03/10/2012 11:31 am ET Updated May 10, 2012

My Immigrant Story (25 Years Later)

By Yándary K. Zavala

A long, long time ago, in a country far away, two people got married.

He went to university and worked in the accounting department of a big department store. She also took university classes and owned her own beauty salon. A few years later, they had a baby girl. Everyone thought it was so funny that She owned a beauty salon, but her baby had no hair! (Don't worry; she has plenty now!)

The baby was born during a really bad war in their country, and even though they had hopes and dreams for their family, they decided to explore the option of leaving. They knew a lot of people, including one of his brothers, who had moved to Australia on a special. They got their paperwork/passports ready, but at the last minute, She decided Australia was too far. She feared that if she left, she would never see her mother again. So... They stayed.

Things got worse. One day, when He was gone, and She was home alone with the baby and the muchacha (nanny/housekeeper), the guerrilleros came in. They questioned Her, and she discovered the guerrilleros had been spying on them night and day. They were accused of collaborating with insurgents and stockpiling weapons. The guerrilleros ransacked the house and, of course, found nothing. Miraculously, they left the home without harming anyone. That day, She decided they had to get out.

They still had their passports, and, through the grace of God, had had the opportunity to obtain visas to come to the United States. They sold what they could, gave away the rest of their belongings, and two weeks later, they took their baby and their suitcases (his was full of books), and their lives changed forever.

Today, their baby (a college graduate) is pursuing a Master's degree while working in policy and politics.

This past Tuesday was the 25-year anniversary of the day we came to the United States. I am grateful for my parents and for all of the sacrifices they have made to give me (and my four siblings) a better life. I sometimes wonder how our lives would be different had we stayed in El Salvador, where both of my parents could have finished their studies, where my dad could have had a job in an office instead of in a factory, where my mom would have achieved her dream of owning her own chain of salons, where money wouldn't have been an issue (and maybe they wouldn't have gotten divorced?)... They've faced many challenges in this country, but they amaze me for ALL they've accomplished.

I once asked my parents if things were really so bad in El Salvador that all the struggles we've had here in the U.S. have been worth it, and the answer from both of them was, without hesitation, YES! I am mindful of this in everything I do. I want my parents to be proud of me. They sacrificed their dreams so that I could achieve mine. Any success I have had or ever will have in my life is really their success. What a blessing to live in a country where anything is possible! I hope to see a day when others with stories like my family's are able to fully access everything this country has to offer without having to jump through ten thousand hoops to do so.

Yándary Zavala, a proud graduate of the University of Utah, grew up in Riverdale, Utah and is pursuing a Master's in Political Management from The George Washington University. She is the Director of Hispanic Outreach for a U.S. Congressional race in Maryland and works on science policy in DC.