Yolanda Najera: An American Story
By: Alejandra Najera
Posted on September 20, 2017 at 11:21 AM PDT
Many people may not be aware or understand an actual immigrant experience. As the Dream Act is dismantled for immigrant students, consider the perilous journey undertaken by Yolanda Najera (maiden name, Yolanda Carmen Vasquez), and why she came to the United States. Understanding the “other” will be the first steps to building this country back up into the diverse nation the U.S. was set out to be.
Yolanda was born in El Salvador and was 5 years old when the Salvadoran Civil War broke out. This was a 12 year war that took the lives of about 75,000 civilians who died at the hands of the government, according to The Center for Justice & Accountability. El Salvador was considered a cash crop land, known for coca, indigo and especially coffee. “Coffee became a major cash crop for El Salvador. It brought in 95% of the country’s income, unfortunately, this wealth was confined within only 2% of the population.” From there, tension built. The government began supporting the military and targeted anyone suspected of supporting social and economic growth.
Yolanda Najera, though only five years old, remembers the Salvadoran Civil War as if it were yesterday. She describes shootings breaking out, soldiers going into homes in the middle of the night killing families, and feeling so much fear and heartbreak. She clearly describes her seven year old brother and herself underneath a mattress, shielding from bullets fired from planes shooting into houses. She continues with saying, “The divide in my country was between soldiers and civilians.” She relayed how her own uncles were abducted and forced to fight against their will in the Salvadoran Civil War and never seen or heard from again. A war they wanted no part of.
This war was violent, and to this day many in El Salvador mourn the losses of the ones they loved. Being surrounded with nothing but war, poverty and violence, Yolanda’s mother had to make one of the most difficult choices of her life - to separate herself from her children.
Yolanda is the middle child of three. Her sister was an infant at the time, and Yolanda’s mother only had enough money to send her two eldest children to stay with her grandfather for a year in Mexico until they could be sent to San Francisco, California to live with their father, who gained citizenship by remarrying a U.S Citizen. Yolanda was six years old when she entered the United States. She describes a feeling of confusion, and was not able to fully understand what was going on.
Her father left El Salvador in the late 70’s, re-married, and started his own family and life in San Francisco. Since Yolanda was the oldest, she had to take care of her new siblings which prevented her from getting an education. These years during her life were the most confusing and frustrating for her. But, it wasn’t until she reached the age of 17, that she was asked for a Social Security card applying for a job to support her two children. That’s when she realized she was an Illegal immigrant of the United States.
Yolanda says, “At the this time, it was more difficult to gain citizenship and receive a residency card. The process was that I had to go back and get it approved at the Embassy in my country, El Salvador. Which was the first time I saw my Mom since she had sent me here.”
A few years later at age 20, with two kids, she decided that staying in this country was the best decision. 1992 was the start of Yolanda’s ‘American Dream’ life - she was twenty years old. Her version of an American Dream was to help others, to be strong, and to become the best she could be. Since she was a teen mom at age 16, she wanted to reach out to younger girls and educate them. She joined Familias Unidas , a non-profit youth program that reached out to young teenage girls about pregnancy, STD’s, and overall safe sex awareness. Most importantly she wanted to be a figure that girls could come and talk to. She wanted to be someone that she had needed at age 16. From there she worked at San Quentin for Centerforce, a non-profit , social services and welfare group. With them she ran a peer mentor program that was for families and children with incarcerated parents. Every Christmas my mom would take my two siblings and I to the Yellow House on the Hill, where we would pass out gifts to the kids who had lives much harder than we did. Then in 2008, she joined Kaiser Permanente as an Administrative Coordinator. She is still with the company, and is now an Administrative Services Manager. Yolanda Najera is also an independent business woman - she has a Floral company named ‘Blushing Florals’ (Instagram @blushingflorals) with brides booking a year in advanced.
Yolanda was the same age as some of these DACA recipients when they came to the United States, and now is a successful executive in a major company and also has a thriving business of her own.
Yolanda said, “I think immigrants come here searching for the American Dream. I was forced to come here, I had no other choice. They don’t realize the struggle and the sacrifice for an illegal immigrant to come here.”
DACA is not only affecting the 800,000 dreamers that fall under that Act, it is affecting their families who brought their children here to escape war, poverty, corrupt governments, cartels, living conditions, low wages, and so much more.
Personally, I thank her for that choice every day because Yolanda Najera is my mother, and I know my own life would not be the same if a different choice was made at that time