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A Migrant’s Tale: Not From Here nor From There

Fito & Mom 3
Arnulfo and his mother.  (Courtesy Arnulfo Moreno)

By Arnulfo Moreno

“This is to certify that on the 15th of June there was born a girl named Ana Maria Canata.” As I look at my mom’s birth certificate, I know she understands that feeling of never belonging.

My grandmother, my mother’s mother, Pillar Sanchez, didn’t have a normal childhood. Spain had been ravaged by a civil war while she was a teenager. Families were torn apart, children lost their parents or were shipped overseas against their will. Pillar had been forced, as many young women were, to work at makeshift hospitals, cleaning bandages, assisting in amputations, and sweeping up the pieces of soldiers that littered the floor.

Soon after the war was over she managed to get work at the Spanish embassy as “the help,” cooking, cleaning, sewing, whatever was needed. In 1945, she was brought over to the United States by a group of ambassadors. Despite the change of scenery, Pillar’s life stayed the same. Since she did not speak English and since the embassy kept her passport under lock and key, she did not have much contact with the outside world.

Fate intervened. My grandmother met my grandfather, Adalberto Canata, at an embassy banquet. Adalberto was the military attaché for Paraguay and a West Point graduate. Pillar was an embassy servant. As she was setting the table for the banquet, he fell in love.

Six months later they were married and shortly after had my mom. Life was good. Then in 1954, Alfredo Stroessner took power in Paraguay and declared himself dictator. My grandfather was going to lead a coup and wanted to take Pillar and my mother with him. Pillar had seen enough war for a lifetime and didn’t want my mom to go through that, so they stayed in DC while my grandfather left for Paraguay. The coup failed but my grandfather’s popularity in Paraguay prevented Stroessner from killing him. Adalberto would spend the rest of his life under house arrest. Pillar would never see him again.

Pillar was now an immigrant single mother working in the United States. Despite how hard she worked, she could not adequately care for my mom, so she sent her to Spain with another embassy worker. My mom was 2 years old. The worker told Pillar that little Ana Maria cried almost the entire time she was on the plane. My mother still has a fear of airplanes.

My grandmother would send for my mother many times but would then have to send her back to Spain to live with her family due to economic conditions. This instability in my mom’s life made it hard for her to have roots in Spain or in the United States either one. At age 23, my mother finally decided to stay in the United States. Even though she was born a citizen, she has always felt like a foreigner. Here she met my father, Jose Arnulfo Moreno, himself an immigrant from El Salvador. Here they raised their family.

Pillar eventually saved enough money and retired in Spain. My mom would visit her there and Adalberto in Paraguay. I only met them when I was a year old. They have both since passed away.


Arnulfo recently wrote about hunger and poverty as the motivation for his father’s journey to the United States. Migration stories are usually more complex than we assume. Today,  hunger, poverty, and violence are the root causes driving children and their families to flee Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. You can help change the narrative. 

Call (800-826-3688) or email your U.S. representative and your U.S. senators! Simply say: I urge you to respond to the surge of unaccompanied children crossing the border. Please pass legislation that addresses the conditions of poverty, hunger, and violence in Central America that are forcing them to leave.

Arnulfo Moreno is the media relations specialist at Bread for the World.



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Thank you, Arnulfo, for putting faces, names and stories together in a way that helped me see the tremendous challenge for children and youths from Central America.

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