Sabas is a deep-voiced, brown, black-and-wiry-haired Salvadorian immigrant with visible facial scars. Other than the apparent aesthetic differences, when I first met Sabas, before he shaved his head, his facial structure and hair resembled that of Chuckie from Rugrats. However, the similarity to Chuckie ends there, for Sabas is wise beyond his years, ignorant of nothing on the socio-political front, and hardened by his journey from abused child to green card holder, UC Santa Cruz graduate, and counselor for international students.
Things really do come back full circle (effort dependent).
This is Sabas’ story in a nutshell, as best as I can tell it. I’ve had a month to ruminate on our interview, which I held on January 22. In that time, we’ve had a travel ban enacted by executive order in the US and countless protests against it, but this isn’t about that. This is about an immigrant who made it here in California–who’s so socio-politically aware in effect of his immigration and assimilation that it would save us hundreds of years of partisan divide if presidents, court justices, policy makers, and laypeople dropped everything and gave this guy a mic on the world stage.
Sabas knows trauma. His mother died in El Salvador when he was 10. His guardian/ uncle physically abused him as he grew up, hence the scars. His older sister of 12 years who had immigrated to the US found out about the abuse during one of her visits home and took him to the Bay Area. He arrived when he was 15.
His first step to getting a green card was becoming a “ward of the court,” meaning that the court took primary responsibility of him. Then, he became an emancipated youth to relieve himself of his uncle’s guardianship; Sabas’ sister became his guardian. Finally, thanks to the Special Immigrant Juveniles Status that grants green cards to children who are abused, abandoned, or neglected, Sabas received his green card.
Sabas’ sister took him in, but destiny dealt him more hardship because life is disgustingly keen on injustice toward our youth. Sabas’ sister emotionally and verbally abused him throughout his adolescence. He was the outlet for different family members’ trauma, and was traumatized in effect.
Trauma’s roots tend to sink deep into the earth and bear fruit. In other words, familial trauma tends to be passed down through generations. Sabas dealt with the trauma that was never resolved by his family.
At 16, once he could, Sabas began working; he had a financial expectation to send money home. Sadly typical of immigrant assimilation, Sabas faced adversity when he attended school, mainly because he had just started to learn English upon arrival. The language barrier was intense, but one day, it just clicked. He moved on to get an associate degree in film and journalism and graduate UCSC with a sociology degree and minor in education.
His first job post-college is at his old high school, Oakland International High School, as a counselor–the epitome of paying it forward.
Now, on to Sabas’ two cents regarding his immigrant experience and perspective:
There aren’t many politically aware immigrants. They have responsibilities to make money and live; not many of them in his experience have the energy or motivation to be politically aware. The poor level of education for immigrants exacerbates this norm. Yet, immigrants possess what Sabas calls an undervalued “double or triple consciousness” or “immigrant rational” that contains the burgeoning immigrant experience, its success and strife, that could prove beneficial if harnessed–in the job market, in lawmaking, in learning compassion and empathy, in people-interaction, in society. I wonder how many immigrant-written pocket books of life lessons could be created and mainstreamed after digesting this thought process of his.
Sabas notes that, “Some immigrants see life outside of their native country as a continuation of their previous lives with more resources.” He looks at it as a “heightened political awareness and sensitivity to private interests and the powers that be that shape powerful governments and affect marginalized peoples [domestic and abroad].”
Sabas’ greatest fear is people’s drive for money. Rather, he believes that positive emotions should be people’s driving factor. Sabas heavily criticizes money’s vicious cycle and society’s slanted valuation of services and goods: “In our society, we are rewarded by money, and money is generated in specific pockets of society such as business, tech, investing, and pharmaceuticals. The volunteer isn’t rewarded for her community service.”
I asked Sabas if he hated America because of what it’s done to Salvadorians, other communities, immigrants, and displaced peoples. He responded, “Yes, but not entirely.” Alternatively, he wishes that everyone were aware of the manipulation behind the scenes and in the foreground relative to land, food, health, and education and “what portion of these commodities is controlled and owned by America and exploited to accommodate the American lifestyle [and behavioral trends].”
To his fellow immigrant, Sabas’, message is, “You do belong.” He acknowledges that it’s hard not to feel alone when you have no family here.
To a xenophobic (one who irrationally dislikes or fears people from other countries) American, Sabas’ message is, “Check your privilege, it’s all in the mind, and immigrants aren’t taking anything away.”
Sabas said it all better than I ever could, and the bottom lines are:
- Many immigrants aren’t politically aware, and it’s a question of energy, motivation, and lack of resources, opportunities, and privilege.
- Immigrants face injustices here especially in education, prejudice, and opportunities.
- American society takes advantage of immigrants and doesn’t value their perspective.
- It is important (to Sabas, and a truly altruistic and greater-good-oriented society) to help immigrants and pay it forward.
At the end of the day, we are all immigrants, else our ancestors were. I wish I could send this message to the 917 hate groups now operating in the US since 2016.