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Arrival Story: Claudia Carcamo

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KCET Departures asks, "What's your or your family's Los Angeles arrival story?"

Today, we hear from UC Riverside student Claudia Carcamo:

"My dad came from El Salvador. He was escaping the Salvadorian war. He was in it for a few years. He started when he was eighteen.

"He came in 1984 with his ex-girlfriend. They drove on the bus together from El Salvador to Mexico. And then they took a car and the car took them to a plane. The plane took them over to San Diego and that's where they got picked up by a family member and then they went their separate ways. My dad ended up here because his sister lived here.

"My dad said that on the bus ride from El Salvador to Mexico, the bus was stopped by
burglars who threatened to rip up their passports and hurt his former girlfriend if they didn't give them the money they had on them.

"Once that was over they continued their ride to Guadalajara. At one of the stops, at nighttime, a lady in a black veil got on the bus. She said, 'Everything is going to be good from now on.' And it was - they got to California safely.

"The weird part is no one remembers the lady being on the bus throughout the trip. Also, every time someone would get off the bus, the lights within the bus would turn on. But when she got off - no lights. And she left through the back exit even though she was closer to the front door. When my dad looked back, all he saw on the sidewalk was her silhouette, just standing there, carrying no luggage.

"My mom came here in 1989. She started working at my uncle's restaurant, El Rincon Salvadoreno. It's a Mexican restaurant by Mexican people where they basically serve Salvadorian food.

"My mom was a waitress there, and my dad used to go there [laughing] - to drink! He used to go there after work. He was a mechanic. A few blocks down from where she worked. This was all in North Hollywood.

"My dad lived with his sister; his sister had come from El Salvador a few years before. He met my mom at the restaurant in July of 1989 and they started officially dating in November. And then they had me in October 1990 - about a year after. I was talking to my parents this morning and said, 'So you conceived me in January!' So it was really fast.

"There is this saying that Salvadorians and Mexicans don't get along.

"So my dad had to ask permission from my uncle to take on my mom. Because her parents were back in Mexico and they didn't want anything happening to their daughter. So he asked permission from my uncle and that's how they got together.

"After being a mechanic for a few years, my dad started working as a truck driver, so he basically had to be in and around L.A. He traveled everywhere. So that's how he got to know it.

"Growing up we would go to museums - like La Brea Tar Pits, the Getty Museum, and then we would go all the way to Lancaster and Palmdale to the [nearby] William S. Park Museum. We would go to every single museum he could think of - the arboretum, the L.A. Zoo, Griffith Park - everything.

"After a few years we ended up in Sun Valley. Before that, we would go from place to place. North Hollywood. Palmdale, because my dad has some friends up there. We got kicked out of our apartment a few times by his sister. Then we would go back to her and we would help her out when we had our own place.

"In 1996 we had our first trailer, our first official home. A year later, my parents had my brother. So we moved into a house. That was my first official house where we could have pets! That was in Sun Valley.

"I lived there until I was 18, and then I moved out. I live in Riverside and go to school at UC Riverside. I come down during the summers and every two weeks.

"My parents are always telling me stories about their past.

"When we go hiking, we say we live in the center of L.A. That's because behind us is the national forest, and then you have Hollywood, Palmdale, Lancaster, central L.A.

"You can go anywhere - you can walk down a few steps - and my parents will remember something about their past. We'll be hiking and we'll see a plaque - and they are like, 'Oh we used to call this, this,' and then they start arguing about what they used to call it, because Salvadorians and Mexicans have different names for things.

"And my dad always goes into the history of the war. He wasn't meant to be a soldier because that's usually the youngest son in the family. The youngest son in his family didn't want to be a soldier - my dad made the decision to take his place. It was when the war was bursting out and stuff, so he went through a lot in that.

"My mom doesn't talk a lot about her past. She'll talk about little things, like family gatherings.

"My parents are still together after 21 years. They are still living in the same house, same neighbors and everything.

"When I come back, I go into my room - but my room isn't there anymore, it's their room now! It brings up memories of how I grew up."

-- Claudia Carcamo
(as told to Jeremy Rosenberg)

  • Photos: (Top, of Claudia Carmago) by Jeremy Rosenberg; (middle and bottom, of the Carmago family and home) courtesy Claudia Carcamo
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