Invisible People: Acknowledging the immigrant experience in America

By Carlos Cruz

Salvadoran-American poet Miko Sandoval performing live at The State Theatre in Cleveland, Ohio. Photo courtesy of Miko Sandoval.

Ten years ago, on a morning just before the sun shined its rays upon the city of Cleveland, Ohio, the alarm clock let out a loud sound to awaken a 14-year-old boy and his 31-year-old mother from their slumber. Both hopped out of bed, got dressed and rushed out the door to start what would be one of the most important days of the boy’s and his mother’s life.

The door slammed shut as the mother twisted the key in the ignition to turn on the car. The mother set down a folder labeled “residency” next to her son sitting on the passenger seat beside her. As they fastened their seat belts, the vehicle backed out of the driveway to begin their journey to New York City.

The unknown awaiting her at their destination made the mother nervous as she navigated the vehicle to the nearest highway entrance. She put on a nervous expression as she turned to her son and told him, “Thank you for coming with me. I needed someone to talk to.”

The boy replied, “Of course, Mom. I know how much this means to you.” The mother smiles at the boy while turning her attention back to the damp highway roads ahead of her. As the rain gently trickled down upon the windshield, the mother continued to tremble, thinking about all that she had been through as an immigrant living in the United States.

As the commute progressed, the mother’s stress began to take a toll on her body. After several hours she rolled down the driver’s side window to let in the refreshing breeze from the outside world. Her eyes began to turn red and her hands began to tremble. The boy pleaded to his mother, “We need to stop!” as she vomited outside of the car door.

“I need to make it to New York. I need to get my residency. This is what I need to do, and I cannot stop no matter what,” the mother told her astonished son. “This what I sacrificed my life in El Salvador for, to feel welcome in a new country I would call home.”

Miko Sandoval, a first-generation, Salvadoran-American poet, was only 14 years old when his mother gained U.S. residency. “I remember watching her be so nervous during all eight hours of the trip. She was extremely exhausted yet determined to her to her appointment on time.” Ever since then, Sandoval was enlightened to a unique experience foreign to his own.

Miko Sandoval performing at a Cleveland open-mic night. Photo courtesy of Miko Sandoval.

Beginning his sophomore year of high school, Sandoval began to write poetry pertaining to issues marginalized communities have to face on a day-to-day basis in the U.S.

“Whenever I do my poems, I want to speak for the unspoken. Abused children, immigrants, human trafficking victims, victims of police brutality, oppressed LGBTQ communities and overall, victims of human rights violations,” Sandoval said. “I feel for those who suffer and have no one to reach out to. I feel as though those people need to be spoken for.”

Sandoval spent most of his upbringing aligning with the obstacles his mother endured when coming to the U.S. so that he could learn more about his own family’s background.

Marian Sandoval, mother of Miko Sandoval, was only 15 years old when she arrived in the U.S. after fleeing the war-torn country of El Salvador.

“I lived in a hut and I was the mother of one. I felt that if I didn’t leave the country at the time, my daughter, Eve [Sandoval], would suffer from malnourishment. We hardly had any opportunities to have food at our home. I needed to leave so that my daughter could have a better life,” Marian Sandoval said.

Fleeing the violence that manifested El Salvador during the Salvadoran Civil War from 1980 to 1992, Marian Sandoval and her daughter Eve fled to the U.S. as undocumented immigrants.

Since so many Salvadorans fled to the U.S. seeking refuge from the war, President Ronald Reagan and Congress passed the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 to grant asylum for any families arriving in the U.S. illegally before Jan. 1, 1982. This allowed the Sandovals to earn asylum status and ultimately set the stage for them to become naturalized citizens in the future.

“My mother’s story almost motivates me entirely to continue to speak about the immigrant’s experience in America,” Sandoval said while reflecting on his family legacy. “Listening to her story is like watching a boxer losing a fight and coming back to win it. They keep getting beat down all of their life until they come back to win it all. Now she can fire back and say, ‘No, I’m a citizen of the United States,’ whenever someone labels her as an alien.”

Continuing his craft today, Sandoval stated that he is particularly focused on the marginalization of immigrant communities in the U.S. Since he watched his own mother suffer the anxiety of gaining residency in this country, Sandoval holds that as an inspiration, always to listen to immigrants who have a story but no one to share it with.

Marian Sandoval being naturalized as a citizen of the United States. Photo courtesy of Marian Sandoval.

“When I listen to a poem I can relate to, it makes me feel like my experiences are validated. I try to do that for immigrants in my community,” Miko Sandoval said. “My poetry exists to educate those who are unfamiliar with the immigrant’s experience. As a first-generation Salvadoran-American, I like to see myself as the personification of a bridge between privileged American demographics and immigrants overcoming the challenges to be naturalized in the United States.”

When he’s not writing poetry, Sandoval prioritizes engagement with immigrant communities with any help they need. He assists non-English speaking immigrants with documents, translations, and notifies them of any pertinent information they need to know about a job or community.

Sandoval’s work has reached the hearts of many undocumented immigrants in the community, but his effects go much further than delivering poetry.

Miko Sandoval delivering spoken word at Cleveland State University. Photo courtesy of Miko Sandoval.

“My job is to let them know they are not alone. To be accepting and understanding. At most, my poetry serves to provide familiarity for the immigrant. It exists to make them feel alright with the world. Although their problems may not be solved, it’s still important to be in solidarity with those suffering from the oppression of being an immigrant in the United States.”