Cindy Von Quednow
This week El Salvador’s new president took office, ending 20 years of governance by the conservative ARENA party. The new president, Mauricio Funes, represents the leftist Farabundo Martin National Liberation Front (FMLN).
I was in El Salvador with my photographer friend to witness and cover the historic presidential election in March.
We walked for what seemed like miles, finally reaching the city square where thousands of people had gathered to participate in the historical moments the country had been waiting for more than 20 years. Unfortunately by the time we arrived, the president elect had just left the stage. He left behind a sea of people chanting his name and words of accomplishment, as faces of happiness, relief and hope surrounded me.
I am not Salvadoran, but I live in Los Angeles, which is one of three Salvadoran rich cities in the U.S. (the other two being San Francisco and Washington, D.C.) and I attend the only school in the nation to offer a bachelor’s in Central American Studies. So, I was swept away that night by the crowd of screaming hopefuls. And yet I couldn’t help but feel slightly skeptical and apprehensive as I realized the tough task Funes was taking on that night.
A former journalist, Funes officially took office as the president of the Republic of El Salvador June 1, and although the victory was quite monumental, Funes, who is the face of the former revolutionary group, will face a rough transition period. He has taken the reigns in a war-torn country that still has very high instances of violence and murder and porous borders due to economic and social inequalities. Such dramatic conditions are the result of decades of U.S intervention and harsh policies of conservative presidents.
As the largest Central American group living in the U.S., Salvadorans send almost $3.5 billion in remittances annually to their home country, of which people back home depend on. However, this doesn’t make up for the separation of families that occurs when mothers and fathers must leave home in search for a better life for their loved ones.
In San Salvador, I met a little girl whose mother lives in Daly City, CA. While her mother sends her everything she desires, she asks her mami to be at her quinceañera party in a couple of years. In Daly City, I met that mother who longs to see her daughter grow up, but understands that it will be years before she is able to do so, as she misses out on those moments every mother shares with her daughter.
I had spent the entire week leading up to the election interviewing Salvadorans about what their country needed. In the weeks prior to my trip, I spoke to Salvadoran immigrants living in Los Angeles about the state of their home country. Many spoke to me about the repressive nature of their beloved El Salvador, and the need for change. Most saw that change in a relatively young everyman.
But what many wonder is if Funes will live up to his expectations as the fresh new face of the smallest country in Central America, the expectations of the thousands of smiling hopeful Salvadorans I witnessed marching through the streets of San Salvador on a late March night, and those countless Salvadoran immigrants that long to be reunited with their families abroad.
The challenge now is to connect with President Obama’s government to first reverse the repressive policies dating back decades and then come up with comprehensive immigration reform plan that would facilitate the unification of families. Then we will all be able to see those smiles, and many more, fulfilled.