Salvadoran-Americans - Happy Hispanic Heritage Month!

Posted by Eric Brightwell, September 16, 2010 11:00am | Post a Comment

Salvadorans on the march

In the US, what the word "Latino" connotes varies regionally. Often, regardless of accuracy, in the southwest it means "Mexican;" in the northeast it means "Puerto Rican;" and in Florida, "Cuban." Indeed, those are the three largest populations of Latino-Americanos in the country, although obviously not the only ones. Each have their own distinct culture, history, and place in America. This entry is about the fourth largest Latino population, Salvadorans.

The flag of El Salvador

The indigenous people of what's now El Salvador are the Pipil. Today, 90% of Salvadorans identify as mestizos, in this case usually meaning of Spanish and Pipil backgrounds. Although only 1% of Salvadorans self-identify solely as Pipil, in reality the percentage is likely higher, but, due to prejudice, many Salvadorans are reluctant to embrace their Native side. 

                               Pipil women                                                                         Pipil Ruins - Chalchuapa

9% of Salvadorans self-identify as white. Most of these are of Spanish descent although there are significant numbers of Salvadorans descended from Albanians, Armenians, Australians, Austrians, Belgians, British, Canadians, Croatians, Dutch, French, Georgians, Germans, Greeks, Hungarians, Irish, Italians, Jews, Norwegians, Palestinians, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russians, Swedes, Swiss and Turks. There is also a small but significant population of Chinese.

Salvadoran-Americans marking El Grito

Nowadays there are roughly 1.6 million Salvadorans in the US (compared to 6 million in El Salvador). The largest Salvadoran community is in Los Angeles, especially the neighborhoods of Little Armenia, Pico-Union, Westlake and Wilshire Center. The largest wave of Salvadoran immigration was in the 1980s, when Ronald  Reagan’s administration funded, armed and trained right wing military death squads resulting in the death of some 75,000 Salvadorans.

The torture, rape and murder of four nuns by members of the US-backed regime became the subject of the documentary, Roses in December. Fleeing the violence, 20%-30% of El Salvador's entire population left, with roughly half coming to the US. The story of US involvement in El Salvador is also the subject of the 2004 film, Voces Inocentes.

Time to make the pupusas

The Salvadorans arrived in the US and transplanted their culture. Most obvious was the cuisine, derived largely from Maya, Lenca and Pipil traditions. Pupuserias popped up with native ingredients like ayote and loroco on their menus. There's also Kolashampan™, Salvadoran-style quesadillas, arrayán, arroz en leche, atol de elote, atol de piña, cemita, chilate, curtido, empanadas de platano, ensaladas (the drink), licuados, marquezote, minutes, pan dulce, panes con pavo, panes rellenos, poleada, salpores, shuco, sopa de pato, torta de yema and yuca frita.

Another highly visible Salvadoran creation is Mara Salvatrucha, whose members often cover their faces in tattoos their neighborhoods with MS-13 tags. The began in Pico-Union in the 1980s, originally to protect new Salvadoran immigrants from black and Mexican hostility. Later they evolved into a violent criminal organization affiliated with Sureños and were depicted in Training Day, Sin Nombre, Mara Salvatrucha - La Nueva Mafia (released in English as Mara Salvatrucha - The World's Most Dangerous Gang), Mara Salvatrucha and Mara Salvatrucha 2.

                                Rolando Molina                                                                         Mari Possa

Salvadoran-American actors face the same obstacles as other Latinos, namely that Hollywood isn't interested in their stories or services. When Latino characters are depicted, major studios tend to go with white Spaniards like Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz rather than brown people. That hasn't stopped Rolando Molina and Mari Possa from pursuing acting careers. 

Music is a bit more open and Crooked Stilo, DJ Keoki, Joey Castillo (drummer for Queens of the Stone Age), Fernando del Valle, Allison Iraheta, Pete Sandoval (drummer for Morbid Angel) and Álvaro Torres are all Salvadoran.

...finally, the requisite, random, cute Salvadoran baby

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El Salvador (2), Salvadorans (1), Central American (3), Spaniards (3), Central America (2), Hispanic Heritage Month (34), Native Americans (12), Salvadoran-americans (2), Salvadoran (1)