Salvadoran Migration to the US
El Salvador was ravaged by a nasty civil war. During this time, several hundred thousand Salvadorans escaped to the United States, settling primarily around the Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. areas. Many of them entered the country illegally via Mexico. Odyssey to the North portrays the Salvadoran-American experience using collective reminiscence and a series of flashbacks to illustrate the impact of immigration on the psyche of Salvadorans who embarked on a journey outside their homeland to the US during the 1970s-1980s. Emphasis is placed on the reasons immigrants ran away from their home country rather than their desire to go to ...view middle of the document...
There are many correlations between Calixto’s attempts at integration in the US, his present experiences as a dishwasher in Washington D.C., past experiences with “coyotes” (immigrant smugglers) and immigration detention centers, and the subjective political persecution that forced him from his home country.
During his first days in the United States, Calixto didn’t even go out of the apartment. “It took about a week for me to get up the courage to go out and walk around the building (121),” he explained to his immigrant Salvadoran comrades. Though he escaped to a foreign country in search of better living conditions, and an ultimately improved quality of life, Calixto (like so many other Salvadoran refugees) was met by the same conditions of poverty, unemployment, cramped living spaces, and vulnerability to apprehension by the authorities that could result in deportation. Assimilating into American culture proved to be difficult as Calixto struggled to hold on to his national identity while his refugee counterparts tried to shed theirs. “Every day I am more Salvadoran. Because it’s one thing to make progress, have a job, live better, but your home is always in your heart. I could live away from my country for a hundred years, but I’ll never renounce it (138),” Calixto tried to explain to his friend Juancho. Juancho made an attempt at assimilation to United States culture by changing his name to Johnny, purchasing new shoes, and spending all of his money on a Trans-Am… all to impress an American woman.
It took Calixto about two months before he found his first job. He never before imagined he would be washing dishes in a foreign land, a job usually reserved for women in his country (62), but it was a better option than being subject to unemployment, misery, and persecution. Calixto’s memories of life in the countryside were those of hard work from sunrise to sunset (only for a few colones), and a couple of tortillas with salt every day, and cruel crew leaders as bosses (63). Coyotes very popular because they were the safest way to arrive in the United States, and migrants were dependent on the coyote system to accomplish their goal of attaining a better life. Border crossings by way of do-it-yourself methods were atypical, and practically everyone was paying a coyote. Migrant Salvadorans caught illegally crossing the border were charged with committing a crime, but many were willing to commit a crime to avoid a perceived greater harm: political persecution. There were alternatives to...