Daniel Ibáñez

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Daniel Ibáñez is an undergraduate student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Ibáñez came to the United States to earn his bachelor’s degree. The interview was organized around a few important topics, including Daniel Ibáñez’s life in El Salvador, the reasons why people migrate from El Salvador to the United States and the importance of remittances for the people that live in El Salvador. He also spoke about what people in the United States think about El Salvador and how people associate El Salvador with gangs and violence, when in reality those gangs originated in the United States and were “exported” to El Salvador. Ibáñez also shared his perspective on the topic of migration of Salvadorians to the United States and how people from this country tend to asume that those who look Latino or Hispanic are Mexicans, which provokes negative feelings mainly from Central Americans towards Mexicans.



Caleb Wittum: This is an interview with UNC Undergraduate student Daniel Ibanez for the Southern Oral History program’s series “Latin American Immigrant Perspectives”. The interview is conducted April 2, 2012 in Caleb Wittum’s house living room and the interviewer is Caleb Wittum. Can you start by telling me a little about yourself? Where you are from? How long you have been in North Carolina?
Daniel Ibáñez: Ok. Well I’m from El Salvador. Back home I live, in the, really close to the capital to San Salvador, probably like 5, 10 minutes away from there. I came to North Carolina what, 3 years ago I think. I transferred from a community college back in El Salvador to North Carolina and now it is my senior year so.
CW: What do you study at UNC?
DI: I am studying Political Science and International Studies with like a concentration in Western Europe and Politics.
CW: Was it hard to transfer into a school in the US?
DI: It was hard in some ways. Like academically it yeah it was school was harder than the community college I went to back home. But that wasn’t like too big of a deal, like it was manageable. I wasn’t surprised. When it comes to the language, it wasn’t that hard for me because I had studied English for like a long time when I was back home. But, the biggest challenge I think is like just being away from like family and friends. And realizing eventually that, at least for like the first semester realizing that you are by yourself and you don’t really know anyone around here… Yeah my first semester here I had like a moment of, like a breakdown in realizing all that. But I mean then, you don’t get used to it, you get to know more people and you make friends and what not. So it gets easier.
CW: So you don’t have any family or friends, ugh you didn’t have any friends or family when you first came over in North Carolina?
DI: Not in North Carolina. I mean, my Dad has… a friend of his lives here, in North Carolina, in Mooresville. But I mean we are not really that close… I mean he is closer to my Dad than he is to me, so its whatever. It’s not like I consider him my friend, so it’s not the same.
CW: North Carolina is not a typical sending, I mean receiving place for Salvadorians?
DI: Yeah, I wouldn’t think so. I know him. Well like I said I know him, my Dads friend. But I haven’t really heard of any other Salvadorians like in the area. But still, like apparently he’s found like places where like they sell you know typical food from like El Salvador and stuff like that. So I guess there is some immigration to this state.
CW: Do you have any friends or family that have immigrated to other parts of the US?
DI: Yeah, my mom’s sisters. She has two sisters and both of them are in the US. One of them lives in Delaware right now and then the other one lives in Virginia right now. And then my Dad, my Dad’s brother is living in L.A. and well I think that’s pretty much it. Because I can’t remember where like his sister is living. But I know he has another sister that’s living in the US. I’m not sure where, like I think like Indiana or something. But I’m closer to my aunts who live like in Delaware and Virginia.
CW: Are Delaware and Virginia like big receiving communities? Like I have heard L.A. is.
DI: Yeah well Virginia is. Virginia definitely is. Like you can go anywhere pretty much and you can speak Spanish. I mean it isn’t only Salvadorians. It’s like from a lot of different places but still yeah you find again like restaurants where you can find foods from el Salvador and stuff like that. Delaware not so much but I mean Virginia definitely.
CW: Is it common to migrate from El Salvador to the US and why do you think the reasons are?
