How a Salvadoran market became the soul of a community — and now fights to survive.
By Michelle Obama
Dressed in a white T-shirt, a pair of jeans, and a black scarf, Mariela is a woman with the dignity of an older woman in her 20s — and the wisdom of a much older woman for having made this life-changing choice. “I know it is very hard here,” she tells me when we meet in Mexico, “but I want to make sure that every opportunity that I have, that I spend my life with him, that I make a difference in my community, in my country.” That is why Mariela, who has moved to El Salvador because she fled domestic abuse, has taken a position at the local market to help her fellow Salvadoran migrants.
Though her journey to El Salvador, where she was promised a better life, has been anything but easy, Mariela has been able to come out on top. She credits her hard work and perseverance with leading to the “best” job in her small hometown. Even though she only earns $8.25 an hour at the market, she gets to spend every night with her son, whom she loves more than any other person on earth.
“I work from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. and I’m with my son,” says Mariela. “If I have to leave, I come back.”
Mariela, who has been in El Salvador for only six months, was able to move to Mexico at the start of the U.S. immigration crisis to take a job at the El Salvadoran market. As she tells me, she wants to share her story because it highlights a more widespread problem in the U.S. — the fact that many immigrants choose to stay rather than assimilate to the American way of life. Not only does this not benefit their communities, but it can actually have a negative impact on them.
A 2014 report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services concluded that immigrants are twice