Doubly left, by his mother at age five and in the desert by coyotes when he was 14 years old, Byron Menjívar, a young Salvadoran immigrant, has big dreams: becoming an engineering and space physicist to create the motors of the ships that transport us to know other galaxies.
His strong spirit of survival and fight made Menjívar to be named Young Person of the Year by the Boys and Girls of the San Fernando Valley, an organization he joined as soon as he arrived to Los Angeles.
“The Boys and Girls Clubs have been a bridge between what I was in El Salvador and what I want to be,” says the boy.
These Clubs help low-income children and adolescents reach their maximum potential through different educative and recreational activities.
His life has not been far from easy.
“When I was five, my mother told me that she was going to the market but never returned. She left me with my grandparents and came to the United States,” says Menjivar, a student at the Jefferson High School.
Harassed by the gangs, at the age of 14 his grandparents decided that the best for him was to send him to the United States.
“It took me more than three weeks to get here. My grandparents never told me what I was going to face. I do not know how, without knowing how to swim, I did not drown when I cross the river (Bravo). The raft deflated and we stuck halfway there.
The current dragged me, I ended all knocked over but I managed to save myself,” he says.
Already on the American side, the coyotes left him in the desert.
“I was lost during three days. If it hadn’t been for a lady whom I found and offered me food, I would have not lived to count it,” he remembers. “They were terrible days, with little water, with a hurting foot and surrounded by dangerous animals like coyotes. My greater fear was to die and not to be able to see my grandparents,” he says.
The Border Patrol rescued Menjívar and, after interrogating him, they took him to Canutillo, Texas where they turned him to the program Southwest Key, a nonprofit organization that provides refuge and imprisonment alternatives as well as education to young people and families.
“I was there 27 days until my 22-year-old sister, who lives in the San Fernando Valley, took care of me,” he says.
For the adolescent, it was a hard impact to be with his mother whom he had not seen and with whom he had not had communication in nine years. The impact was greater when he realized that he could not live with her.
“She did not want that I live with her,” Menjívar says.
He lived with his sister for a while until the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) took care of him due to her husband’s addictions.
“They took me to a foster home, but the experience was not good no matter how hard I tried,” the boy says.
Finally he was placed in a home of Salvadorans where he feels welcomed.
The first years were difficult for him because he did not know English and did not have friends.
“I was on the verge of falling in which it made me leave El Salvador, the gangs. Without knowing it, I befriended two classmates, one who was in charge of the gang at the school and the other who did favors to them”, exposes.
A Helping Hand
Wiping his tears away, he says that the Boys and Girls Club has given him strength to continue with the work that his grandparents taught him.
“They raised me the old way and they taught to me to be luchón (brave). I feel very thankful,” he says.
Menjívar, now 17, was granted the legal residence a few years after arriving to the United States.