DI: Well I think, yeah it is common. Reasons to do it though depends on the social classes, like lower economic classes migrate because. Well first they do it illegally I guess quote-unquote, but because they can’t find like a good job to have back in El Salvador and they need more money to you know support their families and stuff. So they migrate and like I guess whatever you do you get paid more here than you would back in El Salvador. So, that is a huge deal. When you look at the numbers part of El Salvador’s economy is driven because of the remittances that these people like send back home. But if you are in a higher social class, it’s more like... I mean I think it is basically the same but… you try to like make more money, have more money for your families and stuff. But you do it through like more legal ways. You know, you try to get a visa and stuff like that. Which I mean is not easy. Believe me I know. Because currently, finishing school, I’m trying to find a job here in the US but it is really hard to find a company that would like sponsor an international student. Because they see us as a liability and stuff like that. So it’s kind of hard to get a work visa but like people definitely try to do it.
CW: …You already mentioned the people from poorer backgrounds, do you think they would have legal pathways or is it much, like you said it was hard for the upper class to do it.
DI: …again it’s the whole visa getting process. Like when you are from a lower social class, like in most cases the US government won’t give you a visa. Like not even a tourist visa because they believe that. I mean you have no reason to go back to your country. So you would just stay here legally. So what they do is just like cross the border. Like they hire people to like get them across the border and whatnot. I mean definitely. I’m sure if the like the rules to get a visa and stuff like that would get easier you know they could definitely do it legally. But as it is right now it is just easier to do it illegally. I mean yeah they have to spend a lot of money, like well I mean a couple thousand dollars. Which to them that is a lot of money. I mean to anyone it is a lot of money but especially to them. So but like at the end, like once they get here they start making that money again and sending it back home and stuff like that.
CW: How do remittances affect El Salvador? Do they give people more options?
DI: Yeah like definitely. Like I said a big part of the economy is based on remittances. And it gives them more opportunity. You have this money to not only pay your bills but like sometimes you get enough to like send your kids to like a better school and stuff like that. So I mean it’s a big part, they affect El Salvador and the economy like a lot. I mean definitely like if it wasn’t because of the remittances like a bunch of people wouldn’t be going to school, wouldn’t be able to support themselves, like pay rent in some cases and stuff like that. So or even get food for like the month. So yeah they do have a really big impact when it comes to the country as a whole.
CW: Do you think the remittances could help curb immigration like by giving people more options and do you think that is possibly happening?
DI: I mean definitely, I mean like definitely the way immigration started was ok there is a civil war and I’m trying to get away from it. But like I mean the war has been done for like 20 years now, 22 years. And now like immigration is more like oh ok this guy he left because of the war. But he started working and making money and sending money back then I want to do the same thing for my family. So people start seeing that and they are like ok. Obviously the United States is like the place to be. It’s like the American dream stuff like that. You get here and you get to make a lot of money and send it back and help your family. So I mean definitely just the fact that you see people like having a better life because of the remittances sent to them, I mean you want to do the same for your family.
CW: Ok, changing topics a little bit. How do you think that people in the US view immigration in general? Like do you think they have a good understanding of immigration policies? Where people are coming from?
DI: I think the way people here like view immigration changes a lot. I mean it depends on a lot of things to my understanding. Like how I see it, it depends on social status and it depends a lot on the economy. Like, immigration is like a thing and issue that has been happening here since I mean the beginning of the country. Like I mean the country was based on immigration.
But the thing is people start getting angry about illegal immigrants and all these people coming and like doing manual labor and stuff like that because there are no jobs. And they’re like oh they are taking away jobs from Americans. But if you think about its like when the economy was doing well, like there are no Americans that want to do those kinds of jobs. …So they don’t really, what’s the word? They don’t really care that immigrants come and do those jobs you know. But now that the economy is not doing so well it’s like oh yeah they are stealing jobs from Americans. And like I said I think it affects more people from lower social-economic classes because it’s jobs that they could be doing. If you are from a higher class and you have a job in a big company and an office and stuff, it doesn’t really affect you that much and if anything you are looking for cheap labor so it’s like ok that’s fine. Just keep them coming. So like I said I think it depends like how, people see immigration depending on their own, like on what’s going on in their lives.
CW: You have been mostly in the Chapel Hill area, like have you… what have you heard them say like the people in Chapel Hill say, are there any examples?
DI: I don’t know. I haven’t really heard that many people talk that much about immigration. I mean, I know I have friends who are from like other Latin American countries and they are fighting against like laws like the one that passed in Arizona like what last year, two years ago or something?
CW: Yeah.
