Man faces return to gang-ravaged El Salvador
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
El Salvador can be a very dangerous place. No one knows that better than Jose Mendoza Turbin. Four years ago, at the age of 15, he fled his neighborhood and his country to escape the constant threat of youth gangs who were demanding he join or die.
Jose made his way to the United States where he worked and eventually enrolled in high school. After graduating this spring, he enrolled at Colorado Mountain College to pursue his dream of becoming a nurse.
Ten days ago, he received notice that he was being deported immediately for entering the United States without documents. Last week, 12 of his high school and college teachers traveled to Grand Junction after school to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office to describe the young man they had come to know and love. They were joined by Joe Sustar, Jose’s former math teacher, who flew in from the Midwest to speak on his behalf.
Mendoza Turbin: Growing up in El Salvador the gangs were always threatening and intimidating me. They made it very difficult for me to study and live because I couldn’t even go out with my friends or have fun.
There were two rival gangs, “MS 13” and “MN 18”. They were always fighting each other for more territory.
Gallacher: What made you decide to leave?
Mendoza Turbin: The gangs killed five of my friends, so I decided that I had to leave if I wanted to live. That’s when I decided to come to the United States.
Gallacher: Do you remember the day that you left?
Mendoza Turbin: Ah, yes, it was so, so horrible. I knew that I was leaving my parents, all my friends and my home. I remember I was crying the day I left my parents.
I was so afraid and depressed.
I can remember as I was walking in Guatemala I was thinking to go back. My heart was breaking. It was so hard to leave my family, but I had to do it. I had to be so strong to come here and study .
Gallacher: Are your parents safe?
Mendoza Turbin: El Salvador isn’t a safe place for anyone, but the gangs don’t bother older people. They just attack younger people and fight amongst themselves.
Gallacher: How did you stay out of gangs?
Mendoza Turbin: I concentrated on studying, but often I couldn’t because of the gangs. I was studying in one school until the sixth grade, but I had to move to another school because of the gangs. They were always finding ways to bother me and take my money, hit me and cut me without any reason. They did that in both schools, and that is when I decided that I had to get away and come here.
Gallacher: Why do you want to study nursing?
Mendoza Turbin: I want to find a way to help people, and I think getting my nursing degree is the way to do that. This community has been helping me a lot, my teachers and lots of people I don’t even know have helped me. I want to give back to them some day.
Growing up in El Salvador in poverty has made me want to find a way to help people. It has motivated me to study and stay out of the gangs.
Gallacher: Do you have special memories of your time here?
Mendoza Turbin: When I graduated from high school. It was an amazing time for me because I had worked very hard to learn English and pass all of my classes and be in the class every day. On graduation day my math teacher, Joe Sustar, gave a speech and said good things about me.
Gallacher: I heard you were given a standing ovation when you crossed the stage.
Mendoza Turbin: It was one of the best days of my life to be with my friends and my teachers. I called my parents, they were so happy and so proud of me.
Gallacher: What do you think will happen to you if you are sent back to El Salvador?
Mendoza Turbin: The gangs are still there and I don’t want to endure what I had to before. I am afraid. They have killed five of my friends.
Immigrant Stories runs every Monday in the Post Independent.
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