, finding a way to travel from El Salvador to Mexico to the U.S. to escape the gang violence that plagued his home country. His mother however, did not travel with him. She had already been forced out of El Salvador when Marvin was just seven years old, having been harrassed by the same gangs that would later begin to threaten her son. To further explain this story, we go back to when Marvin was seven.
When Marvin was seven years old, his mother owned a fast food restaurant in El Salvador. Though impoverished, she would stop at nothing to ensure that her family had the essential elements that they needed to survive. Living in an area dominated by gang violence however, she was eventually approached by local gangsters who would extort her, forcing her to pay a certain amount of money every month if she wanted to avoid being killed. Though exacerbating the poverty that her family already lived in, she had no choice but to pay the extortion fees, as failing to do so would mean threatening the security of her family. So in the spirit of machista, she held it together and paid the fees, doing whatever it took to ensure that her family would be safe.
Overtime, however, she found that she could not continue paying off the gangsters as it was threatening the stability of her business. Eventually, her business was shut down, and she was left with no other means to pay off local gangs or support her family. After considering her options, she decided that the only way to get out of her predicament, was to the US to search for greater security and financial opportunity for her family. As the need to migrate was urgent, however, she had no time to get the proper documentation needed to enter into the US and had to travel illegally. As the journey would further be dangerous, she had to leave behind her family, in hopes that she could lay the foundations for them to come later on.
So, for three years between the ages of 7 and 13, Marvin continued living in El Salvador without his mother, having no other dream but to someday be reunited with the one person that he cherished most. Unbeknownst to Marvin, this someday would come at the age of 13.
As his city was taken over by gangs looking to recruit young, impoverished children, Marvin was placed at a constant risk of being forced into the gangster lifestyle. Concerned for the future of her young son, his mother commanded that he travel to the US at the age of 13, as it was no longer safe for him to continue residing in El Salvador. Accepting this, he did as he was told, finding a way to travel alone from El Salvador to Mexico to The U.S. with a group of 30 other migrants, looking to do the same.
Just as his mother’s, his journey to the US would be dangerous. He would walk for three days straight into Mexico with just a gallon of water, being forced to drink from puddles after that gallon was gone; he would fall asleep on the ground where he walked, waking up to other migrants starting to leave him behind; and when he caught up, he would listen to them tell scary stories about all of the people that had died crossing the border before them. While he was afraid, he held on to the spirit of Machista that his mother instilled into him and that her people instilled into her; and so he put his feelings aside and continued pushing forward, only thinking of the joy that he would feel once being reunited with his mother.
Despite being caught by the Mexican military twice throughout his journey, in which he was deported back to El Salvador the first time, and mistaken as a drug trafficker the second, he eventually made it to the US border. From there, he would cross the Rio Grande river on an inflatable boat and then be loaded into a truck with other migrants which would take him to Maryland where his mother resided. The reunion with his mother would be one of the happiest moments in his life.
Though having lost a sense of innocence on his journey to the US, he would continue to persevere just as his mother had wanted him to. He would go to high school in Washington D.C. for four years, where he would graduate second in his class. He would then be accepted into Marymount University, where he would major in Finance and establish the school’s DREAMer’s Club, working to advocate for the rights of immigrant children who would go on to seek higher education in the US. Joining other groups within the DMV area, such as the NOVA Catholic Community, he would further work to become a voice for Latin American peoples in general, becoming a leader in his local community. Although he originally took these successes for granted, having originally struggled to adapt to American society and process all that he had been through, his mother was always proud of him. Seeing her son achieve success in the US meant the world to her and was ultimately her greatest dream. So despite taken his success for granted, Marvin made sure that from there on, everything that he would do in the US to succeed, he would do because of his mother. In this, he acknowledged that his success was not only his own, but his mother’s and his people’s as well.
During his sophomore year of college however, Marvin’s mother was diagnosed with cancer. Sixth months later she died. Although faced the option of giving up however, he remembered his mother’s strength, which she held until the very end of her life as she fought to take care of herself and her family to reduce the burden on her sons. Even when Marvin himself believed that all else was lost, his mother continued fighting; and so, with her spirit in mind, he continued fighting as well, pushing through in his personal, academic, and professional life to ensure that continued to make it in the US. As a result, he is expecting to graduate university on May 19, 2019, being able to honor one of the final dreams of his mother and exemplify the strength, perseverance, and motivation honed by his people.
When asked what final lessons could be learned from his story, Marvin responded:
“There’s a strange beauty to life that we only get to experience because we are gifted with waking up every morning. And that’s mainly an experience I learned from my mom. She went through so many things during the six months, and everyday she would wake up and want to go to work and do things she couldn’t; so you realize that life is a gift. And I guess from my story – or my mom’s story actually – I would say that the lesson is to just be thankful for the life we have.
I do think that my story sounds really problematic and there are many obstacles to it, but I’m not the only person going through problems; and even though the magnitude of problems might be different” everyone goes through something. “But even with that, just keep on going. Whatever it takes. You just gotta do what you want to accomplish. It’s not a measure of talent, it’s not a measure of discipline, it’s just a measure of wanting something enough to actually do something about. So if anything happens, just keep on going”.
And in that, he reminds immigrants, as well as members of all communities who face adversity, to continue fighting, both for the lives that they want and the dreams that they want to reach.
Bialik, Kristen (2019). Border apprehensions increased in 2018 – especially for migrant families Retrieved from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/01/16/border-apprehensions-of-migrant-families-have-risen-substantially-so-far-in-2018/