“Summit of the Americas” a daily reality on the streets of Los Angeles

By Javier Romualdo and Guillermo Azabal

Los Angeles, Jun 4 (EFE).- Immigration, the focus of next week’s Summit of the Americas here, is an inescapable fact of life in Los Angeles, and the overwhelmingly Hispanic neighborhood surrounding the hall where the leaders will meet reflect the problems of the hemisphere, from inequality to gang violence.

Not far from the Los Angeles Convention Center is a cluster of money-transfer spots used by Pico-Union residents to send remittances to family across Latin America.

One of the largest national contingents is that of Salvadorans, who began coming here in large numbers during the 1980-1992 civil war in their homeland.

Pico-Union includes what the El Salvador Corridor and some locals refer to the area as the Central American nation’s 15th province.

In the 1980s, Pico-Union witnessed the evolution of Mara Salvatrucha (also known as MS-13) from a group that protected Salvadorans from Mexican, Asian, and African American gangs into one of the most brutal criminal organizations in the Americas.

“It’s a city with many opportunities for someone who wants to get ahead. Latinos and immigrants form a very important part of the city’s economy,” Brenda Montoya, a merchant in the El Salvador Corridor, tells Efe.

It was more than 30 years ago that Montoya’s parents settled in Los Angeles County, where nearly half of the 10 million residents identify as Latino and 36 percent are foreign-born, according to United States Census data.

Like so many others, the Montoya family opened a business.

But last month, on the eve of a Summit of the Americas whose mission statement is “Building a Sustainable, Resilient, and Equitable Future,” municipal authorities shut down the El Salvador Corridor, citing ostensible concerns about health and safety.

“They evicted all the vendors to beautify the sidewalk. Right now, there are more than 100 families in our neighborhood who have been left without income,” Montoya says, pointing out that street-vending is legal throughout LA County.

Located on the other side of town from the convention center is Boyle Heights, home to most of the 4.5 million “Chicanos” who make Los Angeles second only to Mexico City in the number of Mexican-born inhabitants.

The heart of the neighborhood is Mariachi Plaza, a gathering place for musicians looking to get hired, while El Mercadito (The Little Market) brings together taquerias, food stands, and shops selling religious icons and other traditional Mexican products.

Tere Fuentes, who sells footwear at El Mercadito, credits help from the “Mexican brotherhood” and personal struggle for the success she has found in Los Angeles.

She says that she hopes to make the path easier for those who follow, such as Rebeca, a university graduate from the western Mexican state of Sinaloa who came to California four years ago.

“When you come, you have the idea that you will make a lot of money if you work hard and you will be able to go back (to Mexico) to start a business, but that’s not how it is,” she tells Efe at the cantina in El Mercadito where she waits tables.

Fear of the crime they left Mexico to escape keeps many from returning, she says.

Yet even those who decide to stay remain connected to loved ones back home.

Last year, Mexican expats in California sent more than $16 billion to their homeland in the form of remittances, according to Mexico’s central bank.

“I have always tried to support my family as much as I can,” Tere says. EFE romu-gac/dr

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