Julio Ricardo Varela: We are now moving on, switching gears a little bit. We’re going to be talking with Daniel Alvarenga, who is the founder of a new site called SalvaCultura. I’m going to let him talk to you a little bit about this and why he did what he’s done. I’m going to bring Daniel on with Julio Ricardo Valera.
Daniel Alvarenga: Hola
Julio: Hey ¿Cómo estás? How are you?
Daniel: I’m good I’m good.
Julio: Thank you for waiting. We had a really intense talk with César.
Daniel: No problem.
Julio: But we have like 15 to 20 minutes to close the show. We’re happy to have you.
Daniel: I’m happy to be here.
Julio: Tell us a little bit about yourself and why you formed SalvaCultura? Because it’s obvious you’re trying to fill a need, a void, and…so tell us what you do and why you formed the page?
Daniel: I’m Salvadoran American and I work in media. I’ve been a Salvadoran organizer, I go to El Salvador all the time for delegations or research and I have a personal blog following on Tumblr, and I post a lot about El Salvador, and I know a lot about El Salvador and I love sharing it. I noticed there was more and more young people, who are trying to find their identity, find their place in United States because we don’t have a big presence in Latin@ spaces. Our diaspora, for just El Salvador, has been the last 30 years. We’re barely coming up, a lot of us are starting to get college educated…we’re trying to find our voice in this country and nothing has been enough as far addressing our concerns— People who are war refugees…our diaspora.. in the sense that the refugee children is not too different from what was happening 30 years ago or 20 years ago. It pains me, and it’s kind of strange how sort of this cultural amnesia that the United States or the media doesn’t really understand why these Central American kids are migrating… like it’s a novel concept to them…but this has been going on forever…and the root causes have been happening for at least 30 years and American involvement in Central America has been going on for at least 100 years..
Daniel: Yeah more than 100 years. It’s kind of baffling to be like now “oh these Central Americans are an issue."
Julio: So, basically, one of the reasons why I asked you to be on this show is that your new page…and you’ve done a lot of things on Tumblr…and you’re seeing a lot of young fellow kids…I’m a 40-something so I can say kids.. younger people from where you’re from El Salvador and Central America… I think you brought up a really interesting point—We’re trying to find our place in this new place considering what has happened in the last 3 decades. And that to me brings the issue of filling a need and understanding that creating these stories… that you can wait for anyone. You don’t need permission, you just do it. So was the unaccompanied minor news, sort of the last straw for you? I would think that for someone who does what you do, you probably thought about doing SalvaCultura for a while… so what drove you to do it now?
Daniel: Honestly it’s been kind of the moment, with the media circle going on around the migrant children. I’ve had this [thought] for a year. The inaugural video which is about the Salvadoran student movement, I actually just timed it for July 30th to commemorate a student massacre in El Salvador that was a pre-cursor to the civil war that was a precursor to the mass migration. It just was very timely, and it needed to happen now. I have support from other bloggers and co-editors that were like “this is the moment to make this, we can’t on BBC, we can’t rely on CNN en Español, Univision to tell our stories…because they’re telling them wrong! Or they’re just not in depth enough.
Julio: So then, let’s talk about those misperceptions, because I think that’s a really interesting point that you brought up. What do you think are the biggest problems with US media portraying Central Americans in Central America? but also the diaspora? both English and Spanish media? because you’re right, I believe right now, the third or fourth most populous group among Latinos are from El Salvador. It’s not only the Univisions it’s anybody, what are those misperceptions? What pisses you off? What drives you? Why do you feel the need to educate? Give us a specific example.
Daniel: I think a lot of it is that, people don’t know what Central Americans are…we get pushed into spaces like “well they’re just like Mexicans”and that we have the same issues, and we’re going to treat their border issue the same. And really it’s like “oh no! these are different people.” We’re finally being sort of differentiated away from other latin@s. We’re not just this sort of sub-group that gets swallowed up in the pan-Latin@ mosaic. There’s been a lot acknowledgement of Central Americans, that they exist, it’s a recent acknowledgement. They just discovered us in some ways. And it’s like you know we’ve been cleaning your houses, we’ve been attending school with your kids, we’re not new! You’re acting like we’re new. At the same time we are new to the landscape, it’s the first time that they’re probably talking about us in some ways in terms of the immigration debate.
I don’t follow a lot media sometimes because it just pisses me off when it’s not from El Salvador or from Central America, but it’s a lot of people, a lot of bloggers, want to use Central Americans and piggy back on their causes. Like there’s undocumented Central Americans of course, but our issues don’t seem to be present. We feed into these Latin@ movements, we don’t have our own space within them to voice our concerns. I can’t even think of a specific reason because there’s just like a lot.
Julio: I think you raised a valid point, right now if you look at from a Latino perspective, whatever you want to say, just look at media. Let’s look at Spanish-language media. It’s one example. If you told me what are the biggest groups being covered, I don’t think of El Salvador. I don’t think of Colombia, well maybe I do think a little bit of Colombia. I think Cuba, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and I think you’re right, Central America is hip for lack of a better because of this quote-unquote crisis. For media, maybe that’s important because it’s a place where you can educate and tell people the truth. I’m assuming that’s what you want to be doing, with the page.
