By Fernando Pérez Trujillo
The man burst into the place she was living and — luckily — only wounded her in the neck with a knife while shouting “Today is your last day, no one is going to notice you’re gone, and I’m going to throw you into the river in pieces.” The owners of the house where María was renting heard the screams and called the police. However, while the police arrived on the scene, the man was still hitting her. Finally, when the police arrived — very late — they found María with life-threatening injuries and took her to receive immediate medical attention. The man, however, escaped and was never heard from again.
Sadly María’s story is a common theme for immigrant women. It is estimated that 35 percent of women around the world have suffered physical and/or sexual assault by their partner — or a person other than their partner — at some point in their life, according to reports of UN Women, the United Nations organization dedicated to promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women. For undocumented women in the United States, reporting these types of crimes proves to be incredibly difficult as they weigh their safety with the fear of being deported and being separated from their children. A situation that is inhumane and against morality.
Likewise, in almost half of the cases of women victims of homicides worldwide in 2012, the perpetrator of the attack was a family member or a sentimental partner. And according to a survey conducted in 2016, more than 1 in 4 women in Washington, DC have experienced some form of sexual harassment in public transportation.
The fourth story in our series tells the nightmare of María Amaya, a Salvadoran survivor of gender violence who, thanks to the help of the organization Mil Mujeres, was able to get out of the violence and obtain the U visa, issued to the victims of certain crimes and who have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse. I invite you to read her history.
María decided one day to make the heartbreaking decision to leave her three children in El Salvador, give up her work in a children’s center, and begin to build a better future for her children in the United States. A country that for many Central Americans and Latin American immigrants represents the only opportunity to overcome.
Pain was the common thread from the moment her children broke down in tears on the night of her departure, just as they had done when María’s husband migrated north five years before. The scene repeated itself.
“Mom, don’t go,” cried out her son Roberto, “I promise I’ll be good.”
The children were left in charge of María’s mother, who said good-bye with a phrase that she would never forget: “I do not want you to leave, but I have faith that you are doing what’s best for your children.”
As her journey began, María crossed the Guatemala-Mexico border with an immense fear for what lay ahead, holding the hands of two girls, her sisters-in-law. They managed to cross without a scratch, but María’s wounds were hidden from the surface. She was deeply affected emotionally by having left her family, as well as the uncertainty of starting a new life in a new place. However, she needed to leave that behind and concentrate on the job at hand. There was still another border to cross, the one that separated Mexico and the United States. She spent three grueling days in the desert before she crossed. “It was not so bad for me, but I prefer not to remember,” she says.
Now in the United States, and after five years without seeing each other, María finally saw her husband, the father of her children, as they pondered their future with fear and trepidation without legal documents. She remembers the chills, her heart skipping a beat as she saw every policeman, not to mention her insurmountable sadness for leaving her children children. “Me coming here will not be in vain,” she would say.
The days passed, but the feeling that was once there between María and her husband, had apparently died. Another casualty. The lack of communication had taken a toll on their marriage. Their love had been slowly eroded away by the winds of distance and time. What never left — Maria makes it very clear — was the respect she felt towards him. He was the first to arrive in the United States, it was because of him that their family had the possibility of living a better life, as her always fulfilled his economic responsibility regardless of the distance. But, alas, after coming to the conclusion that he no longer felt anything towards her, they agreed to part ways.
However, after searching for love in the arms of another man, she inadvertently “opened the gates of hell,” as she tells us.
While working she met someone two years younger and they started a relationship. She felt she loved him. But the picture began to take a dark turn when they moved in together, as the man constantly threatened her, her husband, and her children in El Salvador. María decided to accept her suffering and remain silent for fear of being deported and losing her job, the only way she could support her children. For two years she lived in a daily nightmare full of beatings, insults and verbal abuse.
The man insulted her and mistreated her in private, but when they were out in public he was very respectful and affectionate. They were a happy couple to everyone that knew them. María didn’t have anyone she trusted or a single friend she could tell the hell she was living. The fear she had towards him was such that she could not bring herself to trust anyone or even seek help. And the shame and fear of knowing what would happen once the door of her house closed every day petrified her. The screams, the blows, and the threats increased as time went on. The perpetrator got to the point of telling her that he knew where her daughter went to school and was going to kill her.
Little did she know that the day she decided to put a stop to this nightmare would also prove to be the beginning of the most traumatizing experience of her life. As she made the decision to leave, she reached for courage deep inside, and took the little things she had, and left. Unbeknownst to her, the man pursued her until he found her whereabouts.
María was given another opportunity to live again. She also got in contact with Mil Mujeres an organization that helped her to understand her rights as an immigrant and woman in the United States, as well as to seek protection. Protection she didn’t know existed and never dared to ask because of the fear of being deported.
“I just thought that if I called the police it was me they were going to arrest,” he shared. María says that if she could turn back time, she would have gone to the authorities from the first blow and threat. However, the most important lesson that this experience left her and that she would like to share is the importance of knowing how to distance yourself from an abuser at the first signs of violence and danger.
“I do not regret making this decision [to seek help], because despite all the suffering along the way, leaving my children alone and the personal growth that I have gained has marked and changed my life. Thanks to the organization Mil Mujeres, who supported me, I can be with my children in the United States. I learned about this organization from my ex-sister-in-law and when I arrived they asked me if I had the police report, which I did. “The most exciting thing for me was when they told me that if they authorized my papers, my children would also get theirs,” María said.
Currently, María’s children live with her in the United States. Her sons are 24 and 23 years old respectively, and work during the day and study at night. Her 14-year-old girl is in high school and understands she needs to fight for a better future. To María her daughter is the little dynamo that inspires her to keep fighting and sharing her story, as she does not want her little one to go through the same thing. Her daughter once told her “What happened to you, I do not want anyone to go through it.”
María returned with the father of her children, an honest and good man who always says “In spite of everything, I know what happened, I know you did not want to leave, but you were forced to leave [El Salvador]”.
Finally, Maria did not want to say goodbye without mentioning her deep gratitude to Mil Mujeres. The organization not only helped her legalize her immigration status, they also gave her psychological treatment and the possibility of having peace in her heart.
“In my case I never believed that I would have the courage to speak, now I feel I have the ability to speak, I feel free,” she said.
If you are going through a similar situation as María Amaya please get in contact with Mil Mujeres at (202) 808–3311 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.