Immigration & Remittances

One Day of Life revolves around a single long day of a woman named Lupe and her family who live in El Salvador. Manlio Argueta portrays Lupe’s own emotions, reflections, and behavior from her personal experiences through descriptive imagery, dialogue, and tone. This book captures the empathy and thoughts of the readers by painting a vivid picture of the terror that fills the lives of the community struggling daily to survive in El Salvador, however their hope and optimism is never lost. Argueta’s One Day of Life effectively takes his reader on a journey to experience the repression and violation of human rights through the government’s inability to provide public service for its people. Lupe, her family, and fellow victims of human rights abuse take matters in their own hands as their individual responsibility to fight for their human rights, yet remain hopeful for change and peace. However, efforts by Central Americans nowadays have been taken to a whole other level due to the act of immigration, primarily to the United States. Like the characters in Argueta’s One Day of Life, Central Americans remain hopeful in search for a better life through means of migrating to the United States, partaking in the system of remittances, and risking their family relations. Although there have been various debates and new propositions on the issue of immigration, the Central American diasporas effectively benefit the lives of Central Americans and their families through their struggles to stay optimistic and have constant hope for advancing their lives.

The main motive for migration to the United States is brilliantly portrayed in Argueta’s imagery of the destruction of human rights toward Salvadorans by the authorities. Due to harsh living situations in their native lands, citizens feel helpless and are forced to relocate to increase their chances for survival. The readers are captivated through the amount of abuse citizens receive in the duration of twenty-four hours. Argueta’s dramatic description allows the reader to witness the pain Lupe and her family endure. The readers develop an attachment to the characters in the novel due to the images Argueta paints. The abuse is so extreme that towards the beginning of the novel, Lupe experiences the realization that “something called rights existed. The right to health care, to food and to schooling for [their] children. If it hadn’t been for the priest, [they] wouldn’t have found out about those things that are in [their] interest” (Argueta 31-32). Not only did the authories mentally deprive Salvadorans of their rights, but they physically raped those religious figures that the people looked up to. Argueta shares a disturbing event in which “the priest was found half dead on the road to the Kilometer. They had disfigured his face, had brutalized him all over. They’d stuck a stick up his anus and it was there still. The priest’s voice could barely be heard. They found the priest’s jeep farther up the road, burned, in another ditch. As if it had ignited itself” (30). Such disgusting and manipulative acts were done to citizens in order to make their power known to the people. The leading cause of deaths in El Salvador is homicide and violent injury, obviously by the force of the authorities. Raping a man of God was a message from the authorities that they were capable of anything. Argueta shares vivid events like the one above in order for the reader to feel that pain and sorrow for a selfless man. This incident was a scare tactic from the authorities, but the more the Salvadorans learned their rights, the smarter they became when dealing with the authorities. In order for the people of El Salvador to achieve what they wanted, they need to fight for it because no one would help, especially not their corrupt government. Argueta emphasizes the independence of the people and their desire to succeed and attain their rights. Argueta uses the symbol of birds to mirror the people of El Salvador being trapped and oppressed by the government and officials. He incorporates the notion that birds are “’poor little things, why should we keep them locked up? They’ll die of sadness.’ Birds can’t withstand confinement” (199). The people of El Salvador want to break down the walls of confinement and live a life free from manipulative figures yearning to forcibly oppress them. An interpretation from Argueta’s symbol of the bird could represent the migration of birds, hinting the migration of Salvadorans in order to be happy and liberated from their corrupt home. Argueta successfully takes his reader on the voyage of the citizens intensely illustrating their struggle to discover their human rights. In order to escape these abuses and truly change their ways of living, citizens discovered the act of immigration.

