Destiny's Children: A Legacy of War and Gangs

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Carlos and Ivonne’s story: epilogue

Carlos was deported in 1994, a year after I’d met him and Ivonne. It took him six months, but he did come back to Ivonne. They moved and I lost touch with them for awhile.

Then in 1997 Carlos called me. He was in Chicago and headed to Boston. We met at the Port Authority bus terminal in New York City for a couple of hours. Carlos told me he’d been deported three times since I’d last seen him in 1994. He didn’t go into detail, but he told me that he and Ivonne had split permanently. Their daughter Andrea was living with his sister.

Carlos stayed in Boston for a couple of months. He got a job. He was in counseling and things were starting to look better. He knew going back to Los Angeles would be a mistake, but he missed his daughter Andrea terribly. He went to get her.

Carlos didn’t return to Boston. Later that year I went to LA. I looked for Ivonne and for Carlos. I visited the apartment in the neighborhood where they had once lived, hoping to find someone who might know where I could find one or the other. A young woman filled me in on some things that had happened. After Carlos was deported the second time, Ivonne joined the gang. She lost custody of her daughter because she’d gotten messed up with drugs. But that was all the young woman could tell me.

Years passed with no word and then one afternoon in 2002 I received a phone message from Carlos’ brother. “Please call us,” he said. I picked up the phone and began dialing with some trepidation. When Rogelio answered he was so calm and friendly that for a moment I put my worst fears aside. But then he said, “We’ve only just been going through Carlos’ things. We found some good memories—the photographs you took of him. When I saw your phone number printed on the back of one of them I knew I had to try to let you know. My brother was killed in El Salvador over a year ago.”

I listened in distressed silence as Rogelio described the tragedies that had befallen Ivonne and Carlos. Sometime in the late 1990s, after years of struggle, Ivonne succumbed to her addictions. Carlos had been deported to El Salvador multiple times since I’d last seen him. He always returned–trying to be the father his daughter needed and wanted. Rogelio was unsure about many details of his brother’s life. He’d learned that it was prudent not to ask too much. But it seemed that despite Carlos’ attempts to find work and provide for his child, old gang ties and perhaps some old rivalries remained. “Carlos was really anxious on the phone when he called to say he’d be leaving El Salvador,” Rogelio told me, “But just days after he called us to say he was coming home we got another call.” Someone had found a plastic garbage bag with what remained of Carlos inside.

In the decade since Carlos was murdered the annual homicide rate for Salvadoran youth has been as high as casualty rates during the war years. In 2009 the Salvadoran police estimated a murder rate of 12 per day with 70% of the victims being young people. That is more than 3,000 murder victims per year in a country comparable to Massachusetts in size and population. Imagine if instead of 167 murders a year Massachusetts faced 4,320? These intolerable statistics persist after a decade of zero tolerance policing with 97% percent of such crimes unsolved. Is peace possible with so much injustice?

Rogelio and his other brothers flew to El Salvador to identify Carlos and to bury him there. They are a religious family with strong evangelical faith and Rogelio told me that he hoped his brother was finally at peace. I share that wish for Carlos and his family, but I suspect that El Salvador is going to need greater justice to build a road to peace.