Jose Cartagena
By Witness Collaborative
May 17, 2023
0:00 / 5:12
Jose Cartagena

I come from El Salvador. I forced to leave because of, I was accused of being communist and subversive, because I was involved in a student organization trying to change the injustice system. Being a student label as a communist and subversive mean, they want to kill me. My mother and father hired a coyote for me to leave.

The coyote put together 42 people. They told them that everything is going to be okay because they gonna, we are going across the border United state, Mexico by airplane. My father and mother got the money, pay the coyote, we start my journey to come to United States. Everything was okay until we hit the border.

We get there. We ask for the plane. That is no plane. Okay. There is no plane, now you have to walk. We asked the coyote, how many hours we are going to walk? He say only 12 hours. For us, 12 hours is nothing. We are used to run and walk for days. Then, the coyotes give us a gallon of water for everyone. We gonna walk 12 hours, one gallon of water, that's fine. Okay. We started walking in the Arizona desert, uh, July, 1980. After the first person die, we create discontrol in the group.

We started, we drink our own urine. I drink even at the solarine lotion that we had carried. We walked for three days and three nights in the Arizona desert. I just remember some people say, they coming, they coming. I didn't know who is coming. I just remember, after that, waking up in a hospital. There were a lot of people around my bed. People asking me, why do you come to this country? I was saying, I come to this country because of the oppression.

They were, they accused me to being a communist subversive. I see a lady crying. I feel other people crying. And the lady was asking me, what do you think about Napoleon Duarte? And I say Napoleon Duarte betray the people of El Salvador because in 1972, the people of El Salvador love him. But not in 1980, when he was pulling himself to serve and to kill our people. And she start crying, and then she say, I'm Duarte's aunt. Turn out, that you become, one of the best supporters of our cause.

I was in jail, because after the hospital, they put us in jail. Another guy show up and say, I'm your cousin. He say, I say, wait, my cousin? I don't know in the cousin here. I have family, but I don't even recognize him. When he get close to me. I'm your cousin, I say that because that's the only way they're going to allow me to see you. And then he explained to me that he was organized in San Francisco, in the Casa El Salvador Farabundo Marti, doing solidarity. He was there to provide some support or help. To make the story short, he and the aunt of president Duarte were able to raise the, the bond that the INS was asking us, all of us.

Duarte's family, become responsible for myself, to live with her. The entire family become very aware of the situation, and they, uh, organize in the solidarity movement. Then, I start working in San Francisco in the solidarity movement. We organized the Central American Refugee Committee, CARECE, No Human Being is Illegal campaign. We organize that.

Very important that back then, the government in term, was Ronald Reagan. He was talking about Make America Great Again. And now, 2019, when I'm talking to you, we have another president who is saying, Make America Great Again. But the question is, great for who? Is this president now in 2019, he's saying, Make America Great Again, but label all of us an immigrant, to be rapists, terrorists. No, we are not that. We are immigrant. Many of us, thousand of us. We didn't choose to be here. We were forced to be here. And we are the results for the United States policies, failed policies, in our countries.