San José Las Flores, El Salvador

In 1986, a small group of Salvadoran families being held in a refugee camp in San Salvador decided to return to their community of origin — the rural village of San José Las Flores — with the help of the Catholic Church and international solidarity efforts. These civilian peasants had fled their homes many times in reaction to raids and killings by the military. Because the U.S. government supplied the money for the military ($1.8 million a day for 12 years), the community had the idea to reach out to a U.S. city as a partner to bring attention to their situation and offer protection. Cambridge was home to many Salvadorans and to faith-based and secular groups opposed to U.S. intervention, and so a sympathetic city council was approached. In March 1987, the link was made official. When 11 members of the community were captured by the military a month later, telegrams and calls from city officials and residents to the US embassy resulted in their safe release.

This initiative was formalized in 1989 as the Cambridge-El Salvador Sister City Project. Initial delegations from Cambridge focused on taking aid and messages to the community (which was cut off by the military) and bringing home stories of the conditions under war. Delegations included clergy and church members, health workers, and Central America activists. Delegates created a series of slide shows and a video to dramatize the conditions under war and the struggle of the community to live in peace. These images enlightened students and neighborhoods to the beauty and resiliency of Salvadorans and spurred many to try to end U.S. government support for the war.

With the end of U.S. aid, the Peace Accords were signed in 1992. Some of the delegations since that time focused on support and learning about preserving self-determination in the face of economic privatization and participation in fair elections. A second focus has been teacher delegations drawn to the community-based popular education in San José Las Flores. Cambridge teachers have worked with San José Las Flores classes exchanging letters and materials from Cambridge students and new ways of teaching. Third, eight delegations have gone to San José Las Flores which has included high school students. These youth have met with youth in the village and developed a joint network called VIVA. Recent delegations have also included Salvadorans living in Cambridge as a way to bridge the information and geographic divide. Advocacy and education efforts have focused on human rights, resistance to environmentally destructive mining, immigrant rights, and electoral observation in support of democracy and justice.

The Cambridge-El Salvador Sister City Project is a member of the U.S.-El Salvador Sister Cities Network — a grassroots organization of U.S. citizens and residents who have ongoing partnerships with small rural communities in El Salvador.  Those partnerships began in 1986 as a citizen-based response to the U.S. intervention in El Salvador’s civil war. Today, seventeen sister cities from across the United States are paired with Salvadoran communities in six of El Salvador’s fourteen provinces through our sister organization, the Association for the Development of El Salvador, CRIPDES.

For more information or to get involved in the Cambridge-El Salvador Sister City Project, contact James Wallace at 617.864.6047 or jimwallace141@gmail.com.

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