DI: Which if you ask me, I’m completely against that law because I think that it is ridiculous. But, there are people who are really informed about it and fight against it. Like ask for better conditions for immigrants or like stuff like that. And then there are other people who don’t really know about it, that just go from what they hear in the news and stuff like that. So you know opinions change a lot based on how much you know about the issue. But like to be honest with you…other than like this friend that I am telling you about from this other country I don’t really hear that much about immigration.
CW: What do people that you have met know about El Salvador and do you think they are well informed?
DI: I don’t…people really don’t know that much about El Salvador. I mean it’s understandable. I mean the country is really, really small. I think compared to like Massachusetts it’s like smaller than Massachusetts. Which if you ask me I have no clue how big Massachusetts is. So its whatever. But I know El Salvador is really, really small so.
So people don’t know about it. Like even people that I meet that are my friends like the first couple times that I see them they are like “oh yeah you are from Ecuador right.” Which is again understandable they both start with an E, but still no: completely different. Again people don’t really know about El Salvador that much. And then I mean like their little knowledge they might have might be affected by the media and stuff like that. Like I know a couple friends that have seen this documentary about gangs in El Salvador and stuff like that. Which is a big deal yeah, but that’s not all we are. So you know.
CW: I guess going off that, where do you think they get most of their information about El Salvador? Like you said most of them don’t know much.
DI: Yeah like they don’t know much. I mean once they meet me or other people from El Salvador if they are really interested about it I mean I guess they could go on the internet just google it. Go to Wikipedia and be like “oh El Salvador” okay cool. If not like I said I even had friends who saw this documentary about gangs in El Salvador. I mean which again portrays El Salvador as being really violent, like having all these gangs and stuff which up to a certain point is true. There are like, there is a big problem with gangs and stuff but that is not all we are. I mean like El Salvador…It’s an upcoming tourist place you know. It like the beach is right there which is awesome. It’s like one of the best places to surf in the region apparently. We have mountains too. Which are like, Both the mountains and the beach are like less than an hour away from the capital so it’s like you know it’s really like right there. It’s just a really cool place, but like people don’t know that because all they see is yeah gangs and stuff like that you know. I mean it is unfortunate but it happens.
CW: What would you most like to tell people, you know that just associate with El Salvador with gangs? Is there you know do you just want to tell them that there is more?
DI: Yeah I mean definitely. Obviously if you have never been there It’s like you see gangs and you think it is really dangerous and what not. But what I would say is it is like any other Latin American country. Like you could go to Argentina or Chile or whatever. Or even Costa Rica, which is one of the safest countries in Latin America but if you are not careful if you go into the wrong part like of town at night and what not, then something might happen to you. You know it’s the same in the US which is like really, really safe. So like you just need to like know that yeah it’s a little dangerous but it is not more dangerous than other places in Latin America.
Also like once you get there, like all the people that I know, like all the international people that I know that come to El Salvador are like “yeah all the people are so nice.” and you know “they are so humble and they treat you well and what not. They are really, really friendly.” So like again yeah we might have a problem with gangs like MS-13 and all that, but that’s not all…not every single Salvadorian is about that.
CW: I guess you mentioned MS-13 and I guess a lot of people have the misconception that it started in El Salvador with the violence from the Civil War, do you think that is the case?
DI: I mean, it is related to the Civil War. I mean from what I have read about it and what I have heard about it like it is something that I grew up with. The reason was like I said Salvadorians migrated to the US, to LA mostly, because of the Civil War. And in LA there is like this gang culture. You know like there are different gangs and territory and what not. So Salvadorians like started joining these gangs. They got arrested, they got deported so they brought it back to the country. They brought it back to El Salvador. The thing is, it might have stopped being that big of a deal in the US, but back in El Salvador since they deported a bunch of them and they have this culture of gangs now. Like it started like brewing up and growing up in, especially in low income neighborhoods. Excuse me. They started telling…Kids start seeing like how these people from gangs have money because they are doing whatever: selling drugs or just robbing people and stuff like that. So they see how these people are doing so well, so they are ok I’m going to join a gang because I want to be like them. So that’s how they like started getting so big. And like right now, it is legitimately really big. Like the top people from like these gangs can like control what’s going on outside. Even from inside the jail. Like they are in jail and they are still controlling what is going on outside. So that’s like really messed up and it’s a big problem. But like you know it’s, I mean I know the country is like doing everything they can to handle it, but I think we definitely need to change the laws about it or need help from some international organization but I don’t know.