Daniel: Yeah. It’s essentially I don’t want to be the word for it, I want to be the messenger, for the Central American issues that are happening now… like the violence that kids are experiencing is something that our families have dealt with for generations like the gang violence, and migrating because of that, and sending money back because the Mara Salvatrucha is asking our family members for more money, so we have to come up with that money. It’s a conversation we have been having internally forever and it would be nice if we could talk about it too and just have our say in it. We’re the ones most affected by it.
Julio: What you’re saying is when you’re talking about in the community, what’s your sense of it all? What does the diaspora think about what’s going on and how are they trying to address that?
Daniel: I can’t speak for the whole diaspora, I can gage the general sense that there is just a lot of disappointment with how the issues are being discussed and accountability is not there. The accountability of the American government, and the accountability of the Mexican government and how they work in unison to screw us over in the sense of like crossing over… [when] we’re crossing through Mexico, we’re high victims of assault. The Mexican state and the American state kind of work toward deterring us, and kind of terrorizing us and we don’t see enough Central Americans speaking out about that. Like people are analyzing the situation, there was a Whitehouse delegation to Guatemala and they only spent a weekend there. It was covered on like the Daily show or something or John Oliver something and they only spent a weekend there to assess the situation and they came out with some conclusions. Like they only spent a weekend there. And this is the type of paternalistic relationships we have with not just with the American community but also the Mexican-American community. We’re like the fringe issue that can be sort of not be put to the forefront or like not focused on enough. It’s like we don’t feel integrated into the conversation that’s happening in the region. Even the Mexican and American governments are wagging their fingers at us like “keep your people in your country,” and like we can’t keep our people in our countries because of free trade agreements. And we can’t control that. El Salvador is a dollarized economy, the national bank for El Salvador is Washington D.C. So we don’t have any choice for how our destiny goes as far as improving the economy.
Julio: The irony of the United States lecturing… I did notice that irony when you look at the history, when you look at what happened, especially in El Salvador, we’re talking about nations that have always been under the very strong influence of the United States more so than any other country in Latin America. And that’s some something that at least talking to people in the diaspora, they probably see the hypocrisy in a lot of ways.
Daniel: Yeah, totally. El Salvador is actually kind of cooling-down in terms of the refugee thing. That was our stronghold for a while, but the out-migration is now in Honduras. Since El Salvador sort has a leftist-of-center president has been implementing policies and people haven’t been migrating as much as they have in the past. With Honduras, I think the elephant in the room is the 2009 Coup de ’tat that the United States had a big hand in. And the fact that that doesn’t get mentioned at all ever really it’s kind of offensive…
Julio: For the record, we wrote about it. We had contributors write about it twice. We try to cover it, but you’re absolutely right, it took a while for that detail to come out. So where do you see this page going? What do you want to infuse it with? For lack of a better word, what type of stories do you plan to be covering that you think are important?
Daniel: I want to have external conversations as far as the child migrant stories, how the migrating diaspora plays into the United States, but also I want to have internal conversations with other Central Americans because don’t have a lot of space anywhere except the internet to talk about internal issues on how we relate to our culture. I want it to be a political space. I want it to be a space that’s not bound to nationalism, right now the blog is very El Salvador focused because most of our contributors are [Salvadoran], and there’s more Salvadorans in the United States. We kind of want to deemphasize the nation-state, just because as Central Americans and Salvadorans, we sort of lose ourselves in the Latin@ melting pot with all these other bigger nation-states and bigger countries, more influential countries. I think it’s important to have internal conversations and see what our issues are as an isthmus, the Central American isthmus.
Julio: Do you think associating yourself with the whole…because every group from Latin America goes through the same issue...I’m Puerto Rican but I’m also part of a larger… you know you and I probably have a lot more in common based on history, the good and the bad of it, mostly the bad of the history, a common language, a very similar culture. How do you balance that? I guess for me, writing what you’re doing is pretty much exactly telling those real stories and sharing them for people who think would be interested. And it seems like that’s what you want to be doing. I just want to say if you write good pieces, tweet us out. We became Facebook friends, let us know, because we do believe as an editorial group that Central Americans are actually the most overlooked region in English in this type of digital media. When we saw the page we were like: this is exactly what needs to happen. These authentic voices need to come out and tell the story of Central America in a way that will shape perceptions. It might not do it overnight, but it eventually will. I’m thinking that’s your goal.
Daniel: Yeah, and I come at from the internal, I’m doing this for other Central Americans first, these other Central Americans are going to form their opinions from this, and you know they’re going to put it out into the world too. With this site I don’t want to be the word, I want to be the messenger and connect people with their own stories. This country [USA] doesn’t really allow for us to go back and find who we are, how we play into the global structure, they want us to forget that. For me it’s too reach Central American youth and other Central Americans first, because they are the ones that are going to be shaping things from here on out. I think a lot of people who aren’t Central American are interested too, that’s great. People are starting to realize we have things to say, and a lot struggles have parallels with ours and that sort of humanizes our struggle too.
Julio: We wish you the best of luck
To listen to the rest of the show with Cesar Vargas, co-director of the Dream Act Coalition HERE.