It has been 12 years since I last set foot in El Salvador. When I first came, I was 17, I didn’t speak any spanish, and had just met my birth family the year before. My adoptive parents, my brother and I had decided to spend the holidays of 1998 touring Central America. We went to Panama, Costa Rica and then El Salvador. I don’t remember much from back then, only meeting lots of people who looked like me that I knew little about. I had a feeling this time it would be very different.
As my plane made its final decent, we flew past the city and out towards the coast. We headed out to sea, as if we only passing by this tiny country, the same size and population of Massachusetts. Over clear blue waters we did a 180 degree turn and headed back toward land. Moderate winds bounced us up and down some as we got closer to the runway. Instead of thickly settled housing I saw small shacks and green fields. Instead of grid locked city traffic I saw famers on horse back.
I got off the plane and headed toward customs. An agent greeted us and directed us into the appropriate lines. She asked me if I was Salvadoran and with a little smirk on my face I replied no. After sorting through all the days luggage at the only operational baggage carousel, I was on my way. Walking out of the airport I was confronted by a couple hundred people waiting for various family members to arrive. This was a little overwhelming, but luckily I found my cousin without any difficulty. We then made the 45 minute drive back into the city.
That night my cousin, her two sisters and my aunt took me out for buffalo wings. Watching the three of them interact and joke around reminded me of me and my siblings. They seemed so close and…almost normal. Then a strange thought hit me. Am I looking at the life I could have had? Is this what it would have been like if we had never been separated?
Rarely do we get to experience “what could have been.” We often imagine how our lives might have turned out, but to be confronted by it is something else entirely.
It made me question the choices my parents made. El Salvador is still a mess. There is still a lot of crime, violence and lack of opportunity. Did the revolution really change anything? If they had not joined, would it have mattered? My aunts and uncles didn’t fight and their lives seemed to turn out alright. I’m sure life in El Salvador isn’t easy, but at least they have each other. At least they are together.