CW: It’s really interesting that you were saying a lot of it started in El Salvador because of the deportation from the US, do you think most people in the US realize that?
DI: I mean definitely not. I think when it comes to like deporting people it’s like okay once you get them outside of your country and going to wherever they are going. Then you’re good. It’s whatever country’s problem. I think it’s going like to start being a big deal in the US or like for US authorities and what not, once the gangs start joining like say guerilla groups in Colombia or stuff like that. To move drugs from South America to the US, which is actually something that is already starting. So that is a big deal but like until the US realizes this is happening, the US government of course, I mean it’s not going to be a big deal for them.
CW: Do you think that the increase in gang violence in El Salvador could cause more people to try and immigrate to the US?
DI: Oh yeah definitely. I mean I can tell you right now I want to stay in the United States because of that.
CW: Just because of that, wow that’s really interesting.
DI: I mean…it’s like yeah I have more opportunities here. I can make more money here. But that is just one part of it. The other part of it is like I don’t want to live everyday wondering like if I will be okay. Like I can tell you right now my mom has been held at gun point twice, in the past what maybe ten years because of gangs. It’s like you stop at a stop light and people just come up to your window with a gun they’re “like give me all you got.” And you do. You know you do or you are dead. So that is really intense. You just need to know where to go. But like I just don’t think like that you should have to live that way and that is why I just don’t want to be a part of it. So I mean it can definitely change and it can definitely like get better but I’m just like I’m done with it. I think 19 years of my life with it is enough.
CW: I guess…How do you think the media portrays El Salvador like besides MS-13?
DI: I mean to tell you the truth I think that’s like the biggest part, if not the only. Like I said they have this documentary about gangs in El Salvador and I haven’t heard anything other than that. I mean I guess it also depends on what you are looking at you know. I guess if you look at places to go surf they might talk about El Salvador because again it is one of the best places to surf in the region. If you talk about seeing, say like the Mayan ruins or stuff like that. We have like a couple that are actually really nice. It’s just like a change of like environment from the US and what not. If you just want to leave the US you can go to El Salvador. It is a very touristy place. Like I said you can go to the mountains in like an hour, go to the beach in less than an hour from the capital so like it is really, really cool. But I don’t think the media like sees that that much. Like unless you are really interested in that, that is not what you are going to get.
CW: You’re just going to get the mainstream story.
DI: Yeah exactly
CW: I guess do you think that the mainstream media’s of violent culture you know hurts the immigrants in the US? Do you think that is part of the reason they have a negative view of immigrants?
DI: I mean I don’t know. Like yeah…if you are a Salvadorian you come to the US and if people have seen this documentary like you tell them yeah I’m from El Salvador. Then they start asking so wait do you know about MS-13 and stuff like that. I mean which is fine….it is a big problem back home. Back in El Salvador. So I mean it is a fair question but like that’s not all you know.
In the same way like the fact that the media portrays the illegal immigrants coming here and working. I think that affects immigrants more. Especially like with a certain kind of people. Like some people are like they hear you are an immigrant and they are like you are taking away our jobs and stuff like that you know. Like even before they know you. I think that is the biggest problem. Like the violence is not that much because to tell you the truth when people see a Hispanic person, like obviously not all people, but a lot of people are like are you from Mexico or something like that. So they don’t really associate the gangs from El Salvador with Hispanic people like at first glance. It’s only once they start talking to you that they start asking you about it.
CW: You just mentioned it but you think that El Salvadorians are generally just grouped in with other Hispanics?
DI: Oh yeah definitely. I mean again the fact that El Salvador is such a small country. I mean not many people here know about it. And I think in general people just see a certain skin tone and they are like wait are you from Mexico or something. I mean I’m taking a class now and the professor is really funny. I went to like office hours and he obviously knew I’m Hispanic and he was like. And I asked him about doing a piece of art in a different language and he assumed it was in Spanish. Which is whatever, I really don’t mind. But then he was like so wait are you from Mexico? And I’m like, inside I was like “whoa chill out bro.” I mean you know, I know I’m Hispanic but no. but I kept it cool. I was like I’m from El Salvador whatever and I just started talking about something else but yeah most people do assume that people are from Mexico mostly, so you know its whatever.
