“I was born on September 19, 1972 into a politically active family in El Salvador. I grew up with my mother and part of my mother’s family. Because our lives were in danger, we were forced to escape to Costa Rica. There were thousands of women and children from El Salvador with little formal education and extraordinarily difficult lives, but who continued participating in a wide range of struggles. My mum was active in the community, helping to educate Salvadoran women while struggling to give us an education.
Although Costa Rica was supposedly a peaceful country, my family still suffered political persecution. My mum’s political involvement there meant that our lives were again at risk. It was then that my family applied to come to Australia as refugees. I was 17 years old at the time.
The difficulty we faced in Australia was adapting to a new country — the language, Melbourne’s cold temperatures and the feeling of isolation from the rest of the community. For me personally, the greatest disadvantage was the language barrier. Not being able to express yourself is like having a disability: when people patronise you, you start doubting yourself and can feel worthless.
I think the obstacle for refugees here is the limited opportunity — not being able to function to our full potential, many times having to settle for low paying jobs and inferior working conditions. This scarcity of opportunities creates a cycle that continues to affect our children and their children’s future.
The majority of refugees are women and children, because — like my family — they are the most affected by social, economic and political upheaval in any country. Women suffer gender discrimination which limits their access to jobs.War forces women to take on even heavier economic and social burdens, such as looking after the children on their own. For all mothers — especially mothers like my mum — the ‘choice’ they have is between watching their children die from poverty or bombs and going into the unknown, hoping for the best.
I believe that the policies of the Howard government and the Australian Labor Party do not represent the views or interests of working people in Australia. The refugee crisis can be solved by the working class being aware of refugees’ struggles and putting up a united fight to open the borders. The truth has to come out. Australians can no longer tolerate injustice in our name.”