What Do Migrants Bring? Nelson and Yani Brought their Work Ethic and Determination to Forge a Better Life for their Children

By Niurka Piñeiro, IOM Media and Communication Officer, Washington DC 

Yani greets every customer at the popular barbeque restaurant in the southern Mexican border town of Tapachula with a warm smile and a kind word; one would never suspect the suffering that she has endured.

 After her shift is over, she invites us to her home so we can meet the family and hear their migration story.

 Yani and her husband Nelson are from El Salvador and have seven children.  They were forced to flee to Mexico to escape extortion, physical attacks and death threats from the maras, deadly youth gangs that are terrorizing the entire region.

 “We owned a stall at a wholesale market in San Salvador.  One day, the lady who worked the stall next to ours asked us to employ her son, and we did.  We wanted to help him although we knew he was hanging out with some of the mareros,” recalls Nelson, while Yani begins to wince as the horror comes back to life.

 “He swept and did this and that and we paid him a little money.  When he went to jail we sent him phone cards so he could call his mother.  But then he wanted more.  One Sunday afternoon I received a call at home.  He told me, ‘I know how much money you make, from now on you will give me 2,000 pesos each month’ (some US$200),” Nelson recounts.

 A few days later a man came by their stall to collect the money.

 Yani interrupts: “I was so angry, but I was also frightened because I knew what the maras were capable of.  The man who came to fetch the money said my daughter had to join their gang.  And they were also asking my eldest son for money, so I encouraged him to go to the United States to escape a life in the maras.”

 But each month they wanted more and when Nelson said enough, they broke into their house in the middle of the night and physically attacked Yani and made off with anything of value.

 “I wanted to go to the bathroom but I heard noises and was very scared.  Nelson was asleep and I did not want to wake him,” Yani recalls as Nelson tightens the grip on her hand.

 Nelson went to the police who told him they could present a formal complaint and they would arrest those who attacked his wife and ransacked his home.  But they warned: “the other mareros will come back and kill all of you”.

 “I said, that’s it, we are leaving,” says Nelson angrily.

 “It was so hard on all of us.  We left with the clothes on our back,” says Yani.

 But she quickly adds: “But I am happy here.  There is less violence, we are both working, and my children are going to school.”

 At the very end of their story, they are both spent and sad, but in a whisper Yani concludes: “I know my boys will never join the maras because we talk about this all the time and they know how much this family has suffered.”

 At the time of the interview, Yani and Nelson were waiting for a decision on their application for a residence permit.