In the civil war in El Salvador, my parents would often hear gunshots, sirens, and bombs going off all night and see dead bodies on the side of the road the next day. One night, my father had a gun pointed to his head by the military when he walked home after curfew. And a lot of people just ‘disappeared’ forever, including my aunt, who was a union member at the factory she worked at. But one of the things that most worried my parents was that children walking home from school could be picked up by either the military or the guerillas and put in the death squad.
Although they were both studying at university, they gave that up to come to Australia, so that we kids could have a better future. As soon as our humanitarian visa was approved, they had to sell all of our belongings quite quickly and get on a plane to Canberra, a place where they didn’t know anyone or even speak the language. Luckily, we had a warm welcome from the church, who took us to a house furnished with everything we needed, and helped us settle into Australia. At that time, I was 3.
My dad’s first job in Australia was as a waiter at the Rex Hotel in Canberra. Coming from a tropical country, he really wasn’t used to the cold of winter, and said he would freeze in the mornings! He also found the work exhausting.
As a result, he started looking for other jobs, but without success. Then, one day he was walking past a Mazda dealership, and decided to go in and ask for the guy in charge. That guy happened to be David Rolfe, who owns the entire Rolfe Motor Group. Dad said, ‘I need a job. I’ve just come to the country and I need to be around people who speak English. I’ll do anything. I’ll sweep the floor, I’ll do whatever it takes but just give me an opportunity.’ And David did. He gave my dad an opportunity.
Dad actually did start by sweeping the floor, but over time, he progressed, and he is now the manager of the spare parts area. I basically grew up in the Mazda dealership. David has known me since I was a little girl – I still remember him being there every Christmas when the Rolfe Motor Group would give all the kids presents. He even gave me receptionist work while I was at university. Our family is very grateful to him.
My mum ended up working for the Australian Federal Police in the criminal records section, but when we were growing up, she worked as a cleaner, cleaning rich people’s houses. In El Salvador, she had worked for one of the big banks, so I think it was a struggle for her – to go from having her own office to cleaning people’s houses. I remember saying to her, ‘Mum, one day I’m going to look after you and you’re going to have a house like these people have,’ and she said, ‘Well, if you study and work hard, one day you can look after yourself’.
My parents really valued education because they hadn’t been able to finish university themselves. Somehow, they were able to put the three of us through private high school, as well as saving up for a house, which just amazes me. As a result, we all did well academically and went on to university. For me now, it’s one of the biggest things to provide not only for my own family, but also for my parents – to be able to give back to them a tiny fraction of what they gave to us through their sacrifices.
My parents now live in a beautiful home, 5 minutes from mine. We’re extremely close, and get together every Saturday for a traditional Salvadoran breakfast. My husband is considered our ‘adopted Salvadoran’. He was supposed to go back to Fiji after he finished his degree here, but then he locked eyes on me and that was the end! Now we have 2 little boys who we call ‘Fiji-doreans’.
We all feel so blessed to be able to walk down the street and not have the fear that someone will be killed, or that our children will be taken away from us, to have the freedom to speak whatever language we want, or practice any religion. No-one here looks at us strangely because my husband is darker than I am. Everyone just embraces it, and says, ‘I love your skin colour, or I love your language.’
I’ve never experienced anything here other than positivity. That’s the thing that I love about Australia, that we’re so multi-cultural, everyone is accepted.
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