By Sara Crippen

Angela is from Usulután, the large capital of the province Usulután in El Salvador. She and her son fled the capital in 2000 because violence instigated by an international gang named Mara Salvatrucha was escalating within the city. The gang is involved in anything from human trafficking to merciless revenge killings to murderous robbery, and has been disintegrating the city’s standard of safety for a number of years.

The lack of security coupled with no job market pushed Angela to come to Des Moines, where her three sisters already lived. Unfortunately she had to leave her daughter in Usulután. Upon arriving in Des Moines, Angela started work doing industrial cleaning for hospitals, businesses, churches, and other large buildings contracted out to the company. For almost 11 years, Angela endured working under an aggressive and abusive supervisor  until she could no longer subject herself to the verbal abuses of esa grosera.

Last Friday, Angela quit her job and now feels liberated from a job that did not pay well and was a daily burden on her emotions. She plans on collecting unemployment until she can find a better, less demanding job that could enable her to send more than the usual $100-250 she sends every month to her dependent parents.

Her business at AFSC today is to have Jody Mashek, AFSC Iowa Immigration Legal Services Director, assist her in filling out forms asking for permission to travel to and from El Salvador in order to visit her ailing parents. She said that her 82-year-old father had been in bad health, but was recovering, whereas her mother was not doing well. Angela had recently saved up $2,000 for her 77-year-old mother to receive an operation on her failing eyes. For two years she had not been able to see, but the operation was successful, and Angela looks forward to the day she can step off the airplane and show her mom how much weight she has lost since leaving El Salvador! 

Angela’s history is sad, but her move to Des Moines gives me hope that the next half of her life will be full of achievement and contentment. She was born into a family of 12 children, of whom only two brothers and five sisters are still living. Although her mother was literate, Angela was never sent to school and to this day does not know how to read or write.

While trying to fill out a form, Angela put her reading glasses on and struggled to get her pencil around the letters of her signature – those are the only two words she knows how to write. We also faced difficulties when she tried telling me her address and when ‘spelling’ out the name of her home city – I was close with the phonetically inspired guess of ‘Cuzulutan.’ 

One can guess that Angela’s life has been difficult since the day she was born with so many siblings to compete with, no reading or writing abilities, and no opportunity to educate or improve herself as a young Salvadoran woman in a chaotic city. Yet Angela displayed a quiet joy for simple things like talking with me about family and good food and reveling in her newly acquired skill of driving. She says that she had never driven in El Salvador but had instead walked or used public transportation.

As of 2007, Angela has been cruising around Des Moines with a huge smile on her face. She lamented rising gas prices like any old commuter, despite her current unemployed status – it almost seemed like she enjoyed the fact that she could complain about gas prices like any other normal Iowan. Other than a used car, Angela recently moved out of an apartment and bought a house in 2006 where her three sisters and son currently live.

Although Angela has had to cover her first floor windows for privacy because of the high amount foot traffic outside her house, she generally likes Des Moines because she doesn’t feel threatened while walking, driving, or sitting in her house. She does not have the foreboding fear of the Mara Salvatrucha that she had while living in Usulután.

While living and working in Des Moines several years ago, Angela started noticing that her energy levels fluctuated dramatically and she was not be able to function normally. She went to a doctor and discovered that she had non-fatal Diabetes, and had to become vigilant in her diet and way of life. With relief she said that she does not have to do dialysis like her friend, but instead takes pills everyday and carefully eats in order to regulate her blood sugar levels.

Although she does not suffer from common diabetic symptoms like foot pain and obesity, Angela has a little trouble seeing out of one eye, but not enough to disable her from driving, of course. She seemed indifferent about her Diabetes, and instead was very positive about the relative fortune of her situation in Des Moines.

As for the future, Angela wants to visit her parents for an extended period of time, take literacy classes at Las Americas in Des Moines, and start the lengthy process of naturalization with the help of Jody. After smiling profusely with her gold-capped teeth and giving me two warm hugs, Angela left AFSC with a little card that said her appointment with Jody was all set – a brave step towards a hopeful future, indeed.