About to turn 18, Jacqueline is writing the final chapters of her childhood story. How will it end—and will her Salvadoran parents be in it?
Every Valentine’s Day, Jacqueline’s dad buys her flowers. While many young adults her age—17 years old—avoid their parents, she’s pretty much the opposite. “I hang out with my parents,” she says. “I go to the mall with my parents. I go to restaurants with my parents. I spend every moment with them.”
Months before Jacqueline was born, her mom and dad received Temporary Protected Status (TPS) from the US government because of ongoing violence in El Salvador. Now, almost a year since the Trump administration announced plans to end TPS for families from eight countries, including El Salvador, she and her three younger sisters, born in the US, have grappled with a Sophie’s choice: Being separated from their parents, or going with them to a country they’ve never known—and where a woman is killed every 19 hours.
Everything is up in the air—whether Jacqueline will go to college this fall, and if she might have to become a mother to her younger sisters. That’s why she is going to Washington, DC, this weekend to perform a play with her childhood friends —all children of TPS holders, ages 6-17—called "The Last Dream." It’s part of a three-day action in support of TPS families that Oxfam is supporting, culminating in a march on Tuesday, February 12, that starts at the front gates of the White House.
We sat down with Jacqueline at the Salvadoran consulate in East Boston where she and her friends were rehearsing the play for the final time before setting off for the nation’s capital.
Q: How did the rehearsal go?
Jacqueline (J): We were actually really nervous because we had an audience. Normally we’re fooling around more. I think it went really well. Obviously, the directors find things to work on, but I feel more confident. Hopefully nothing bad happens.
Q: What has it been like to be part of this play?
J: It’s been really inspiring. My three younger sisters are in it. My friends that I’ve grown up with my entire life are in it. And now we’re in this environment that makes us act differently. It’s still us but we have to be mature and focus. It’s been nice to see how the younger kids especially have developed a little bit of maturity. I’m so comfortable with them, I’m like their mom. I’m always texting them on the group chat, ‘Oh, remember to bring this. Don’t forget this. Practice your lines.’
Q: Tell me about your dad.
J: My dad came to the US in the mid ‘90s. He was 19. He came for the same reasons as my mom—the economy was bad, the gang violence, after the civil war it was horrible over there. Ever since he got TPS he has been able to work. He was able to buy a house when I was five. He created this whole family here, and now he’s this amazing chef at home. We love his food. And my dad is one of the best dads ever. Everything he does is for us—he’s always joking around and teasing us. We bond over soccer, we bond over food. We bond a lot. He tries to be strong for us, but with this whole situation, I have seen him weak. I want to give him that strength to be the superhero dad he’s always been for me.
Q: Do you have a favorite memory of your mom and dad?
J: There’s just so many. I think the funniest memory was probably February 14, a while ago. We normally all spend it together. But this time, they decided they wanted to go out on a date. They never go on dates! I remember they went out with their friends, we were at home being baby sat and we were like, "What are our parents doing?" They got a limo and everything. We have a picture, I always remember that.
Q: What has it been like for all of you to go through this? To not know what may happen?
J: We try to stay positive. But obviously there’s the negativity, the moments we think about how we may not be together next year. We’re so family oriented, and what kills me the most is to see my youngest sister. She just turned 10. She’s so young; the youngest kids don’t have this capacity to understand what is going on. We’re always trying to stay positive—we’re going to win this battle. No one is leaving, nobody is going anywhere.
Q: What gives you strength?
J: Our faith. We’re a very Catholic family, we attend church every Sunday. We are praying all the time. We know God will help us with this. We have faith that our government will see us as humans, as their citizens. Our family should be their priority. I just hope that the government will see this and do something for us. I have faith that people are actually good. We weren’t born with evil. We were born good.
Q: Do you know what you want to study when you go to college?
J: I was pushed at first to be a dentist. But then I got so involved in this [TPS Committee of Massachusetts] that everybody’s like, you can be a public speaker. You can do law. You can do all these things, you have the capacity to do this. So right now I’m looking toward political science and those kinds of fields.
Q: What do you hope people who see this play in DC learn about you and the families in it?
J: I hope they learn that our families were like theirs when they were young. At my age, they were probably like, ‘Oh, we’re about to go to college.’ Or at my little sister’s age, ‘Oh, I’m about to enter middle school’ or ‘I’m in high school.’ The only difference is our parents’ immigration status. And we were born in the same country, we have the same rights as them. They wouldn’t have liked to have been put through the things we’re going through at our age. I want them to notice through the play that we are also a family. Our names in the play are our own names. My name is Jacqueline. And they call me Jacqueline in the play. We put ourselves and our emotions into the play.
Learn more about the TPS march next Tuesday calling on Congress to enact permanent protections for TPS families like Jacqueline’s.