Walk a Mile in Their Shoes: Interview with Norys
“Giros” by Norys (fabric art)
- Tell us a little bit about yourself.
My name is Norys, and I’m the oldest of three siblings. I’m also a student of medicine and agricultural engineering. I’ve lived here for almost eight years and am still trying to adapt to the culture and the system in general.
2. What made you decide to do this interview?
I believe it is important so people know who we, the immigrants, are and that we have a voice and story to tell.
3. Where are you from and why did you decide to come to America?
I’m Salvadoran and I didn’t make the decision, my parents did. They thought that here I would have a better future.
4. What was life like for you where you grew up?
Beautiful! Even though there were limitations, we were free. There was not enough food or money. We had meat only on special occasions. I had a lot of friends and every moment with them was like creating a movie. Those are happy memories. What I want to say is that we lived; we lived. It was happier. It didn’t matter if there was no money or if there was no food, it was the spirit of happiness that kept us alive.
5. What is life like for people in your country now? Do you still have family and friends there?
Yes, most of my friends are in El Salvador, my paternal grandparents and my grandmother on my mom’s side and my aunt. It’s still the same, only with the different that it is not the same El Salvador where I grew up; there is more fear, more violence, and more insecurity. It’s still beautiful with its scenery, its culture, and its people, but it’s not the same.
6. What did you have to do to get here (i.e. paperwork, money, etc)?
I crossed the border like most do. It was an unknown and dangerous journey. It took me three weeks to arrive at my destination. You didn’t know if each day that ended would bring another tomorrow. It is like a horror movie. You don’t know what is coming next. It is unknown, horrible. If they asked me to do it again, I wouldn’t do it.
7. What hardships did you face coming to America?
I think that the hardest thing of the journey was everything together, starting from leaving my land. Upon leaving my house, I said, Norys, don’t look back and keep going. So, that was the hardest part, leaving my land, my people. Once I began the journey I was confronted with other difficulties like traveling with strangers. You didn’t really know what type of people were traveling with you, if they were good or if they were bad. There were moments in which I had to console people who wanted to commit suicide and be there and tell them that this was going to pass, that we weren’t going to stay there forever, that it was going to pass. Trying to save my own life and save the lives of others was difficult but it gave me the strength to go on.
(here is a video of the following end of the question, it is in Spanish but you can follow along…the answer starts around 0:15)
One person cut his veins because he didn’t want to leave his grandchildren. And he lost a lot of blood so the guide asked if anyone knew how to put in an IV. And, well, no one is prepared for something like that. In a journey like that it would be really lucky for a doctor or nurse to come, but this time there wasn’t anybody. Seeing the need, and being a student of medicine, I said that I would do it, it was something I had to do. So I said I could do it, I could try. And that person was lying on a dirt floor, and he was white, like paper, and I did the procedure and I don’t know how I did it but I did it, and he lived. He lived and I don’t know what happened with him later but then another woman got like this, like an anxiety, and she got really bad, because the experience, itself, is traumatic. No one is prepared for what comes on the journey. Once on the journey you don’t know how the mind will react. So this person, she said that she didn’t want to live anymore, that she didn’t want to live anymore, but she had two twin daughters that she left behind in El Salvador, and she had told me about them when we met for the first time and had told me that she left behind her family. So I told her, “You have to live. You have to get to this country so you can work and bring your daughters so you can be together, and you can’t think negative. Who will take care of your daughters if you die or if you do something crazy? Who will see after them? So I had my fears, and I had my fears because it was an unknown journey and everyone will tell it differently depending on how they lived it but this is how I lived it. And so I had to put my fears to the side so I could try to be a help to these people and I didn’t mind, I didn’t mind. I lost my fear ad I said, these people need me more, and well, I did that, and I believe that’s what gave me the strength to get through that journey, that uncertain journey, and arrive at the destination. Like the fear of those people helped me to overcome my own fears and therefore be able to help them. You never know when…we all have our fears because it’s a natural thing, right? But seeing that many others were more afraid, then yours becomes insignificant and you can say, “oh, that is nothing, but this is serious. They really need help.” And that’s when you do something, when you give.
8. Once you came to America, what was life like?
My life in the United States. (sigh) It was difficult to adapt, I think it’s like that for everyone. With something new, if you’re afraid, it’s natural. The fear of the unknown. But to me, time passes that you start to adapt and you begin to not be yourself because you have to follow patterns. Like the ones that are already here, they say, “Hey, they do things this way.” Then you follow that same pattern. But after a while you get involved in the system, you change opinions, and you begin adapting your own ways. Another hard thing was learning the language. Going to school when you’re 21 and being around kids that are 14, 15, 16. That was a challenge, but once I arrived here my father told me, “If you going to be in this country, without knowing the language, you’re nothing.” And he was right. I went to school for four years and I graduated with my high school diploma for the second time, and I accomplished it. And now I say, knowing the language has saved my life. It has opened doors for me and I have met a lot of people, I have been to places, that if it weren’t for knowing the language, I don’t know, it never would have happened. Going back to high school and pretending that you’re a certain age when you aren’t is hard. Pretending was hard. For me. But, I had to do it; I had to do it. I’m an introverted person so I got through this time unscathed because I didn’t talk, I only learned and analyzed and observed and I didn’t have the need to say, “Oh, I’m 21 or 22.”