CW: Is that frustrating that they just automatically assume?
DI: You know it is. It is really frustrating and if you ask a bunch. Well a bunch of Latin American people. I don’t know why. I have no idea why but the image of Mexico in Latin America especially central America. Is like every single Central American…men mostly, people I don’t know. They hate Mexico. It’s like whoa whoa. They take it as an offense. You know as an offense sorry. Its like yeah well no I’m not from Mexico you know. I mean To me it’s like whatever but once you start hearing it a lot it starts getting kind of old.
CW: I guess how do you think, do you think the News….I guess people in the US are worried about immigration because they fear jobs do you think the media helps to make that a bigger problem or do you is it just what you see?
DI: I think it is just what people see. Like Seriously. I don’t really like look at news like that. I don’t really watch local new or anything you know. If I am watching news I’m watching CNN or stuff like that you know. So and I don’t think they are worried that much about it that much but whenever I do hear about it its yeah immigrants taking jobs and whatnot blah blah blah. But I don’t think they talk about jobs that much. I mean there are other issues especially right now. I mean…you hear about like what possible presidential candidates are talking about. Which in the case of the republicans I mean immigration is a big deal, you know but…I’m staying out of it. But you know its whatever. I don’t think they talk about it that much in the media, at least not what I see but yeah I think it is more what other people hear about. They might hear one or two stories about it but then it becomes like a bigger deal than it actually is. Again because of the state of economy and like everything.
CW: Do you think that Latinos in general become scapegoats just because they are an easy visual, they look different?
DI: I don’t know. To tell you the truth I had never thought about it. But I think, I mean yeah. I think it is easy when it’s like when you are talking about like Hispanics that are here like illegally, like illegal immigrants that are working. I mean because I think ultimately yeah it’s against the law, I mean I guess. I don’t know the law but I would figure. So I guess that is why they would be a scapegoat. But like Hispanics as a group, not really. Unless you are specifically talking about illegal immigrants then yeah.
CW: You mentioned that you had quite a few family people, how long. did they come over during the Civil War or did they come over since then?
DI: I’m not sure; I think so. I mean actually no I think they came right after it was done like because I was born in 1990 which was like the year when it technically stopped. Like everybody stopped firing weapons and stuff. Like I mean the peace treaty was signed in 1992 but and I remember, I mean I was young, but they were still down there. So I think the came home right after the Civil War.
CW: Do you think that was partially because they had seen the better lives?
DI: I think it was, well in their cases it was more because they married people from the US so you know they moved here because of that. I mean I guess in part it had, they were like the US has more opportunities and stuff and still they went to school here and what not. After they got here they went to get their master’s degree or something like that. But then like my dad’s friend, the one that lives in North Carolina, he did come here because of the Civil War I think. And he just stayed here because of yeah like more opportunities.
CW: From your experience in North Carolina, have people known anything at all about the Civil War in El Salvador and that the US may have helped fund?
DI: Not really unless they have taken a class where they like touch on it. I don’t think, I don’t think people know about the Civil War or about the involvement of the US in it.
CW: What do people in El Salvador, How do they view the US, you know you mentioned the better opportunities, is that pretty much it?
DI: Yeah it depends on the like ideology you know. If you are a say capitalist and stuff like that. Ok the US we have to have a good relationship because of like trading partners and stuff like that. I mean El Salvador signed the CIFTA which is like the Central American Free Trade Agreement, with the US. So I mean yeah, like some people look at the US as great you know trading partners and what not. Great business opportunities and stuff like that. Other people like with different ideologies more like to the left they are like I think in some cases like yeah imperialist and whatnot. You know it’s not too bad, it’s not too extreme but it’s like I mean we don’t want to be another state or whatever blah blah blah. It just depends on what side of the political spectrum you’re in. But I think most people especially people who have family over here working, coughs excuse me, and sending like remittances and stuff like that, I mean I don’t think they would see the US being bad. I mean they may not think it is the best place in the world but like they are like at least I’m getting something out of it.
CW: I guess the lower class people do they see that as their only way out, or their only way to improve their life or do they or do they think they have other options?
