The whole story behind refugees is that they’re running for their lives.: Becoming Minnesotan

Emiliano Chagil. Minnesota Historical Society, Oral History Office files.
  • Name - Emiliano Chagil
  • Age at interview - 57
  • Gender - Male
  • Generation - First Generation American / Immigrant
  • Date of Interview - 04.07.2010
  • Essential Question

    Becoming Americans: What does it mean to be an American?

    Problems in America: What could have helped this person’s adjustment in the U.S.?

    Words to look for


    Background Information

    Many Latinos in the United States from countries in Central and South America are refugees. They fled their homes because of civil war and violence, searching for a safer place to live.

    To learn more about Latino history and culture, visit our Latino Community page.

    • Chapter 1

    Download Emiliano Chagil 7
    2:25 Minutes | 2.32Mb


    Narrator: Emiliano Chagil (EC)

    Interviewer: Lorena Duarte (LD)

    EC: I’m a U.S. citizen right now and I’m proud of it, but also has taught me, this is a country of laws and rules and regulations and policies and those kinds of things, which for many of us growing up in Guatemala or El Salvador or Nicaragua, rules and regulations, laws, what is that, you know?

    LD: [Chuckles] Yeah.

    EC: Not to blame people not knowing about those things, it’s just because rules and regulations and laws never really work for the poor people. Rules and regulations and laws were for the wealthy people that they were ruling the country. So when we came to this country, talking about laws and other things, it was like, well, what’s in it for me, you know. Why do I have to do that?

    LD: Right.

    EC: So going with the laws and regulations of this country, definitely, it’s still hard for many Latinos to understand. You cannot just cross the border into a country and, ta-da, here I am, you know. You have to go through a lot of things. But also, the sad story about Central Americans, or Mexicans, or any Latinos is that you want to go through the legal process to enter the United States, it can take you from minimum two, three years to five years or ten years.

    LD: Or twenty.

    EC: Or twenty.

    Exactly. So why not just to cross the border which you can do in one day? So that’s the tricky part. And again, I hope the United States one day wakes up and realizes there’s a lot of corruption going on with the laws, especially on the border.

    LD: Yeah.

    EC: And a lot of things going on there. But also the whole story behind refugees is that because they’re running for their lives.

    LD: Yeah.

    EC: They’re running to find a different life, a better life, a better future for their kids. And if you ask parents why did you go through this trouble coming to this country, the first thing they ask, “I wanted a better life, a safer life, and, also, a future for my kids.” And that’s it, which is, ironically and sadly, that's the dichotomy or the paradox about this country. This country supports wars in Central America. At the same time, this country supports a new life for refugees and immigrants who are running for their lives. So which is which?

    Related Glossary Terms


    Noun:  1. A person that is a legally recognized as a member of a state or country, with associated rights and obligations.  2. A person that is a legally recognized resident of a city or town.  3. A resident of any particular place to which the subject feels to belong.


    Noun: A division into or distinction between two groups that differ greatly.


    Noun:  A person who comes to a country to permanently settle from another country.


    Adjective:  1. Relating to the law or to lawyers.  2. Allowed by law.


    Noun: A person or thing that has qualities that seem to be opposites.


    Minnesota Historical Society. Becoming Minnesotan: Stories of Recent Immigrants and Refugees. September 2010. Institute of Museum and Library Services. [Date of access].
    nid: 2187