Los Buenos Home

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One of the US’s most revered narratives is the story of the hopeful immigrant arriving in this country with every hope of achieving the American dream of middle class. This narrative drives our understanding of our history of our county, often our personal family histories and even the current debate over immigration reform. By referring to the recent immigration legislation as the Dream Act and the young people it will benefit as “dreamers,” advocates for immigration reform have connected to a powerful part of the American story. In fact, this story has been and continues to be true for millions of immigrants to this country – however, for thousands of others, their dreams remain at home with their families, their children and their communities. These are the economic exiles, and many come from communities very similar to the ones we visited this week in El Salvador.

One of the most emotional stories we heard this week was from Candelaria, a leader in her very small community of “Los Buenos” near Auachapan, El Salvador. Thanks to her work, along with other community leaders and Habitats for Humanity, thirty-two new homes have been built, water can be collected from a tap in the community rather than hours away and there is electricity in the new homes. We met one woman who told us that she, her husband and their four children had been living in a 6’by 8’ shack made of plastic sheeting and metal scraps. During the torrential tropical rains, the children’s beds would become soaked through as they slept. Now, the family lives in a three-room home with a concrete floor and sturdy roof. People continue to organize to resolve outstanding land ownership issues so that more families can build homes. But even more importantly, the growing community is organizing politically to demand services and educational opportunities.

Unfortunately, Candelaria’s two sons have not seen the changes. Fourteen years ago, they left their homes and families to find work in the United States – work that pays more than the 70 cents per hour, or less, that might be available for work in a sweatshop making clothes for American consumers, or $1 a day as a farm laborer. As workers who are in the US illegally, they live in economic exile – unable to return to the families they help to support. The money they are able to send home from the United States means their children do not sleep under plastic sheets in rain soaked cots – but at a tremendous cost.