Maria Rios was born into what can be described as relative affluence for the small town of Mogotillo, El Salvador.
Her parents, Juan Angel and Reyna Romero, were in farming and ranching—better off than most in the community. "I remember my mother sewing school uniforms for the employees' children and my father buying books for the local kids," Rios recalled.
The life of affluence that Maria knew as a child, however, would soon vanish, as a civil war between rebels and a repressive military regime forced the family to flee El Salvador.
"When I was around 12, I started seeing and hearing things in the news about war and killing and kidnappings," Rios said. "Many people were leaving to escape the violence, and my parents—without telling me or my two older sisters—decided it was time to go."