The Banda El Salvador youth marching band traveled from Central America to California by bus to march in the Rose Parade. The group was unable to fundraise enough money to take the 5-hour flight and instead traveled by land for almost one hundred hours to Pasadena.

The more than 200 members of the band left El Salvador before Christmas and spent the day far away from their families. At midnight on Christmas eve the buses pulled over at a gas station in Mexico so band members could hug and celebrate the holiday.

While most members of the band left their parents and siblings back home in Juayúa and Sonsonate El Salvador there others who would reunite with family upon arriving in Los Angeles.

Salvadoran newspaper La Prensa Grafica reported one of the most emotional moments on the day the buses arrived in Los Angeles was when band member Nancy Valdez reunited with her father Ismael after 16-years of not seeing each other.

“When I got the surprise that I would travel [to the U.S.] I felt super emotional and I said I’ll finally meet my dad,” Nancy told Estrella TV.

Nancy’s father, seen in the video at the top of the page, said he left El Salvador when his daughter was three to “venture” for a better life.

KPCC’s Adolfo Guzman-Lopez also reported he met families that were reconnecting after years of not seeing each other:

The band’s trip to march in the Rose Parade has also led to emotional reunions with family they’ve not seen in years.

Twenty-year-old clarinet player Nelson Hernandez saw his older brother for the first time since he came to the US to study and work 12 years ago.

“It was perhaps one of the most beautiful experiences in my life,” he said.

Hernandez says his brother is more like a father to him because he sent money to pay for Hernandez’s college tuition.

Andres Trigueros plays saxophone. His father left El Salvador 14 years ago to look for work in Los Angeles. This trip’s only the second time he’s seen him since.

“I’ve felt his absence a lot,” Trigueros said. He keeps in touch with his father through social media.

Despite the happy endings the group has received criticism for putting the band through a grueling 120-hour trip by land.

bus-ride-salvador.jpg Band members rest on the road trip from El Salvador to Pasadena, California. (La Prensa Grafica/Víctor Peña)

“We have received a lot of criticism because we brought the band by ground transportation, but sometimes you have to do what you can with what you have. We would have liked to bring them by plane and host them in a hotel, but we can not,” Edgardo Moreno, the coordinator of the band told La Opinion.

An estimated 1.8 million Salvadorans resided in the United States in 2010, according to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. Salvadorans are the fourth-largest population of Hispanic origin living in the United States, accounting for 3.6% of the U.S. Hispanic population in 2010. The majority of Salvadoran immigrants in the U.S. are in Southern California (36%), and throughout the South (40%), mostly in Texas (13%).

J.R. Martinez, the Salvadoran-African-American actor and former U.S. Army soldier, became the first biracial Grand Marshall at this year’s Tournament of Roses Parade.

You can watch Banda El Salvador marching in the 2013 Tournament of Roses Parade below.

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