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Meet Josue Diaz: He left El Salvador for a safe and secure home in the Berkshires

Accents: The voices of our immigrant neighbors in the Berkshires

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Getting your throat slashed while doing your job as a bus driver in San Salvador makes you appreciate Pittsfield all the more. Surviving an ambush by the same gang members shooting at you for disobeying their demands makes you sleep really well in your Morningside apartment.

“It’s everything about security,” Josue Diaz says in comparing his life now in the Berkshires and previously in El Salvador’s capital city. “In my country I felt scared going outside, even going to work. Here I can leave my door open all night and nobody is coming in. You can live here safe.”

Diaz, 33, shares his second floor apartment with his father Nelson who came to the Berkshires many years ago. Nelson found work at Unistress, the large concrete manufacturer. Since moving from El Salvador himself almost four years ago, Josue works &ldquowith the plants” at Whitney’s Farm Market in Cheshire.

Past winters, with Whitney’s closed for the season, the younger Diaz has worked kitchen jobs at the Roasted Garlic and Bistro Zinc restaurants. This winter, his paint splattered pants tell of his other day job.

Several evenings a week he attends the English language classes Berkshire Community College offers at Lee High School. He is at the mid-level of proficiency.

On Sundays he goes to Spanish language services at Pittsfield’s Ministerio Cristo Puede Pentecostal church on North Street and Cromwell Avenue. A well worn Bible lies on the coffee table in the center of his living room.

The contrast is enormous with his descriptions of the life he left behind. All the recollections he shares about his growing up, his school years and his work in El Salvador quickly become about fear and violence.

“In middle school when you get a little older they try to take you and put you in their gang,” he says. “Maybe at 15, but if you look a little older than you are – you’re maybe 10 or 11 or 12 – they also try to get you.”

“They” are the gangs that control a lot of the daily life in El Salvador.

“They know what you do, they know where you are going, they know what you are going to do tomorrow,” he says. “They know your family, your friends, everything.”

“It’s the gangsters, yes,” Diaz says. “But it’s a little bit more bigger, the problem. Because the government [does] nothing to stop them. There is too much corruption in there.”

“It’s a little bit sad,” he says when he talks about the times they tried to kill him.

He raises up his head so that a long scar running down the right side of his throat becomes visible. It’s a leftover from the night they came up behind him when he drove his bus filled with passengers. They hit him, cut him and left him for dead.

He explains that he had stopped paying the protection money the gangs demanded for him “to live in peace”.

“They told me I had to give them 500 dollar, but that is crazy, you don’t have 500 dollar in your pocket in El Salvador,” he says.

His sister Fatima is a nurse. She helped him overcome his gruesome sounding injuries. But the first time he appeared outside again and rode his motorcycle, he says gang members spotted him and opened fire.

That day Josue Diaz decided to leave for America.

“I took my little bag and put in a few shirts,” he says. “To save my life I had to do that.”

He left his daughter, Jeimy, and son, David, in his mother’s care in San Salvador. He provides for them from the Berkshires.

When he talks about the United States he talks about the absence of fear and violence.

“I love the United States,” he says. “I know you have to work very hard for it, but it’s a country for your dreams.”


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