The Face of the Surge

Categories: People 2014

Can Turkyilmaz
In this week's Dallas Observer we profile 20 of the metro area's most interesting characters, with new portraits of each from local photographer Can Turk. See the entire Dallas Observer People Issue here.

October 2011. Luis Chamagua woke up, showered, ate cereal and headed for school. Typical morning. "I always left early because I wanted to play soccer," Chamagua says, smiling.

A block into his usual route, Chamagua ran into Pablo, his cousin's husband, and Cuca, a close friend. "It seemed strange to me that they were together," Chamagua says. "I thought they wanted to make plans for after school."

Pablo walked toward him with a little grin and then walked away. Cuca shoved Chamagua against a wall, drew a knife and held it to his neck. Chamagua was an above-average student, as his report cards from El Salvador show, and mentored children from around his neighborhood. Joining MS-13, the notorious gang that rules the streets of El Salvador and is sending thousands of kids streaming for the Texas border, was never an option.

What do you want? Chamagua asked.

Someone wants you dead, Cuca said.

He directed Chamagua to the outskirts of the school's soccer fields. He covered Chamagua's mouth and thrust the knife into his throat twice.

Chamagua fell and rolled down into a ditch.

Blood gushed.

Chamagua sat still for five minutes so Cuca would leave him for dead. He felt weak, and for a moment he thought about giving up. But he thought, Why should I die if I do good things?

He stood up and unbuttoned his school uniform oxford shirt and wrapped it around his neck, a tip he picked up from watching Grey's Anatomy. He climbed out of the ditch and managed to get on a bus to a nearby clinic, where doctors and nurses cleaned him up.

An ambulance transported him to a hospital. He suffered two strokes, one of which left his brain without a steady blood supply for four minutes. But he survived.

That winter, Chamagua's mother, who lives in Dallas, paid a lawyer in El Salvador to orchestrate the passage of Chamagua into the U.S., with the help of Los Zetas, the drug cartel that controls some human smuggling through Mexico. He arrived in Dallas, where the Human Rights Initiative helped him win reprieve from the immigration system.

The attack affected Chamagua's motor skills. He has to use a walker to get around now. He sometimes finds himself short of breath. But he's quickly learned English and excelled at North Dallas High. Last year, he took part in the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute's Ready 2 Lead program in Washington, D.C. In April, he was invited to Molina High School as a guest speaker for DISD teachers and administrators. After his speech, Chamagua says several administrators invited him to their schools to speak with students.

Chamagua is still nervous about speaking in front of large crowds, but he makes himself do it, because he knows his message is a positive one.

"Despite everything, I never gave up," Chamagua said. "They shouldn't give up either."

Sponsor Content

My Voice Nation Help

He is a child, who will likely read this article online and unfortunately, the comments. He'll likely be saddened by the warm hillbilly welcome he is receiving in the comments. But since he will likely read:  Keep your head up and keep doing what you are doing. You will no doubt go far in your new country and good for you. Don't let the people who haven't figured out how to make this country work for them get you down. It's really not that hard. Some people want to think that they are being held back. But YOU, you are well on your way.  Keep them in the rear view. You are amazing.

holmantx topcommenter

There about 30,000 Eritrean and Ethiopian refugees in North Texas.

They didn't sneak in.  

Betru Gebregziabher, president of Dallas’ Ethiopian American Chamber of Commerce, sets the number even higher, at closer to 35,000. 


White-guilt propaganda for the Observer's dwindling supply of naive white-guilt-ridden "progressives". I hope you enjoy the horrible future you are helping to create for your kids, Joe Tone. They are going to hate your guts when they grow up and find out what you helped do to this country. Remember me when it inevitably happens! Cheers! Censor this again, I don't care, you will have seen it and you'll never be able to stop thinking about it, especially when your kids grow up and hate you for helping ruin their futures.

TheRuddSki topcommenter

Just to note - the person responsible for the "surge" suffered his 13th unanimous defeat at the SCOTUS. El Presidente Maximo has set a new record for getting bitch-slapped, and he's still got three years to go.

Sharon_Moreanus topcommenter

How does this make him one of the 20th most interesting characters in Dallas?

Getting stabbed by your cousins friend, your mom paying for you to illegal enter the county.

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

What was the basis for the reprieve?

It sounds as if he knowingly violated our immigration laws.

TheRuddSki topcommenter


The surgers aren't sneaking in, they're knocking on the door, we're opening it and making arrangements for their accommodation, medical and legal needs until they can be deemed American by Executive fiat.

joe.tone moderator

@ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul Many of these Central American kids are granted something called special immigrant juvenile status, a provision for kids who have had a parent die or abandon them. Which I'm sure many people don't agree with, but it's the law of the land for now. Some have received asylum, but that's pretty rare. Others are ordered deported but their deportations are delayed until their 18.

holmantx topcommenter


If we declare amnesty to millions, it will collapse our school system, social services and cost Americans jobs.  It will cause three times more to flood across.

That was a quote from 1986, when Reagan granted amnesty.

Today, the Dallas INdependent School District is 97% minority with Hispanics as the dominant one - displacing Blacks from the 1980s.  Graduation rates are through the floor and the system blames bi-lingual problems and drifting population.  It is a major systemic breakdown, everyone agrees.

Parkland is birthing 16,000 babies a year, 75% of which are from mothers illegally in the country.  A acost to the taxpayer of $4 to $6 thousand a pop.  This dynamic has closed 151 public hospitals nationwide.  

The President of the Retired Border Patrol Officers Association was on the the radio this morning and said 95% are now slipping through.  Only 5% are being turned back. BP officers are being threatened with criminal prosecution if the return fire.  It's real bad. He said morale is as low as it has been since their inception.  Ranchers are losing thousands of cattle a year to foragers.  There are places on their ranch they do not go after dark.

Yesterday I asked a 46 year old DPD SWAT officer how was the crime fighting going in our fair city.  He smiled and said, "I'm tired and we are losing.  The citizen has no idea how thin the blue line is right now."

For those of you who think this is a bunch of bullshit, 1986 was 28 years ago.

You don't fucking HAVE 28 years.

For our President has opened the gates and there are 7 Billion on the planet.  6.5 Billion are in various stages of being on the way.

We are being overwhelmed.

TheRuddSki topcommenter


We are being overwhelmed.

That's the whole idea, and it will work

The SCOTUS can barely keep up, but this lawless and extremist administration is on track to become the most bitch-slapped ever.

Interesting back-and-forth at The Volokh Conspiracy on this president's extremism.

...when the president’s position in multiple major constitutional cases cannot secure even one vote on an ideologically and methodologically diverse Court that includes two of his own appointees, it is likely there is something wrong with the administration’s constitutional worldview.

Ya think?

Now Trending

Dallas Concert Tickets

From the Vault