Since the ReTurn Movement began, we've interviewed many immigrants and their children to discuss what migration means to their families. We have heard from refugees, asylum seekers, those starving for adventure, and many who never imagined they'd leave their home countries. Each of these interviews has shown us that migration is complex, and everyone has a unique story. This week, we sat down with the daughter of a Salvadoran immigrant. Her name is Vasti Zelaya, and she might not know it yet, but she is the embodiment of what the American dream is for many immigrant parents.
Vasti graduated with a Community Health degree from Salisbury University in 2019. When you ask Vasti what she is, she'll say, "I'm Salvadoran." Although Vasti was born in Silver Spring, Maryland, she tells people she is from El Salvador. "That is all I was exposed to growing up. All of my mom's friends were Salvadoran. It felt like I was living in El Salvador, but just in America," Vasti told us. She may be proud of where her roots come from, but she admitted to us that there is so much more she needs and wants to learn.
Vasti says that her mom, Rosa, left El Salvador during a civil war with no formal education. "My mom hid in a barrel on an 18 wheeler to get to America, and when she got to California, all she knew was how to order a Big Mac," she told us. For as long as Vasti has known her mom, she has been hustling. From cleaning houses, various maintenance jobs at Shady Grove hospital, and working at Costco, Vasti says she loves her mom's "any means possible attitude on life." But what Vasti might not realize is, she is precisely the daughter her mom fought for when she came to America.
Immigrants leave their homes with mixed emotions, but most are confident that they will make a better life for themselves or their [future] children. All the immigrant parents we've talked to say that they want to provide a better life for their children. That life they all refer to seems to require their children to take their opportunities seriously. Rosa's three daughters are living a better life, one she helped make possible for them. But what makes Vasti unique isn't that she Vasti wants to be Epidemiologist and work for the CDC or the World Health Organization. She is unique because she has a passion for her roots and wants to give back to the place she comes from.
After a community health course in prevention, she felt called to be a part of preventative efforts in medicine. She wants to help educate people on how to avoid sicknesses, especially chronic diseases. "I'm more interested in the chronic diseases because many people don't have access to education that teaches them to live a healthier life," Vasti told us. Having studied abroad in Belize and Portugal, Vasti says that she now wants to do something with Epidemiology in El Salvador. She believes she will focus on nutrition while there.
"My mom believes that I want to make the world a better place, not just the community we live in today," Vasti told us. Vasti is right to believe her mom is proud of her. She is the embodiment of what the American dream can mean for some immigrant parents. Sometimes, the American Dream is best lived through another generation, and Vasti is proof of that.
Rosa came to America to help make life better for her family and has raised a daughter that loves her roots, cares about the world around her, and will always value her mom's 35+ years of hard work in this country. In many ways, Vasti Zelaya is her mother's American dream. We are honored to have gotten to meet Vasti, and we can't wait to support her on her future project(s) in El Salvador.
- The ReTurn Team