On World Refugee Day on June 20, which is an internationally recognized occasion to raise awareness of the plight of refugees and protect their human rights around the world, Garland resident Alison Valiente shared her story at The morning news from Dallas.
Alison Valiente has come a long way from Chalchuapa, El Salvador, before settling in Garland and building her life here.
She left her hometown in 2014, after her family faced months of stalking and violent threats from local gangs.
One night, members of a local gang showed up inside her mother’s house looking for money. The gang targeted the family because Valiente’s mother was using the house to run a small business selling essentials, like soap and pupusas, a traditional Salvadoran flatbread made from cornmeal or rice flour.
Members of the gang pointed guns at family members and broke into the house.
“From that day on, they started to follow us,” said Valiente.
She said members of her extended family would receive photos of the faces of her mother, brother and their surrounded as a threat.
“They were going to kill us,” Valiente said.
In addition to her family being targeted for her mother’s home pupusa business, Valiente was also targeted at school. Three classmates and male neighbors said Valiente was their new girlfriend, without her consent.
But the price to pay for rejecting that relationship could have resulted in kidnapping or even murder.
“They didn’t say directly that they were going to kill me, but they did. [kill] one of the girls who lived near me because she [did] not accept to be their girlfriend, ”said Valiente. “So when they asked me, I was very scared.”
It was then that her mother decided to leave the country with her family.
Only fourteen at the time, Valiente said he crossed El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico and the US border by car, bus, boat and on foot – sometimes crossing dangerous areas and cartel territories, always guided by complete strangers.
When they finally reached the United States, Valiente said, they stayed in a detention center for five days before being released and taking a bus to Colorado to stay with a friend.
Initially, Valiente’s mother intended to move to Colorado, but after a month she changed her mind and ultimately chose to come to Garland due to a personal connection.
Her mother’s longtime pastor, who fled the civil war in El Salvador, was a preacher at the Iglesia de Dios Restauración in Garland. Although they didn’t know anyone else in Texas, the family took a leap of faith and left Colorado.
This personal bond made all the difference for the family. They found community in the church, which made Garland feel at home for Valiente.
She eventually got involved in the church worship band, where she met her husband, Guillermo Pineda. The couple married in 2019 and have a one-year-old daughter.
In addition to starting a family in Garland, Valiente works as a translator for Refugee Services of Texas in Dallas and Fort Worth and graduated from Aliento Music School later this year.
After several years of saving money for legal advice and handling court cases, only Valiente’s asylum application was approved. Her mother was voluntarily deported and returned to El Salvador a few years ago.
Valiente’s mother did not meet her granddaughter and was unable to attend her daughter’s wedding, but was able to stay for her daughter’s graduation ceremony at Naaman Forest High School in Garland.
“One of his dreams was to see us graduate,” said Valiente.
Although her family is not yet legally allowed to settle here, she said she hoped she could find a way to bring them in from El Salvador once she became a citizen.
She’s already on her way. She has just completed her papers to become an American resident.
“I really feel blessed and excited about what God’s plan is,” she said.