My name is Milagros Ramirez. I am Salvadoran and I am proud of who I am. First off because as a woman and a Latina, we have many stories to tell, stories that might inspire you or at least tell you something about why we’ve come here. Unfortunately few people take the time to see what stories are inside us.
“I am a survivor. I ask, since I could have died years ago, why am I here? But it makes me happy knowing that we all have a role to play in history. Perhaps mine is to tell, to remember all the people who have since passed, who live on in the memory of each of us, in my heart, and in the hearts of others.”
I want to share a brief description of my life.
I saw myself completely happy as a child. I liked to run in the countryside with my brothers and sisters, barefoot, not because I liked it, but simply because I didn’t have shoes to wear. But that isn’t important when you feel happy. It is something that with the passage of time you begin to think: “Why am I barefoot?” but then it was so marvelous to run barefoot in the countryside. But the bad thing is that with the passage of time you get older and you begin to see your reality. You start school and you begin to be discriminated against by your own people. Your neighbors look down on you as the child of two completely strange people like my father, an anti-social, drunkard and my mother, a woman dedicated only to her work.
So then our neighbors thought they could do anything they wanted with us. But, that isn’t important, even if given a lot of work, if you do it to eat. That is marvelous. It wasn’t a burden to wash dishes for the neighbors, it wasn’t a burden to bring children back from school, no, not if it was to give me food to eat. It was something marvelous to be able to earn enough to eat this way while I waited for my mother to also return from work. Generally she would bring half-rotten vegetables, some cheese — actually rinds. That is what we were privileged to eat. When you are a child it is marvelous, it doesn’t burden you to do that. It is so beautiful to survive and know that you have a roof over your head no matter how many holes the roof has in it. It doesn’t matter that you are surviving because you are with the people that you love.
But time goes on and you get older and there are more responsibilities. It saddens me to think. You become an adolescent and think “You’re going to bring children into this world to suffer as you have suffered?” But you survive. You have hope, because that is something the poor do not leave behind, and that hope is that tomorrow will be better. You go to sleep and you think, tomorrow will be better than today. Perhaps tomorrow mother will sell more and perhaps she’ll bring a piece of meat to eat, because that is something those of us who are poor consider a privilege to eat. We survive that way. Unfortunately when in your adolescence the time comes for you to begin to recognize that those around you appear to conspire against you because of what you are, people disregard you and you think that you will never overcome this and that you will always live in this little shed.
In reality they are God’s blessings and the thoughts we all have of overcoming, of beating the odds and getting ahead, we survived a war. But for me, the war starts at home, when your parents and your family members don’t get along. That is where the real war starts. But we overcame these stages – there are ten of us, each living their different lives, I’ve lived mine. I am proud of my life. I am proud of my life because when I married and had my daughters I survived a cancer, a cancer that they thought was terminal. But God in his mercy permitted my daughter and permitted me to live.
So then why is it that I gain strength when people tell me that I have only a few years of life left? I haven’t been told once, I’ve been told more than once, and here I am.
So then, if my story helps to strengthen the lives of many people, it is for them for those who think that because you are given bad news that’s all there is and give up. My life has been filled completely with bad news. But I am here – I have survived. I don’t know if my illness will one day win but every single day I win battles with it. I don’t let myself be defeated by a crisis. No, I’m not going to allow my joy to be taken away by being told that my heart can give out at any time.
“These are illnesses that women catch because they don’t let their feelings out, for not saying what we feel, for not saying, “Stop bothering me!” Not saying to our parents, “Stop fighting.” Not telling our brothers, “Don’t abuse us!” For not saying to our environment, to our employers, “Please, don’t abuse me!” We are always guarding that and it is reflected in our illnesses. There is something special in our women, we don’t lose our joy, don’t lose our hope. Whatever we do, we do with joy to be an example to our children. We do this so our children come out ahead. So that other people see the effort we have in wanting to survive. Our minds and our desires are to move forward. It is a great desire.”
Storyteller Milagros Ramirez, an undocumented caregiver living in San Francisco, is writing a memoir: The Nanny’s Tale: Growing Up in the Violence of El Salvador. Milagros is actively seeking a publisher for her manuscript. She attended MiHistoria’s Sharing Stories of the Latina Experience Workshop at the Cesar Chavez Branch of the Oakland Public Library.