STOCKTON — When Victoria Moreno left San Salvador, El Salvador, to immigrate to the U.S., she didn’t know anything about her future home.

What she did know was that she was ready to leave her crime-ridden hometown.

“I jumped and I said, ‘Yes, I want to go over there,’” she said of learning about her parents’ decision to migrate from Central America to the U.S.

The then-18-year-old had twice been the victim of a strong-arm robbery on her way to school, and gang violence was escalating.

“I was scared, and I didn’t want to live my life like that,” said Moreno, a 35-year-old single mother of three.

And it wasn’t just the street violence she remembers or wanted to leave behind. Moreno lived through El Salvador’s 12-year Civil War.

“(The Government) had curfews imposed. We had to be home by 7 p.m. and maybe two hours later you’d see airplanes with bombs and the tanks in front of my house,” she said. “It’s traumatizing.

“The reason (her parents) decided to come wasn’t because of the money or because money was tight. It was because of the safety.”

Moreno, her father, mother and younger brother were able to leave El Salvador in 2000 after obtaining green cards through Moreno’s aunt who petitioned for her siblings, which included Moreno’s dad. The family of four first arrived to Los Angeles, where family awaited them, but moved to Tracy soon after when her father secured employment.

Starting a life in the U.S. was a challenge for Moreno, who knew no English, but she was determined to learn the language. Her first job as a waitress at a senior facility in Tracy allowed her to practice her understanding of English, but it wasn’t always a pleasant experience, she said.

Moreno recalled a resident of the senior facility being critical about her inability to speak English not realizing that Moreno understood her.

“I couldn’t say anything back because I wasn’t fluent in English, but I understood everything she had said,” she said. “That was motivation for me to keep going.”

Moreno has since earned a high school diploma at Tracy Adult School, graduated from San Joaquin Delta College in 2006, and in 2012 earned her bachelor’s degree in human services and management from the University of Phoenix.

Her parents, who were both career professionals in El Salvador, always emphasized that education was important to have a better life, she said. And although it was difficult because of the language barrier, she did not want to quit. Moreno added that she always knew she would be pursuing a college degree.

For more than three years, Moreno has held multiple positions at Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Stockton, where she was recently recognized with the organization’s inaugural Mission Spirit Award. She is currently a certified enrollment counselor and outreach worker. Prior to that, she worked for El Concilio.

Although Moreno initially studied business and accounting, she said her work making home visits for El Concilio while she was pursuing her degree made her realize “this is what I want to do. I want to help people,” which is why she plans on continuing to work for nonprofit agencies.

Sixteen years after arriving in the U.S., Moreno said neither she nor her parents have any regrets about their decision to leave El Salvador or becoming U.S. naturalized citizens.

“I felt like this is my home,” said Moreno, who was sworn in as a citizen in 2006.

Moreno doesn’t have any interest in moving back to El Salvador, but once it is safe she said she wants to take her children, ages 2, 6 and 7, to visit so they have a sense of who they are, but for now she’s happy being home safe.

— Contact reporter Almendra Carpizo at (209) 546-8264 or Follow her on Twitter @AlmendraCarpizo.