Some families partake in remittances where they send one family member to the United States in order for that individual to transfer money to their home country while the rest cope with their corrupt government. The idea of remittances allows the family to prosper financially instead of sitting around and doing nothing to fix their problems. Due to El Salvador’s corrupt society and abusive government, the rich get richer and the poor just get even poorer. As easy as the idea of remittances sounds, it “may be seen as one component of a longer-term understanding between a migrant and his or her family, an understanding that may involve many aspects including education of a migrant, migration itself, coinsurance, and inheritance” (Stark 478). The main motive for a family to plan around remittances is for the migrant family member to send money back to their home basically to help with everyday expenses of the family. These remittances show self-sacrifice, ethical obligation, or emotional attachment. Remittances not only benefit the migrant but his or her family as a whole. As the rest of the family suffers with the lack of public services by the government in Central America, one member of the family is given the opportunity to travel to the United States and try to make a better living for his or herself and family back home. Argueta depicts the absence of healthcare, education, and safety evident in the lives of Salvadorans. Before their realization of human rights, Argueta shows how ignorant Lupe and her family were to their right to healthcare, education, and a sense of safety in their lives. According to Engler’s article, Salvadorans fight for their right to healthcare by going on strikes and getting the attention of the oppressors. Engler argues that the “strike was not about raising salaries for doctors or about getting better benefits. The strike was to defend the right to public healthcare- health for all people- against those who want the market to decide who gets services” (8). Instead of giving everyone the right to healthcare, the system in El Salvador is constantly changing the policies on their healthcare plans. These changes do not allow poor families to receive healthcare because they have put a price and restriction on it. Statistics show that “El Salvador has only one doctor from every 2000 people and the doctors are concentrated in the cities. Hospitals, are also limited to cities and large towns, have one bed for every 922 people” (Sanders 91). Now due to the notion of  “Pay or Die,” Salvadorans do not have the funds to afford healthcare. Instead, they are forced to use herbal and traditional remedies such as plants as seen in Argueta’s example. Some less fortunate families attain even more diseases from overall poor sanitation. It is a brave act for someone to take the responsibility to migrate and work with the pressure of their families’ dependence weighed on their shoulders. The courage and heart it takes for someone to sacrifice their life in order to find a way to help their family escape the horrid living conditions of their country is honorable. Remittances “enter the picture insofar they confer prestige and social recognition, uphold the migrants reputation, convey the message of the migrants success in America, and are vehicles for the exercise of power as long as the migrant decides what use should be given to the remitted funds” (Mariano 248). The act of immigration itself is very courageous on account of an individual but taking on the role as main provider of remittances at the same time is even more challenging. It is amazing how people have been taking on this massive accountability with thoughts of their family through it all. The growth of “worldwide migrant remittances reached 68 million dollars in 2001 with 83% of that amount going to developing countries” (Mariano 231). Although there is high success rate in the transfer of money, the individual that migrates usually encounters a decline in social status due to “American attitudes towards race and ethnicity [that] frequently make migrants victims of discrimination that they did not suffer at home” (Mariano 238). It is a transition for the individual because immigration alienates and excludes them from society. However, one would rather be discriminated against rather than do nothing about the corruption in their homelands where their lives are at risk every second. Overall, remittances “enrich the migrant’s family, have the potential to produce a new class of upwardly mobile households, and can even inspire a new vocabulary to refer to the new class and its members” (Mariano 248). Financially, immigration and remittances are an effective way of prospering. However, the toll immigration can take on a family is severe.

With hopes of prosperity for the family as a unit, migrating to the United States can break a family as well. Due to the distance of El Salvador to the United States, homesickness and depression can develop. The fact that the migrant is 7856.9 km away from his family and his home is nostalgic. He or she is completely foreign to this new place. As outsiders, society view[s] migration as an indication that the family splits apart as the young move[s] away and dissociate[s] themselves from familial and traditional bondage, regardless of the negative externalities thus imposed on their families” Mariano (479). It is crucial that people need to understand the situations of these people who feel there is no other choice for them but to work out a way for their lives to be worth living. Americans should not view immigration as negative but “instead emphasize the efficiency, flexibility, and what [one] might call the dynamic of comparative advantage of the family and shifts the focus of migration theory form individual independence to mutual interdependence” (Mariano 479). Due to attachment to the family, the lonesome migrant uses the motivation of family in order to get through the troubles. Immigration and remittances is a team issue that the family, together, can help one another get through. Some Americans are uninformed of the issues that are going on in other countries because they are trapped in this bubble where life is so easy. Plenty of people do not comprehend the motives of immigrants and instead make rational assumptions.  Most people are unaware of the reasons why people choose to migrate.

