Their journey to the United States from their home country of El Salvador is slightly different from the stereotypical, “climb the ladder of success to homeownership” definition a lot of us have.
“For me, the American dream is to have freedom, not to have things,” David Cea explained. “It’s the freedom to go wherever I want. … If I want to go out at midnight for a coffee, I can do that.”
When they tell their story of becoming naturalized citizens, it involves leaving some of the nightmares of El Salvador for the dream of America.
“My wife was kidnapped right in front of me,” David said. “She was alone in El Salvador and the civil war was really bad. Three times the rebels took everything. They treated her (badly), almost killed her, looking for money and other things.”
In Mexico, David was chased and shot at during one of his five driving trips to El Salvador and back between 1986 and 1989. But the final straw for the couple, who were married in 1984, was when Carolina was in the car in front of David at a stoplight, and a rebel opened her car door and got in the backseat. She was abducted, robbed, and then released.
“That was the moment my wife decided to move to the U.S.,” he said. “She wasn’t excited to come here (before that) because she’s the oldest of four kids and after her mom passed away she was the ‘mom’ of the house.”
When David first got his green card in 1982 he arrived in Cudahy, California, near Bell Gardens, where he said he spent time “working, working, working.”
“You don’t know the system, you don’t know the language,” he described. “You have to start working and you don’t have an education.”
David returned to El Salvador in 1984 to get married and stayed until 1986, when the family lived part of the time in both countries.
Not only did the Ceas immigrate legally, they continue to share the dream with family members.
“It takes over 12 years,” David said of the process to obtain a green card.
David and Carolina’s nephew, Ricardo, is returning to San Salvador next month after living with them for two years. Carolina’s sister and her family recently arrived, hoping to stay and become naturalized citizens as well. This Christmas, the Cea’s home will add one more couple to the mix when Ricardo’s parents arrive.
David and Carolina settled in Canyon Country, where they have lived in the same house for more than 20 years. Their son and daughter, Josue and Ana, grew up attending Mitchell, Sierra Vista Junior High and Canyon High School. They both attended College of the Canyons and graduated from California State University, Northridge. One of their grandchildren, Andrew, now attends Mitchell as well.
“One of the reasons we came to Canyon Country is it’s a better place to raise my kids,” he said. “We found it’s not a perfect city, but way better than most of L.A.”
David is the ninth of 10 children and currently has three sisters, one brother and his 98-year-old mother living in the United States. He became a U.S. citizen in 1996 and Carolina in 1999.
David is the pastor of Spanish Ministries at Grace Baptist Church in Saugus and described his congregants as immigrants from approximately 15 countries in Latin America.
“They all really appreciate this country,” he said. “They are trying to live, enjoy and reach some goals,” he said. “We’re looking for something we don’t find in our country — freedom, peace, a job, and honesty.”
David agrees that many natural-born Americans take it for granted.
“I teach that we come to be a better citizen, to contribute to society and to the economy. This country has been wonderful. It’s not perfect, but it’s a lot better,” he said. “For me, it’s a blessing to be here.”