DI: I mean it’s definitely like a big deal you know. You come here and like I said you make more money here than you can back home because there are more opportunities. But in the same way like I said it depends if you are influenced or not by other things. Like I said some kids join the gangs because they see they can be respected and what not if they join a gang. Some kids come to the US, some kids actually go to school and try to like you know better themselves and graduate from the University and whatnot. So there are different paths and I think people do realize these, realize it. But I guess sometimes they just go with the easiest way out. Like if they have enough money to come to the US, then I mean I’m sure they would do it. If you they would just join a gang or stuff like that. I think it depends. It’s a case to case kind of thing you know.
CW: I guess you have been in North Carolina for three years what have you missed most? Have you been able to travel back very often?
DI: Yeah, I mean I go back. I’ve been lucky enough to go back like for Christmas and I think at least one year I went back for spring break and I’ve been back for fall break and stuff like that. I mean I guess what you miss is like the people. You now your friends, your family, and stuff like that. Just being close to someone. Like I said that changes over the years once you start meeting people and once you start establishing relationships. But other than that, I mean the people, what you usually do. The food. The food is a big deal like that is huge. That is big and in my case personally I mean I miss driving my car. Like you have no idea. It’s part of the reason is because I never got to like getting a driver’s license from North Carolina which like I could have but I just never did it. Yeah when I’m back and just driving my car, it’s just the best feeling ever.
CW: Do you think it is hard for families when someone can’t come back as often? Have you seen that?
DI: I have seen it but not with someone from Latin America. This kid, he was a resident last year in my building, like because I work as an RA. And he’s from Bulgaria and I saw him this year because they had break housing in Craig Dorm. I saw him this year over winter break and I asked him what he was doing. And he was like I’m staying here because my parents couldn’t afford the plane ticket to fly me back to Bulgaria. And I mean he seemed bummed about it. I mean it sucks. And like when he told me, as an international student you feel like kind of bad and even if you are from here you feel kind of bad. Because like yeah you know it’s the time of year when you are like trying to spend time with your family so it is really messed up. It is messed up that some people can’t do it but it is reality. It happens.
CW: You have traveled to Europe and you have studied about Europe. Do you think that the US has a way different view about immigration than they do in Europe?
DI: I think it depends on the country like France…they have a huge problem with immigration. They passed last year I think a law that was pretty much like really xenophobic about like the Bhurka or whatever the veil is called I can’t remember. But how Muslim women can’t really use that veil. And I mean that is something against like people’s religion and that is really messed up. And like people in France are like really against immigration for the same reasons people in the US are. You know like they are taking our jobs and whatnot blah blah blah. And it’s our culture and you know we don’t want them to take away from our culture and stuff like that. That is the biggest thing that I have heard about. Spain I don’t think they are that big, but in the same way they have like their economic crisis and stuff. So I’m guessing they might be against it. But like I know people who like work in England for example who are like from different countries in Latin America and like I haven’t heard from them about having any problems. So it’s like a country to country kind of basis, you know like France yeah. There is a lot. Spain probably, I mean I’m not sure. Which are the countries that I know about. And then England, yeah I haven’t really heard about it. I mean there might be something going on but it’s not as big as like what I have experienced. Well not what I have experienced but what I know about the US and stuff like that.
CW: Well I guess you mentioned this a while ago, but the feeling between the Central American countries and Mexico. Between immigrant groups and countries in general are there you know stereotypes or feelings between them?
DI: I think between countries there are stereotypes. Like once you become an immigrant like say I meet people from Mexico here, like say some illegal immigrant from like El Salvador comes here and meets a Mexican illegal immigrant. I think the fact that you are an immigrant, and the fact that you speak, and, you up to a certain point, have the same traditions because you share the same religion. It makes you get closer to that person. So you look past the stereotypes you might have against that country. But yeah I mean I think that as countries you do have stereotypes like I know in el Salvador like people view Mexico as like oh they think they are so much better than everyone else. They think they are the best in the region. Which up to a certain point, like I don’t know, you know maybe or maybe not. I don’t want to get into it. But I mean that is what people like think. I’m sure that people in Mexico has like stereotypes against El Salvador, Guatemala, stuff like that. But like at least that is the biggest one. That is the one you hear about a lot. You don’t hear anything about Guatemala or Honduras or stuff like that.
CW: Ok well… I guess that is about all. Thank you for participating in this interview. It was very good.