Shadows of the American Dream

Diana Avelar and her family in El Salvador

By Chrismarlyn Martinez, Class of 2022

Diana Avelar has already seen and experienced more than most young women her age. When she was 4-years-old Avelar witnessed domestic violence against her mother. Avelar also suffered from sexual assault in El Salvador, and fled with her family to America to escape the abuse.

 “Even though I was young, I was about four years old, but I still remember how he would come, and pull my mom from her hair, and start beating her up.”

Diana recalls how her father would get home drunk, and immediately abuse her mother. She remembers times where he pointed a gun on her mother’s face in front of her and her two brothers and sister. 

“Even though I was a little kid, something tells me that I should’ve pulled up and said `Dad, please, your kids are right here`.” Diana said. 

Diana also suffered from sexual assault at age four. She explains that her mother’s close friend from El Salvador persuaded her into using the restroom while he was there because he “wasn’t going to look” while she used the restroom. 

“I was like four-years-old, so I didn’t pay attention, because a four-year-old does not think about sex, or sexual assault”. She added. 

Diana explains that after she used the restroom, her mother’s friend then started touching her in her private areas. 

According to the Overseas Security Advisory Council, crimes like Sexual Assault and Rape in El Salvador account for 35% of all categorized crime incidents in 2019. Physical assault including domestic violence accounted for 16%, while rape accounted for 26%, the report added.


Diana Avelar is now 20-years-old living in the United States and still searching for the American Dream. She is one of the 425,000 New Jersey residents who are undocumented, according to the Migration Policy Institute.  

Maria Avelar, Diana’s mother, dreamed of a better future years before Diana was born. She first immigrated to the United States with Diana’s father, Jose, where they conceived Jason, Diana’s brother, who is a US citizen. 

Maria left the United States against her will by her husband, because he did not like the American lifestyle. At the time, Maria didn’t know that she was three months pregnant. 

“My mom came, she left, and then she came back, she committed the crime twice,”  Diana said. 

After being forced back to El Salvador by her husband, Maria left again to the United States while leaving the children with their father.

Diana and her siblings immigrated to the United States from El Salvador in multiple buses.

They were guided by a “coyote”  known in the United States as a human smuggler.

Diana and her brothers were without their parents. 

The “coyote” specialized in traveling with children, he took risky routes and had Diana and her family stay in hotels and houses. At first Diana was afraid, but soon he  was welcoming  and made the kids feel safe, Diana explained. 

In their journey to the United States, Diana visited three different countries, but she did not know their names or location. She figured they were Spanish countries, as the people spoke spanish. 

“We had our own parents for the trip, one girl was my mom, another girl was my sister’s mom, and another guy was my brother’s dad.” Diana said, as she explained her stay at Mexico Hotel where they were required to be a guardian. 

   The trip was about a month long.

There were many moments of suspense and fear for Diana and her siblings. The sounds of helicopters flying by the southwest of the United States terrified Diana,  as she looked for floating boats hidden under bushes. These were prepared to transport them through El Rio Grande — a river that forms part of the Mexico-United States border. 

“The moment I thought we were going to get caught was when we were taking out the boat, a helicopter was flying by, and we got into those bushes quickly”. She added. 

The coyote took Diana and her family to Elizabeth, New Jersey, where her mother welcomed them in tears of joy. 

A week into their new life in the United States, Diana was bullied because she did not know how to write her name. 

“It just got to the point where they wanted to start a fight with me, but I did not fight, because I promised my mom that I will not get in any type of problems; because I was scared of the cops, and I thought that if they caught me, they were going to send me back to my country.” Diana said. 

Diana and her family did not meet the requirements for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) application, because they immigrated to the US in 2010, and to be eligible, applicants have to live in the United States since 2007. 

Being undocumented has restricted Diana’s living conditions. She has lived in the same house for the past 10 years, but she is optimistic, and believes that traveling to the United States was the best decision she and her family made. 

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