Five Reasons I Am Proud of Being Salvadoran in Washington, D.C.

Two years ago, the Pew Research Center stated that Salvadorans were to become the third-largest U.S. Latino group in the United States behind Mexicans and Puerto Ricans. And last summer, Ivan Villanueva wrote an excellent piece about the marginalization first-generation Salvadorans experience despite our growing presence. However, what many people do not know is that geography within the United States, too, can influence the experience of salvadoreños in this country. Just like Miami is known for Little Havana and Puerto Ricans have established their presence in the Big Apple, Salvadorans have steadily been establishing a concrete presence in the nation’s capital. There are currently 262,000 Salvadorans living in the DMV (DC, Maryland and Virginia)—that’s 32 % of the Latino population. As someone who grew up in our own little El Salvador, I can’t help but feel proud of my people for maintaining their culture. So, here are five reasons why I am proud of being Salvadoran en La Capital:


#1: We Are Organizers and We Are Badass at It

In times of tragedía, Salvadorans in DC can be seen organizing ventas de comida or una colecta to help a tío with his much needed operation. With that community minded spirit, Salvadorans in DC have founded organizations like the Central American Resource Center (CARECEN), which provides empowering resources for Latinos in DC. We also helped start La Clínica del Pueblo in 1983 in response to the emergent health needs of the Central American immigrant population displaced by civil wars. Given the small geographical region that DC is, the presence of these organizations and many others is felt within the community.

#2: We Are Claiming Due Recognition

DC is known for its monuments and memorials: people flock to the nation’s capital to gaze at buildings and structures named after extraordinary leaders. But what many people do not know is that in DC, there is also a building named after Monseñor Óscar Romero—the first building named after this Salvadoran leader in the United States who spoke out on behalf of the poor and victims of El Salvador’s civil war. The building is located in Mount Pleasant, a neighborhood where many Salvadorans live and own businesses (this is where you can find lots of your local mercados and pupuserias in DC). To add to the badassery, the building is actually a fire-ravaged apartment building that tenants and residents fought hard to save (see Reason #1).

#3: Our Local Leaders Slay

Yes! We have folks on our home team—heroes doing great work locally. Take Francisco Pacheco, for example. Pacheco is a Lead Field Organizer for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) (which, I might add, is directed by another badass Salvadoran in LA, Pablo Alvarado, who has been called the César Chavez of day laborers). Pacheco’s musical skills and organizing have helped to secure victories for local jornaleros and found Renase, a local cultural organization. Quique Avilés, poet playwright and activist, is another local Salvadoran inspiring many through his work at Gala Theatre, which many consider the country’s leading Spanish-language theater.

We also have Salvadoran politicians like Walter Tejada of Virginia and Ana Sol Gutiérrez of Maryland. DC’s Mayor’s Office on Latino Affairs also recently appointed their first Salvadoran director, Jackie Reyes. We roll deep!

#4: We Have Our Own Latino Festivals (and Take Over All the Others, Too…)

We Salvadorans are cumbia lovers and bring many of our stars to the DC area from El Salvador every year. Stars like René Alonso and Tito Mira, along with bands like Los Hermanos Flores and La Orquesta San Vicente stop by to visit often enough to keep us dancing.

We even have our own festivals like El Festival Salvadoreñisimo, which has attracted around 20,000 people in the past few years. We organize pageants and send Reinas to our carnivals. And no matter how many times we lose, we always fill the soccer stadiums when la selecta comes to play.

#5: We Basically Are All Over the Washington DC Metro Area

This is probably one of the few places in the United States where your Spanish local radio station morning shows include Salvi slang lessons and where you will find that the majority of your high school classmates in Latino enclaves are Salvadoran. You might visit a restaurant that says it sells Mexican cuisine just to discover that Salvadorans are cooking you “Mexican food”—pero sin chile. Mainstream Latino stars like Romeo Santos and Marc Anthony know how to properly roll-call when they are on our turf: “y adónde están los salvadoreños?” We Salvis might not have any mainstream artist touring (yet), but we support all the bachateros, salseros and reggaetoneros that come our way—not to mention that I have heard La SalvadoReina (that’s me) is on the rise.

This is not to say that other strong and vibrant Latino communities do not exist in the DC area. For example, we have the largest Bolivian community in the country. And, of course, with all the embassies, headquarters, local businesses and resources, there is undoubtedly a strong presence of diverse Latinoamericanos. With that, comes sharing and exchanges of the richness (cultura and resistance) that we all bring to the table.

¡Que viva El Salvador y toda la Raza presente en La Capital!


Cindy Zavala is a Salvadoran cumbia aficionado, currently working on her first album, in the Washington DC metropolitan area. She tweets from @lasalvadoreina.

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