During President Donald Trump’s first State of the Union address, the commander-in-chief commenced his spiel on immigration — the central issue of his speech — by likening undocumented immigrants to members of MS-13, a notorious gang formed by Salvadorans in Los Angeles but now has presence throughout the country and world.
Trump introduced the controversial subject by sharing an anecdote about two teenage girls who were killed two years ago in Long Island, New York by members of the gang.
“Two precious girls were brutally murdered while walking together in their hometown,” he said, as the late teens’ parents wailed in the background. “Six members of the savage gang MS-13 have been charged with Kayla and Nisa’s murders. Many of these gang members took advantage of glaring loopholes in our laws to enter the country as unaccompanied alien minors — and wound up in Kayla and Nisa’s high school.”
Using the violence of a gang that was formed in the U.S. and that experts do not believe is predominately made up of immigrants, Trump drove the myth of the dangerous brown foreigner further and employed it to demand Congress to pass harsher immigration laws.
“Tonight, I am calling on the Congress to finally close the deadly loopholes that have allowed MS-13, and other criminals, to break into our country. We have proposed new legislation that will fix our immigration laws, and support our ICE and Border Patrol Agents, so that this cannot ever happen again,” he said.
Those demands: creating a $25 billion trust for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, ending the visa lottery in favor of a merit-based immigration system, limiting family reunification and creating a path to citizenship for Dreamers, the DACA-recipients he removed protections from in September.
Using immigrants as a scapegoat to tackle gang violence is off-target and messed up. Immigrants, Latinos and Salvadorans, who received the bulk of Trump’s attacks last night, are so much more than gang members. They’re community leaders, educators, artists, business owners and, most importantly, humans who are deserving of respect, safety, liberty, opportunity and joy.
To help shatter the stereotype of the threatening Salvadoran gangbanger that Trump perpetuated to millions of Americans watching his State of the Union speech last night, here are the real faces and lives of salvadoreñas.
1. Jennifer Ramos, Business Owner
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At 24 years old, Salvadoran-American Jennifer Ramos is the owner of a construction company that is on pace to yielding $1 million in revenue this year. The Alexandria, Virginia-based Latina opened Jen Contracting in 2015 after her father, an immigrant from El Salvador, lost his job. Today, with a team of 20 people, her business provides subcontracting, interior construction work and commercial services to the DMV area.
2. Yesika Salgado, Poet
Yesika Salgado is one of the most celebrated poets of her generation. Writing often about love, family, culture, the body and her motherland, the Los Angeles-based salvadoreña published her first book of poetry, “Corazón,” through NOT A CULT in October. Since then, it has sold about 5,000 copies and has made Amazon’s best-seller lists, including Hispanic American poetry titles, where she reached No. 1, and women’s poetry titles.
3. Hala Ayala, Politician
A huge #CONGRATULATIONS to these fearless #ImpeccableWomen who just made history! #ElectionDay . . #ElizabethGuzman and #HalaAyala became the first Latinas elected to the Virginia House of Delegates. . . #AndreaJenkins is now the first openly trans woman of color elected to the city council of a major U.S. city. . . #DanicaRoem will be Virginia’s first out transgendered public official. . . #RiseUp ??
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Hala Ayala made history last year when she, alongside Elizabeth Guzman, became the first Latina elected to the Virginia House of Delegates. The Alexandria-born Democrat, who represents much of Prince William County, is the daughter of an immigrant father from El Salvador. Ayala, who helped organize the Women’s March on Washington in 2017, was a cyber security specialist before entering the political arena.
4. Johanna Toruño, Artist
Johanna Toruño is a New York-based artist-activist. In 2016, the Salvadoran-born and Virginia-raised queer Latina started the Unapologetically Brown Series, a street art project that sends love letters to women of color throughout the city. Her art, which places powerful messages of love and resilience over beautiful floral compositions, challenges racism, xenophobia, sexism and homophobia and inspires young people of color to love themselves and their community.
5. Julieta Chiquillo, Journalist
— Julieta Chiquillo (@jmchiquillo) October 31, 2017
Julieta Chiquillo is a breaking news reporter for the Dallas Morning News. Born in El Salvador, she received her journalism degree from Texas Christian University. As a reporter, Chiquillo has covered critical local news stories, like the failure of the Section 8 program in Dallas, violence against women and children and her own immigration story.
6. Vanessa Galvez, Engineer
(Photo Credit: Vanessa Galvez/LinkedIn)
Vanessa Galvez is a New York-based civil engineer. In 2016, the Queens native, who is the resident engineer for the New York City Department of Design and Construction, led the institution of 164 biowales in the Maspeth neighborhood as a beautiful way to disperse and clean storm water. Community minded, the New York University graduate first became interested in a career in engineering after learning about the Army Corps. of Engineers’ response to levee failure in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
7. Ana P. Rodriguez, Professor
Surrounded by my wonderful & hardworking students @umdsllc @UofMaryland. So proud of them as they graduate with their Spanish majors. Learning languages opens minds, worlds, possibilities & doors @EMerediz @KaylaJWatson @OGDIUMD @umdsllc @umd_arhu #UMDgrad pic.twitter.com/ASY1yVjLP4
— Ana P. Rodriguez (@aprodrig77) December 21, 2017
Dr. Ana Patricia Rodriguez is an associate professor at the University of Maryland, College Park, where she teaches courses in Latin American, Central American and U.S. Latina/o literatures and cultures. With a master’s degree and a doctorate in literature from the University of California, Santa Cruz, the San Francisco-raised salvadoreña is an expert in Central American culture and literature, Central American cultural production in the U.S. and transnational migration, among so much more. An author of two books, she is also the president of the Latina/o Studies Association. Outside of academia, Rodriguez serves on the advisory board of the Smithsonian Latino Gallery, Washington History, the Central American Resource Center (CARECEN) and la Casa de la cultura de El Salvador in Washington, D.C.