And coming here and being a single mother. To come carrying a baby in your womb and go to school, be a single mother, adapt to the system, a new culture, it was the complete package. It was hard. It was hard but here I am.
9. What helped you get to where you are today?
The worst that can happen to someone is dying. While you’re alive, there are many possibilities, and I believe being 29 years old is a blessing, because in my country, life is no longer worth anything. Then waking up the next day and seeing the light is like, thank you, right? For another day. And to know that everything passes, sadness passes. There will always be a new day. Like I said before, while you’re alive, there are many possibilities. The opportunities are there, it’s only having the desire to look for them. To dream. I am a dreamer and I dream big. I always say, everything happens for a reason. We are here and I am here with a purpose. I am here for a reason. I don’t have everything I want but I have everything I need. You understand? So I think that is what’s most important. Not looking back but rather continuing and continuing and knowing that one day you’re going to be there, where you have always dreamed.
10. How do different generations in your family experience America (i.e. immigrant-born vs. American-born generations)?
The new generations don’t have a sense of culture. When I say that, I feel that they don’t have culture, it is a double culture. Finally, it’s like saying, “Am I American or am I Salvadoran?” What is there in the middle? Then it’s what is there in the middle, it’s what has been lost. The old generations or the older generations, like my parents, my aunts and uncles, cousins, they have that history, they have that folklore still in them, but here they have forgotten to pass it on to these new generations. So it gets lost. They have become Americanized, forgetting about their roots, of that rich folklore that we have as Salvadorans. I’m talking about the rest of my family. Personally, I try to continue cultivating that, that spirit, that culture. I try to cook with those same aromas and pass on that culture to my daughters. And it is difficult when you are married to a person who shares a different culture. Balancing both cultures is hard.
I am trying to continue speaking Spanish, continue cooking those traditional dishes, and continue saving those traditions. In my family I feel it has been lost, because they say, “We are in America, we will live like Americans.” Okay. There’s nothing bad in that but I feel it is important that our children, as Latinos, as the Hispanic-Americans we are, it is important that they know their roots, where they come from. For me it is important, because I want them to have the same feeling, the same love for their roots. It doesn’t matter how nice or ugly El Salvador is. It doesn’t matter how violent it is. That folklore and that human charm will always prevail. It will always be there and just because a group of people are doing bad, doesn’t mean that our children shouldn’t know where their mother and father come from, you know? They have to have that, because it doesn’t matter where they are, if they’re here or in China, they have to know what their roots are.
11. Have you preserved any traditions, foods, languages, or customs from your native country?
Yes. I am writing a book of traditional recipes. I love the kitchen. It is a form of transmitting life and bringing memories. I like cooking and sharing how I do it. Sharing the recipe and say, for example, on holy week, it’s a custom in El Salvador to make fish tortas, and I love them. I remember how my paternal grandmother made them, and I have it etched in my mind and I remember that she would be there in the kitchen and she would said, “Don’t stick your hands in the dough. Don’t touch.” So then I’d only observe but I observed with detail and that how I make them now; it is how I cook. So that’s what I’m doing, preserving, I could say, the recipe as much as the memory, of how I learned to make it and pass it on. Then when I am cooking, I am telling the story, and she was like angry. She didn’t like me to be in the kitchen, but unconsciously I was learning, unconsciously she was teaching. So that is how I learned.
12. How does your cultural heritage affect your views on immigration?
It’s complex. Just the word immigration is like, “ouch.” The system is unjust. Just the fact of crossing borders and adapting ourselves to a culture that’s no our own, is a big change. Aside from that, dealing with a immigration system that doesn’t help, but rather destroys, emotionally and culturally, I think there’s a lot to say and even then it’s not enough.
We aren’t here to be pitied, but it would be good to be accepted for who we are and what we can contribute to the development of the country, bring a little of our culture and share. Originally, this country was built by immigrants. So it doesn’t have a specific culture, if you could say that. There is a diversity of cultures. Why can’t we join each other and celebrate life and celebrate diversity? All of us would be happier and everything would be easier. While we create barriers that you’re white and you’re black, red, yellow, there will always be conflict and nobody will ever be happy. What can’t we all love each other just like we are?
13. What else would you like to share with everyone about yourself, your family, or about immigration in general?
About me?…um…I believe my message would be like this: while you’re alive, there are many possibilities, and it doesn’t mater where we find ourselves. If we are in this place, it’s because we have to be here for a purpose, and independent of what we believe, we have to get out, search, and fight for our dreams. And even though the system or society where we live is unjust, it’s not a reason to say, “I can’t.” Society does not have to accept us. There is a strong reason why we are here “now.” It doesn’t matter where we are. Like I said, the system doesn’t work for us, we don’t have to adjust, but we have to critique and we have to fight. We have to make them know that we have a voice and that we have a story to tell.
Norys, thank you so much for being willing to share so openly about your story.