“Our conclusion should include some sort of recommendations for assisting the Brentwood community, right?” I ask my research partner, Raven Quesenberry.
“Yeah, but what would those be?”
“Well, let’s think about it.” I pause.
Throughout the summer I have been struck by how interlocking the systems of oppression that affect the Salvadoran community in Brentwood are. Many in the immigrant community had their education disrupted by the Salvadoran Civil War, which lasted from 1979 to 1992. As a result, they have only an elementary or middle school education and, although they have been in the U.S. for decades, they do not speak any English.
El Salvador now has the highest murder rate in the world. Escaping the gang violence, other immigrants, including many children, arrived in Brentwood recently and face a new language and culture, negative biases, and a highly antagonistic school system. Both of these groups are also under extreme duress, as Temporary Protected Status, which protects approximately 20 percent of the community, will be terminated by the Trump administration and deportation is at an all-time high.
A third group of Salvadorans is the first generation born in the U.S. They are oftentimes considered the future. They too face extreme barriers, oftentimes growing up in poor households, highly affected by the trauma of the civil war and immigration. They live in a community with few local professional job opportunities and highly lacking, expensive public transportation. This is a particular problem for undocumented people, who are not allowed to have driver’s licenses in New York State. Many resort to driving without a license, which puts them at high risk for deportation. Their families would be affected by the loss of household income and family separation.
I could go on. Each barrier leads into the next and each problem seems so entrenched within our system that it feels impossible to end. There are some “success stories” who have been able to attend college and now have stable jobs. So many organizations are doing important work within the community. Yet I have found myself frustrated (and highly aware of my own privileged placement as a middle-class college student) because the community needs more than individual exceptions. It needs transformative change. It needs upheaval of the current immigration system. It needs accessible education across the board—for children and their parents. It needs economic assistance and access to twenty-first-century jobs.
But, with these barriers so entrenched in social, political, and economic systems, reimagining Brentwood a task stuck that can’t be actualized.
I look back at Raven, “It feels impossible when all you can do is assist.”