Salvadoran Day celebrates the cultural identity of a community and leads to social justice

Gunfire, economic chaos, and violent repression in El Salvador in the late 1970s prompted many activists to flee their homeland for the United States. Those experiences still resonate for Salvadoran Americans in places like Los Angeles, which became a fascination for a generation in exile from the Central American nation that was plunged into a horrific 12-year civil war.

The resilient spirit of that generation, and its legacy of striving for social justice and united community action, will form the backdrop for Salvadoran Day this Saturday and Sunday, which will unfold at the corner of Normandy Avenue and Venice Boulevard in the heart of the city. American expatriate.

Inaugurated in 1999, Salvadoran Day blends a strong political component with a cultural and religious element in a resounding affirmation of collective identity. Community leaders and left-leaning politicians regularly come for conversions.

This weekend’s activities will include a music festival, typical Salvadoran food, and ending on Sunday a religious procession dedicated to the divine Savior of the world will depart from St. Kevin’s Catholic Church on Beverly Boulevard. This will be followed by a mass similar to that held in San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador since 1525.

While the occasion will be marked in other US cities, Salvadoran Day has a distinctly L.A. pedigree. It was born out of a resolution passed by Congress in July 2006, supported by then-U.S. Representative and current LA County Supervisor Hilda Solis, heeding a request from LA community leaders.

“With Hilda Solis, we did it at the federal level. That’s why it’s celebrated everywhere,” said Isabel “Chabelita” Cárdenas, an activist and co-author of the congressional text.

One particular organization played a central role in the establishment of Salvadoran Day: the Salvadoran American National Association (SANAA), whose members included Cárdenas and Salvador Gómez Gochez, Mario Fuentes, Mario Beltrán, Fidel Sánchez, Werner Marroquin and Ral Mariana. They wanted to create an annual event that would express the traditions and wishes of the Salvadoran refugees who arrived here by the thousands during the war.

Currently, 2.3 million people of Salvadoran descent live in the United States, which is associated with Cuba as the country’s third-largest Latin American-ancestry group after Mexicans and Puerto Ricans. Many are clustered in Los Angeles, greater Washington, D.C., and a few other cities.

“Salvador has made contributions to law, medicine, activism, science and many other disciplines that don’t give us much credit,” said Salvador “Chamba” Sanchez, a professor of political science at Los Angeles Community College who hails from El Salvador. In the midst of the migrant wave in 1982, following Joe’s assassination The Archbishop of San Salvador, Oscar Arnulfo Romeroon 24 March 1980.

Cárdenas, who arrived in LA with her family in 1948 at the age of 9, said that for many years she only knew Salvador that they were relatives. Many Angelenos did not even recognize the country.

“When we said we were from El Salvador, they asked us, ‘What part of Mexico is this in?

She did not begin meeting other Salvadoran citizens until she joined the Committee of Solidarity with the People of El Salvador, which was founded by Juan Ramírios, Ricardo Zelada and Ana Gloria Madriz to condemn human rights violations and help Salvadorans escape the fratricidal. was to provide. The war in which more than 75,000 people died and about 8,000 went missing.

Cardenas also co-founded the Monsenor Romero Clinic in the Pico-Union neighborhood – there are now two facilities, one in the MacArthur Park area and one in Boyle Heights – and the organization El Resquet, which provides health services and legal advice to migrant refugees. . ,

Salvadoran trade unionist Yanira Merino arrived in Los Angeles in 1978, was deported two years later, and returned for good in 1984, when she was 19 years old. Four years ago, Merino, 57, became the first female elected president of the Council of Labor for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA) after more than two decades of organizing workers and serving as the national immigration coordinator at the Laborers International Union of North America. For.

They believe that the “Justice for Janitors” campaign, which was started in 1990 by the Service Employees International Union and involved El Salvador activists and organizers, opened the doors of American labor to Salvadoran workers. .

“That’s where a new leadership emerges,” said Marino, whose organization represents the interests of more than 2 million Latino workers.

In the mid-1990s, Marino organized his co-workers in downtown Los Angeles at Seafood Packinghouse. After six months of struggle they managed to form a union, enter into collective bargaining and obtain a contract that improved their working and economic conditions.

“I was fired twice during that campaign,” Merino recalled.

