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PostEl Salvador Violence and Los Angeles in the 1980s (Evelyn Aleman, USA, 10/17/15 5:58 am)
El Salvador showed up at my doorstep in the early 1980s. I lived in the Rampart area a few miles west of downtown Los Angeles. It was originally a quiet neighborhood, but at the height of the Civil War in El Salvador it (and Pico Union) became the hub for refugees fleeing the war. Practically overnight, hundreds if not thousands of people began to arrive in the area. I'd never seen anything like it--being American-born and bred (as John mentioned during the WAIS Jubilee conference), I just didn't understand what was happening and I'm not quite sure that my parents could either, since they'd arrived in the US in the early 1960s under different circumstances.
Like the 15-year-old teenage girls featured in the NPR story link that Henry Levin provided, I too (at age 15) stayed indoors, afraid of the rise in crime and violence--and the sale of weapons and drugs (by Nicaraguans and Cubans)--in my community. I attended Catholic school and largely traveled from my home to school and vice versa. We had killings on a weekly--if not daily--basis, and I saw young men who'd only recently arrived from El Salvador, begin to join LA street gangs. I saw the rise of the Mara Salvatrucha and growth of the the 18th Street gang right in my own neighborhood. It didn't help at all that we were also living the most corrupt police experience in the history of the LA Police Department, and I believe that the 1992 riots that soon followed were possibly--partly--an aftereffect of the built-up anger and violence of these communities.
In 1988, I traveled with my mother to my grandfather's funeral in El Salvador. I was shocked to find young boys--perhaps as young as 10 years-old--holding heavy rifles about half the size of their bodies along road stops as we made our way to the capital where my family lives. I remember heavy fighting and gunshots in the distance and a curfew imposed on everyone. I remember my sister and I befriending my cousin's neighbor and best friend--a little boy perhaps 13 years old. We later learned that he was shot in the head by a soldier when he looked out of his bedroom window to see a passing helicopter. I don't think that my cousin has ever recovered from this and at the time, I couldn't understand how people could continue their lives under so much violence. When our government started deporting gang members I was relieved about it, but afraid for the people in El Salvador because I knew too well what we were deporting.
Six months ago, I was asked to assist Clinica Monseñor Romero, a free clinic that provides free medical care to the poor and indigent in the areas in and around downtown LA, with publicity toward the anniversary of the death and upcoming beatification of Monseñor Romero, who was assassinated during the bloody conflict. Part of my job involved working with the media to find people among the hundreds who attended an event in the Pico Union area who knew him and were in El Salvador during the conflict. I don't think that I was prepared for the terror and paranoia that still haunts many victims of the war today--mostly women.
I think that Richard's post about the safety of the country in the sixties is like--and I apologize for the comparison--a comparison with the embellished slavery depicted in the book Gone with the Wind and far from reality. It worked for the few in power, but not for the general public.
It's important to note that Salvadorans in their own country and many in the US were affected by our (US) policies in Central America--and continue to be affected by these. I'd like to see the US take responsibility for its interference in El Salvador and help find a solution to this serious conflict that--as Tim Brown rightly stated--we created and continue to strengthen.
JE comments: Many thanks, Evelyn. Ultimately, we could trace the present violence in El Salvador to the proxy war fought between the US and the Soviets in the 1970s and '80s. This is just another example (the first being the Middle East) where intervening in other nations' affairs has unforeseen and seemingly permanent consequences.
I nominate Evelyn's comment for WAIS Post of the Week.