Country of Origin:
Citizenship, Immigration, Human Rights & Social Justice, Identity & Heritage, Multiculturalism & Diversity, Refugee Experiences
Martita's story begins with the war in El Salvador. She remembers her early years evading soldiers with her family, and life in camps. Martita and her family suffered greatly before finally being granted visas for Canada.
I completed High School and would have liked to continue my education. Unfortunately being a single mother made it hard to do so. I have had a few opportunities to do work and do volunteer work with newcomers to Canada. I worked with Newcomers to Canada, a non-profit organization. I was also able to work on a project called No Sweat, which allowed me to help those abroad who are forced to work in unacceptable working conditions. I am currently working for a masonry company in Calgary. Thanks to my mother who taught me to never be afraid of hard work, I have been able to learn almost everything about the Masonry industry and I am very happy with what I do.
My name is Martita Hernandez. I was born in El Salvador in 1980 to a low-class family. My father was a preacher, and my mother took care of life at home. For years my family, like the rest of the peasants, had to fight in order to keep their homes and maintain their families. It was in the late 1970s that the war finally broke off, and the people decided to see that the peasants would no longer be mistreated by the government and refused to stand back.
It was then that the army started searching for those who were involved in the fight for human rights. Every day, more and more families were found dead. The day came in 1980 when they finally came to our home. They took my father, two uncles and my older brother. They were taken to the army headquarters, where they were tortured. When they could get nothing out of them, they imprisoned them. My grandfather paid all that he had to get them out.
The next night the army came back to the house yelling and cursing, looking for the people involved with the guerillas. Everyone stayed inside the house. My father, Antonio Hernandez, was outside on the patio when they started shooting into the sky and shouting, “If anyone comes out, we’re going to kill you!” My father, my mom says, got scared, and since he was outside he started running and they told him to stop. Since he wouldn’t stop, they shot him twice in the head. They said they would be back, and then they left.
The next day, while my family was burying my father, someone came to let the family know that as soon as the sun went down the army would be coming back to burn down the house and kill every living being inside it. So everyone went to grab everything they could, and just before sunset we headed away from home. My mom says that we weren’t far from home when they heard the anger in the soldiers’ voice because they found no one. Everyone could see the smoke that came from our home.
At this point, my mother had five kids and one of them on the way. I was just over one, and her oldest was ten years old. The journey went on for about two months. She took us from cave to cave to protect us. We came upon a church where a group of men claimed to be friends. They invited everyone to the church. They said we would be safe there, but one of the men who had met up with us told us to go with him, because the group of men looked suspicious. My mother took the man’s word and followed him. A few days later, she found out that the church had been burned down with everyone inside of it. The men who saved us that day took us to a camp where everyone was waiting to be taken to a refugee camp in Honduras. The guerillas had joined together to get as many families across the river as they could. The river was the only way to get to Honduras, because of all the fighting all around on land. Many people drowned because they did not know how to swim. But somehow God helped us through, and we managed to get to the camp.
With the help of Canada and the U.S., we evolved within the camp. There were different organizations responsible for different tasks. For example, within a couple of months, a group was responsible for building the homes, others grew the food, and others built water wells. So before we knew it we had become a community, working together to benefit all.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t all pretty and peaceful. In El Salvador the war was still pretty strong, and many of our family members had to go back and fight. My older brother and uncles were constantly there. My mother also traveled to deliver food and medicine. Many of our uncles never made it back. The time came when the war had finally calmed down, so many people started heading back because there were too many bodies being found within the camp. The Honduran government didn’t want us there, so little by little they were getting rid of people. Even the members of the community had turned to greed. As a result, those who knew about it also got death threats from them.
My mother was one of them. She knew that some of the leaders of the community had pocketed money that was meant for the community, so they wanted to take her back to El Salvador to kill her. Since she refused to take her family back to where she knew death was waiting, they decided to scare her in the camp. One night, a group of men came late at night when we were all sleeping, and started breaking everything we had on the patio. Our kitchen was set up on the patio, and all our food was there too. They stuck knives in the cracks in the walls, and told her in a loud voice that they would make sure she went back to El Salvador.
During that time, the same man who had saved us from the burning church - who was now the father of my three younger brothers - had been sent to the capital of Honduras where he was given the chance to travel to a third world country because his life was also in danger within the camp, and he asked to take us with him. However, the men who had been against my mother had decided to bribe my two brothers to go back to El Salvador. They were taken back to fight. They were told that if they went back, they would be given enough food to survive and homes for the family. We had no contact with them, so we had no way of getting them to come to Canada with us. While we were in Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras, we received two letters letting us know that both of our brothers had been killed. Within months, my younger brother who was eight also died of epilepsy. My mother from then on lost any way of showing emotion. She just worked as hard as she could until the United Nation’s High Commissioner for Refugees gave us a visa to come to Canada. Before we knew it, we had stepped into a whole new world. For us, it was heaven.