For most immigrants, coming to America is more about their children than it is themselves. When their children succeed, they see it as the fulfillment to the dreams they had when coming to America. For Gloria Henriquez, her mother is her biggest influence and she hopes to fulfill her mother’s dreams. Gloria and her family migrated to the USA from San Miguel, El Salvador, in April of 1999 . She now serves as a Victim Witness Specialist, working in the Commonwealth’s Attorneys Office. There is no denying that Gloria has accomplished a lot, but nothing came easy. Here’s what Gloria had to say when we sat down with her:
My mom is my hero. I look up to her because she was able to raise three daughters by herself in a country that does not make it easy if you don’t speak its language and you are not a citizen. I’ve had to work hard. I had to grow up faster than most of my peers. Everything I’ve done, I’ve done for my mother and sisters. We weren’t wealthy growing up, but we had each other. You know, there are so many stereotypes when it comes to a single mother raising children — there are higher odds stacked against one raising daughters. Many people believe that a single mother is not able to put all her children through college or that mothers of daughters are prone to their daughters becoming teen mothers. But my mom, has beat those odds by raising a college graduate and raising two other girls who are at universities as well.
Honestly, I don’t think being the child of an immigrant had so much of an impact on my siblings and I in our early childhood. At least, not a direct one. Most of our struggles came from domestic violence and being the child of immigrants didn’t help that much. As a mother you must think twice about introducing someone into your children’s lives. My mom thought she was making the right decision when she got married to my step father and I know she carried a lot of guilt because she put me in that situation. Her marriage left me open to witnessing and experiencing a lot of abuse, but it also provided me the opportunity to come to this country in an easier way than many. We came to this country with legal status. I used to be so angry at my mom for not getting us out earlier or doing anything about it. I don’t resent her though. I forgive her and I want her to know that. I understand the difficulties of leaving an abusive relationship, the decision is harder when you must think about how you will feed, clothe and shelter your children without any resources. Sometimes for many victims of abuse, a broken home is better than no home at all.
One of the biggest difficulties we faced when seeking help was a language barrier and financial resources. My mother like many survivors of domestic violence depended on her abuser financially. You do not see much advertisement for free legal services anywhere and many of the places we sought help from did not speak Spanish or have anyone available to help us. Here, I was helping my mother fill out forms or translating horrible incidents of abuse during an intake process because there’s no one available to help her. No child should be subjected to that. Despite it all, I’m thankful. Many victims are isolated from their family and friends. There is also this notion that domestic violence is a private matter and we shouldn’t get involved. One of the difficulties we faced was a lot of our friends who witnesses incidents of abuse did not want to get involved, or even help my mother during court proceedings for fear of retaliation that could have occurred from my mother’s abuser. They feared that someone with no legal status should not go to court because it never ends well for them, many people still hold this belief.
I think my experience with domestic violence played a great deal in inspiring me to do the work I do now. In fact, my first job out of college was at the same non-profit organization that helped my mother through her divorce, custody and protective order hearings. I felt a great sense of pride and happiness to work with an organization that in a way saved our lives. I think that my experience humbled me in a way that I am able to connect with survivors of domestic violence in a way that can't be taught through textbooks.
Now, I am a Victim Witness Specialist, working in the Commonwealth’s Attorneys Office. I wouldn’t say I’m proud of what I do. Let me explain — I do get fulfillment from my job, but because this is prosecution, 90% of the time my “victims” don’t want my help. Many of them rely on their abusers financially or for other reasons. 10% of the time, I’m helping victims of sexual abuse and families of homicides victims and I’m glad I can bring some sort of justice to them or to help them in some way, but this isn’t easy work. I don’t do it because it is easy. I do it because someone wasn’t always there to do it for my family when we experienced domestic violence.
If you’re an immigrant out there and you’re experiencing domestic violence, listen up. I want you to know that you have rights regardless of your status in this country. Domestic Violence may not seem like a problem in your home country and you may be afraid to seek resources. Domestic Violence is not a private matter between two individuals. It is a matter that we should all stand up for and provide services, referrals and resources. You deserve our help. No one should be asking you for your status when you are seeking help from domestic violence or any type of crime. You should also know that you are able to find these resources in your native language. We are here to help you. I am here to help you. I know it isn’t easy, because I’ve been there and now, I am here for you.
- Gloria Henriquez