Throughout American history, immigration has always been an issue within the United States, but how can immigration be an issue when America is considered a “Land of Immigrants.” This has sparked up much controversy within the general public and media as the Arizona Immigration Laws (S.B. 1070) just recently passed. They state that Arizona police officers are required to question anyone they reasonably suspect of being an undocumented person to their immigration status, and to detain them if they cannot provide papers proving their citizenship. Some might see this as an understandable and fair law, but many believe it is discrimination in its own existence and is considered an unconstitutional law.

Ultimately, the Arizona Immigration Laws, S.B. 1070, deem to be a negative effect in most aspects. Morally, it poses problems of racism and abusive profiling open in the air for law enforcement officials to choose when they decide that one looks suspicious and one does not. Financially, it has been proven that the cost surpasses the amount of benefit it offers, especially in these hard economic times. From a safety standpoint, it interferes with some communities’ main concerns, as they would be forced to prioritize immigration laws when other crimes and major issues should be their priorities. And from a constitutional perspective, the immigration law clearly violates the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, in which the state of Arizona is attempting to overtake a responsibility that is clearly in federal government’s power. Every element of the immigration laws has been shut down and has been proven to probable cause of more harm than good.

Today, the issue of immigration is fresh in Americans’ minds and it can be suspected that there will be more controversial issues to come in the upcoming years. Some of these include a suggested, “Dream Act”, which was proposed by Barack Obama. This would allow young people whose parents originally brought them to the United States illegally a chance to acquire citizenship if they attended college or served in the military for at least two years. Adding onto this would be a blanket policy endorsed by some members of congress and Latino activists enforcing a rule that would not allow deportations of any persons eligible for the Dream Act. All in all, as a land originally founded by immigrants, immigration is essential to our country. And although there are many different perspectives of how immigration should be handled, it is essential that any proposed law must be constitutional before being heavily considered.

Hope is the key motive that encourages the Salvadorans to endure such a lifestyle and manage to survive. Also, an important key to immigration and successful remittances is hope as well. Efforts by Central Americans to break out of their destruction homes, just like immigration debates, continue to thrive. Argueta’s One Day of Life is a great source that brings awareness to society that justifies the need for some families to depend on immigration and use of remittances. Although risks are involved and lives are on the line, taking action with hopes for change is much needed. The debates over immigration are timeless and people will always have their own opinions. However, in my opinion, there should be no argument over immigration and remittances because the Central American diasporas effectively benefit the lives of numerous Central Americans and their families.  Through their struggles to stay optimistic and have constant hope for advancing their lives, Central Americans in the United States show the successful outcomes of immigration.

Works Cited

Argueta, Manlio. One Day of Life. New York: Vintage, 1983. Print.

Engler, Mark. “Pay or Die.” Xerxes 353 (2003): 8. Academic Search Elite. Web. 26 Apr.

2011. <;.

Sana, Mariano. “Migrant Remittances, Social Status, and Assimilation.” 20th Century

Drama. ProQuest, 2005. Web. 16 May 2011. <;.

Sanders, Renfield. El Salvador. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 1999. Print.

Stark, Oded, and Robert E B Lucas. “Migration, Remittances, and the Family.” Economic

Development and Cultural Change 36 (1988): 465-81. Wilson OmniFile Full Text Mega Edition. Web. 3 May 2011. <;.


Thank you to Julianna Meares for peer editing my essay and helping me develop more ideas.

Thank you Professor Freya Rojo for helping me with my writing skills and for a great year! I’m really going to miss this class.


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