Gladis Cartagena
By Witness Collaborative
March 11, 2022
0:00 / 5:25
Gladis Cartagena

Being a teenager in El Salvador in the 1980s, it was very difficult. There was a civil war going on at the time. And, um, being young, I was studying and I, um, joined this, um, students organization. And, uh, just because you belong to a student organization, you were automatically, um, categorized as a communist, which wasn't the case?

One of my friends, she was only 19 when she was killed. And, it was very hard for me. Um, very difficult when they told me that she was killed in front of the cathedral. My mother, to hear all that, um, she was afraid for my life. And, I'm the older of four siblings. So, my mother asked me to, she said, I'd rather have you far away, even if I never see you again. But, being here, and you disappear or, or not knowing where you will be, or your body.

So, that's when I decided to, to say yes, and come. But it was hard. I didn't want to leave El Salvador. I didn't want to leave my mom. I was forced to leave because of the situation. So, I came with my aunt and my uncle, travel from El Salvador to Guatemala, Mexico. It wasn't easy. We were taking bus, and bus, and bus. It's a long journey.

And being scared. Being scared that you will be stopped at any time. So, in the next bus, this guy knew that we were from Central America, and he was a Mexican, um, resident. And he, he knew ahead of time that they were some, uh, people, um, from immigration, taking the people out of the bus. So, he was very kind enough to get us from the bus and hid us before these people came.

So, after they left, he said, it's safe now. You come in and board the bus again. So, finally in the journey, after five days, I think it took us like 15 days to come. So these three guys came in suits and tie in the bus, bus stations. And he asked us, um, that we had to give money to them, otherwise they will deport us right away, or put us in jail.

So, my aunt was, um, forced to give all the money that she had. And she begged them, please leave us at least the money to pay the tickets for the bus to take us farther north and leave us a little money for, to, to rent a room to sleep. And they agree with that, but we have no money left.

So, we were just starving for three days. We didn't have food for three days. Um, I have never been so hungry in my life. I think we got to San Diego or LA, or LA. I cannot recall. The first of, it was to a McDonalds, I believe, and it was a culture shock. I didn't know how to order. I was standing like a, like a mannequin. I didn't know what to do.

Um, when came here, I came to San Francisco. I came to, to this house. I felt a lot of emptiness, lonely, missing my family, my friends, my country. I had to start from zero. It's not easy, to look for a job, to learn the language, to adapt, to assimilate. Even though a lot of people do, but it's, it's not, it's not easy.

So, being involved in the group with solidarity, people that knew what was going on in El Salvador, save me to, to continue. Not to feel that lonely because I felt connected.

After I met my husband, we had kids. And, of course, we had to work. I work. We have contributed to this country. I went to school, learn English, and then I went to get my certified nurse assistant certificate. And I worked for many years as in a convalescent hospital. And after a while, I changed it from convalescent hospital to hospice. And, it's a job that not everybody wants to do, because it's not easy.