Many migrants who were persecuted and imprisoned in El Salvador for their union activities brought well-honed organizational skills and a fierce commitment to the growing labor movement of the 1980s and ’90s.

Merino remembers attending union meetings as a child with his parents, who were also active in their community and within their Catholic parish. Before leaving El Salvador permanently, she became involved in the student movement, an experience she took advantage of when she saw working conditions at a packing plant.

“In my home, I saw that one had to organize and unite with the others,” said Marino, who had moved from LA to Washington, DC several years ago.

Celia Lacayo, a sociologist at UCLA, believes that the people of Salvador have “strengthened and improved this society” through their work on social justice issues.

“The efforts of Salvadoran migrants who came out of the conflict in their own country gave more strength to the American labor movement, because they already had experience,” Lacayo said.

Another El Salvador native who came in the midst of the greater migratory wave was Oscar Chacón, who immigrated to New York in 1980 at the age of 18 and joined the Action Committee for the Salvadoran Popular Struggle and Casa El Attended Salvador. Chacon, now 60, moved to Chicago in 2001, where Alianza Americas, a coalition of 59 organizations, is based, and became its executive director in 2007.

Alianza America was originated by the Salvadoran American National Network to support the beneficiaries of the first temporary protected status, granted to Salvadoran migrants by the US government in the 1990s in response to the devastation of the war.

“The great Salvador wave that emerged in the late 1970s and early 1980s was a generation that came with a good foundation of training in organizational processes, and it saw us position ourselves in leadership roles in many areas. Inspired to establish,” Chacon said.

Salvadoran American activists were prompted to act again in January 2018, when then-President Trump announced that he would cancel the TPS affecting about 200,000 Salvadorans. That’s when Evelyn Hernandez joined the Salvador protest and caravan traveling to Washington to raise awareness of the dangers facing the deportees.

“When I started I didn’t even know I could be the voice of our Salvadoran community, which was in the same immigration limbo as me,” said Hernandez, 47. Los Angeles. In her neighborhood, Latino families facing school shortages rallied around a 2004 initiative that resulted in the establishment of at least three new secondary schools. Currently, Hernandez is an organizer and coordinator of the TPS Committee in Los Angeles.

Despite their long record of social justice struggle, the people of Salvador have not gained widespread power in the political arena. Only three Salvadoran women hold elected positions in California: Reyna Díaz, chair of the Duarte School Board; Wendy Carrillo, Lady of the State Legislature for District 51; and Mirna Melgar, a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

And only four others of Salvadoran origin have held political positions in the Golden State: Mario Beltrán, a former city council member of Bell Gardens; Victor Martinez of Mendota in the San Joaquin Valley; and Cecilia Iglesias of Santa Ana; and former State Sen. Liz Figueroa, the daughter of San Francisco-born Salvadoran immigrants.

In metropolitan Washington, DC, Salvadoran women are represented only by Rocio Treminio-López, mayor of Brentwood, MD, and Selina Benítez, mayor of neighboring Mount Rainier, MD. Over the years, six other Salvadoran Americans have held different public positions, such as city council member, school board member, county supervisor, and state legislator.

“We are invisible. The people of Salvador do not have the political and civic sense to participate,” said Ana Sol Gutierrez, 80, who served in the Maryland House of Delegates from 2003 to 2019.

“There are smaller groups of other countries that already have members in Congress, such as Colombians and Dominicans, that have organized and supported candidates with donations, and we are in our infancy,” Gutierrez said.

Political strategist Luis Alvarado believes that a new generation of office-holders is slowly emerging from the ranks of local and state officials and their employees, as well as social justice activists.

“These young, second generation, who are educated in American schools and understand the political process, have the enthusiasm to participate,” he said.

Jesse Acevedo, a political scientist at the University of Denver, said Salvadoran candidates for public office in cities such as Houston and Los Angeles face an uphill struggle competing against long-established Mexican American political networks.

Acevedo, who taught at UCLA from 2015 to 2018, said the fervent social activism that characterizes the Salvadoran community will be key to increasing its political power and influence in the coming decades.

“You can’t talk about Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. without Salvador. This is the result of decades of activism as a foundation,” he said. “We are going to see many politicians of Salvador descent in the years to come. are. It will happen very soon.”

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