Remittances, money sent from ex-patriots to their homeland, are the greatest source of El Salvador's wealth: $2.5 billion a year. Dan Grech explores the bonds that connect El Salvador, the US and their people.
INTRO: Yesterday, we told the story of how the magnetic economic pull north separated two Salvadoran friends 25 years ago. Francisco Castro went to find work in the United States. His friend Luis Molina stayed behind in El Salvador. Their goal was to reunite one day — back in their hometown of Chinameca. But as Dan Grech reports from the Marketplace Americas Desk at WLRN, their plan has hit an unanticipated snag.
DAN GRECH: Francisco Castro and Luis Molina looked forward to retiring together in Chinameca, the small farming village in El Salvador where they grew up. That was before Francisco's son Mauricio showed interest in Luis' daughter. Mauricio Castro recalls the moment two years ago on a trip back to Chinameca.
MAURICIO CASTRO: It just came to the time when I had to say something.
Mauricio was 26. He hadn't lived in Chinameca since he was three. He went back to ask Luis Molina for permission to date his daughter, Nelly. Mauricio planned out exactly what he would say. He clutched a bottle of fine wine as he knocked on Luis' door.
MAURICIO: I was, like, real nervous. I was shaking. Some of the words didn't come out clearly. And, um, and I pretty much told him that we were talking on the phone and e-mailing each other. And pretty much I came down here to ask permission from you and your wife to date her, and to be with her.
Luis's daughter Nelly watched the whole thing from the sofa.
(Nelly's two hours away at school in San Salvador. We caught up with her by telephone.)
NELLY MOLINA [translation]: Oh my God! I felt the sensation run through my whole body. "What's my papi gonna say now?"
This courtship was complicated. Luis and Mauricio's father, Francisco, are lifelong best friends. Mauricio and Nelly have known each other since they were kids.
LUIS:Condiciones, yo puse mis condiciones.
Nelly's father Luis gave his blessing — with conditions.
MAURICIO: His only rule was, "Our families have been friends for so long. Even if things don't work out between you guys, I still want our families to be close.' They didn't want there to be tension between my dad and her dad.
Mauricio now works for his father in a successful construction company in Fairfax, Va. He wants Nelly to come join him there. Nelly is about to get her college degree, something her father hoped would get her a good job in El Salvador. But Nelly has far more opportunities in the US. The possibility that Nelly could leave El Salvador has created so much tension that Francisco and Luis can't even talk about it.
FRANCISCO CASTRO: I don't know how to bring that conversation, and he don't bring it either. [Laughs.] We never started that conversation because I don't know how to start it and I don't know how to end it. I want to tell Luis, "Listen, whatever happens to those kids is not our game. Let's help them, support them, wish them the best. But if the thing don't work out, it's not your fault, it's not my fault either.'
Like her father did a generation ago, Nelly's now agonizing over whether to go north.
NELLY [translation]: I've lived here my whole life. I love this country, I love my town, I love my people. But I have to take risks to find a better life, to raise a beautiful family. I have to leave my parents. Even though it hurts my soul, I have to do it.
Nelly says what makes leaving easier is she can better help her parents from the US.
NELLY [translation]:I want to help my mami and my papi. That's what pushes young people to go north. To give our families more stability, to give them a better life.
MAURICIO: She's coming here. This is where the money's gonna be made at. So this is where it's gotta be.
The timing couldn't be more painful. As Nelly is looking to travel to the US, Mauricio's father Francisco is starting to feel that it's time to return home.
Francisco walks with a limp. His left foot drags, his right heel clicks. He's 46 years old. But after years of heavy lifting, his body is already starting to give.
MAURICIO: I don't think he'll ever truly retire down there.
Mauricio says the time has passed for his father to go back.
MAURICIO: I don't see it. Especially once he sees his grandkids pop out.
Back in Chinameca, there's a cemetery behind the church. Simple wooden crosses mark most of the graves. Townspeople who traveled north build more elaborate tombs. One has fancy black ironwork and imported Italian tile. Near the entrance there's a modest green tomb that Francisco built before he left Chinameca.
FRANCISCO: It's not a big monumental thing, but it's our own family spot.
His mother's buried there. There's an empty plot waiting for him.
FRANCISCO:The problem that I got right now, is my wife says, "Well, if you die, I'm the one that's going to make the decision about where I'm going to bury you."
His wife wants Francisco buried by her side in Virginia. She wants them in a spot their grandchildren will visit.
I'm Dan Grech for Marketplace.