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Stories

EL SALVADOR

Fernando Llort, born in 1949 in San Salvador, is a renowned artist celebrated for his vibrant and distinctive contributions to the world of art and culture. His work has left an indelible mark not only in El Salvador but on the global stage.

Llort's artistic journey began in the 1970s when he moved from San Salvador to La Palma and fostered a new wave of artistic expression. His work was profoundly influenced by the Mayan and indigenous cultures of El Salvador, blending traditional symbolism and bright colors into a unique and captivating style.

In the 1970s, he opened workshops and started teaching the people of La Palma how to make a living from making art. This was the beginning of an artisan movement that eventually turned La Palma into a tourist spot in ElSalvador. However, Llort and his family left La Palma in the early 1980s due to the civil war, moving back to San Salvador where he continued to advance his artistic career.

 

Llort's art is characterized by a focus on nature, community, and spirituality. He often used simple, childlike forms that radiated a sense of innocence and joy. His commitment to promoting a sense of unity and cultural identity through art was instrumental in the post-civil war reconstruction and reconciliation efforts in El Salvador.

In 1997, Llort is contracted to build a mosaic around the opening of the Metropolitan Cathedral of San Salvador, which he considered to be "the most important project in his artistic career." The mosaic adorned the church for nearly 14 years, before an archbishop decided to destroy the mural in 2011. Of this Llort said, "The destruction of that work by the same Church is the saddest thing that's ever happened to me."

Llort passed away in 2018. His work continues to be featured in galleries and collections worldwide, and he remains a beloved figure in the Salvadoran and global art communities.

Fernando Llort's legacy as an artist and cultural ambassador is deeply embedded in the cultural fabric of El Salvador. His dedication to using art as a tool for social transformation and unity has left an enduring mark, making him an inspirational figure for artists and art enthusiasts alike.

Learn more about Llort here.

See CAHAAS exhibit here.

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El SALVADOR + San Francisco

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This is Tía Amalia, a Salvadoran-born WWII nurse who lived and worked in San Francisco in the 1940s caring for soldiers returning home from the war. She was part of a group of minority nurses allowed to join the U.S. labor force to alleviate the nurse shortage during WWII. On July 1, 1943, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law the legislative act that prohibited discrimination based on race, color, or creed that opened doors to many American and foreign-born women to start new careers. María Amalia Felicitas Chilín Castro was born on July 15, 1911 in Santa Ana, El Salvador to Paula Chilín and Cipriano Castro. She had three known siblings, and the youngest, Julia Chilín, was also a nurse in El Salvador. They both worked at the Hospital Rosales during the dictatorship of General Maximiliano Hernandez Martínez. Tía Amalia moved to San Francisco on October 9, 1943. Within 10 years of living in San Francisco, Tía Amalia became ill. Family members remember her suffering from epileptic seizures but an official diagnosis remains a mystery. Her 90-year-old nephew recalled a time when she donated “100 beds to a hospital in San Salvador.” She was remembered as a kind and generous woman. She never married or had children. In 1954, she stayed for good in El Salvador under the care of her brother, Genaro, and lived out her last years in a hospital, where she died on November 7, 1974. She lived to serve others, including U.S. soldiers returning home from WWII.

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El SALVADOR

Family names give clues to our Indigenous heritage. This is Teresa Chilin. Her surname originates from Izalco.

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GUATEMALA

In the late 19th century, the city of Jutiapa—Náhuatl for river of flowers—in Guatemala became the birthplace of a spiritual healer, Francisco José García. Like the Mayan ah-men, Mr. García helped his community overcome illnesses.

 

Today his great-granddaughter, Natalie Saldarriaga, with only a single photo of her great-grandfather, works to recuperate his healing contributions and tell his story.

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NICARAGUA

A fashion archivist finds a part of herself when researching traditional garments from Bluefields, Nicaragua -- a multi-ethnic population of African descendants.

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COSTA RICA + California

In San Jose, CA, Belen Quezada, daughter of an affluent Costa Rican coffee grower, was shot by her stable boy in College Park. 1911 headlines read "Daring Vaquero was crazed..." and "Ugly Demon of Jealousy..."

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GUATEMALA + US

Overlooked histories of the marginalized and minorities obscures our understanding of the past. We find that significant achievements and contributions of women are frequently absent from textbooks and the media. This is evident in labor history where the contributions made by women, particularly women of color, are sidelined or overshadowed by their male counterparts. One of these women of color is labor and civil rights activist Luisa Moreno. She was a labor leader with many successes for workers and significantly improved the living conditions of the most vulnerable across our nation during the Great Depression.

Luisa Moreno (born Blanca Rosa Rodríguez López; 1907 - 1992) was an astute US labor and civil rights activist. She was born in Guatemala and immigrated to the United States in 1927 with her husband and child. They lived in the neighborhood known as Spanish Harlem, where a tragic incident with a poor mother and child re-awakened her need to empower laborers to improve their living conditions.

As a labor leader, she negotiated with major corporations on behalf of the men and women seeking fair wages and more. She became the first Latina elected to the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), becoming its first woman and Latino member. In 1941, she was VP of the United Cannery, Agricultural, Packing, and Allied Workers of America (UCAPAWA) helping workers gain significant advancements towards their working conditions, wages, and benefits.

Her work in civil rights also left an enduring legacy with the founding of the 1939 El Congreso de Pueblos de Hablan Española (National Congress of Spanish-Speaking Peoples) that became the first national civil rights assembly for Latinos in the United States, and enabled her and other activists to form a defense committee to exonerate the indicted youths in the Sleepy Lagoon murder case–motivated by race discrimination against Mexican teenagers.

Moreno left the United States in 1950, as the "red scare" movement gained power and she was threatened to be deported based on her communist party ties. However, she has been mentioned as a change agent for laborers’ rights alongside Emma Tenayuca, Dolores Huerta, and Cesar Chavez. This comparison is important because there is so little written about Moreno. 

Learn more here.

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El SALVADOR

Portraits and archives of Ciudad Barrios, circa 1939 by David H. Portillo.

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HONDURAS + EL SALVADOR

The mystery behind the portrait of Juan Pablo Wainwright. Read more

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El SALVADOR

LGBTI communities have been historically marginalized around the world, and El Salvador is no exception. Amaral Arévalo unfolds part of the life of Juliana Martinez: a Salvadoran trans woman in 1940.

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EL SALVADOR + California

In 1857, around the Gold Rush, a Salvadoran submitted for publication in a Spanish-language newspaper, an open-letter about his broken heart and life in California.

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