By Jackie Bueno
This year, the Restorative Justice blog is highlighting community leaders from the Central American community at Cal. Because the voices from the Central American community often are underrepresented in U.S. media, our Center recognizes the importance of uplifting voices like these.
To learn more about CAFÉ, see this link here!
For this topic, we’re highlighting various leaders from Central Americans for Empowerment (CAFÉ), such as Enrique Marroquín, a Cal alumni and former member. Enrique is now the Director of Experience Berkeley Transfer. Enrique is a Salvadoreño and has an amazing and rich experience about emigrating to the U.S. with his family.
Here’s my interview with Enrique:
Jackie: Tell me which part of Central America you’re from and where you grew up.
Enrique: Soy guanaco, bicho, un cipote. My family is from El Salvador, specifically from Las Cabañas, which neighbors Honduras. I grew up in L.A. in Highland Park. For a long time, my family lived in Echo Park, where there were as many as 16 people living in a one-bedroom apartment on Douglas Street.
After a few years, we ended up moving to Highland Park and ended up renting an apartment there. Although everyone moved, we stayed relatively close to each other. Growing up, I was raised by my Abuela, Mamá Tey, my bisabuela, and Mamá Carmen.
Jackie: What are the key aspects of Central American culture that you grew up with?
Enrique: Well, one thing that stuck true and was really important for me was bread; it is sacred in my household because both Mamá Carmen and Mamá Tey used to bake delectable sweets and just plain bread. I have this deep appreciation for pastries because of them.
Another thing I find important value is family. Because we’re refugees, there’s a strong importance to keeping family as close as you can because for some time, that wasn’t the case.
Another aspect of my Central American identity are plants and herbs. My family is still tied to their indigenous roots. I remember picking leaves from trees, so that we could make different kinds of mixtures for different reasons. My bisabuela was a healer in the community, and I remember people screaming with their pains coming to see her and receive treatment.
Also music. I know that’s pretty ambiguous, but there’s a song that whenever we would cry or there would be something loud, song was really important. My Grandma would sing whenever someone passed away. We liked to sing collectively or in general. The sense of song, the sense of music. You know the song — it’s supposed to mimic your heartbeat.
It starts off like…(imitates sound of a heart beat with hisses*)
Tap your hand to mimic that of a heartbeat. You do it when a child is under distress (Sings song)
“Este niño quiere que le cante yo. Cucarukuku, cucarukuku”
(Returns to speaking)
That was a very common song in my household. It was used to soothe us in case there were loud things.
You know, my Dad told us a story where someone started shooting at a bus that both him and Mamá Carmen were inside of. He then proceeded to tell the story by saying that he saw a coin on the floor. Had he not seen the coin on the floor, he would’ve been dead. When he looked up, it was the driver that had a bullet through his head. That kind of violence transfers over (to the U.S.); some of my relatives went through trials and tribulations beyond measure.
Jackie: And how did you get involved with CAFÉ?
Enrique: I was somewhat involved in Raíces and other Chicanx/Latinx organizations, like Chévere. However, I became involved with CAFÉ because it was something I hold near and dear to my heart. I have never been a part of an organization that celebrated my Central American identity — it was a first. I got involved because a good friend of mine, Kevin, had recruited me. I love how much CAFÉ has grown since its early stages.
I got involved because I was never really involved in an organization where I really discussed my Central American identity, unless I was at home or with the three or so other Central American kids at my elementary, middle, or high school. There were like 3, maybe 4 of us (Central Americans). We grow up in a very Mexican-centric educational system, where we’re taught the history of US-Mexico border relations, instead of the way in which U.S. imperialism and colonialism have impacted Central America.
What I grew up with with was community, so when I met other Central Americans at Cal, it was nice and magical.
Jackie: Why do you think Central Americans are invisible?
Enrique: Well I think that Central Americans are invisible because of the intense xenophobia and racism, even within our own countries. There’s a lot of anti-indigenous, anti-blackness, white-washing, and colorism of our communities — also not owning our own histories, but I think our geographical size in comparison to Mexico and South America might have something to do with it as well. We are a region that has been heavily exploited for our resources and silenced for our opinions of governments.
The invisibility also has to do with our intense histories. The fact that colonizers came in and stole many of the resources in Central America.
Jackie: Do you think the invisibility is political?
Enrique: Yes. The U.S. does not hold itself accountable for things such as School of the Americas, its imperialistic tendencies, and collaborating with the corrupt governments that influence and shape our policies. If you make people invisible, you don’t have to deal with the multiple nuances that address societal injustices and the violation of human rights. If you paint a picture of U.S. soldiers coming in, it paints a picture that America’s a hero, that America is coming to save us in the name of grace. It’s certainly tied into unjust policies and a rich history of imperialism and colonialism.
Jackie: How do you think RJ can help address the issues that Central Americans face?
Enrique: I think one way the Restorative Justice could really help is to make sure our voices are heard. For example, you coming to me to hear my voice — from one Central American to another. At the crux of it all, all we ask is just to be heard, so our stories can be heard for generations to come.
That’s the most honest answer — so we can be heard. The U.S. and other powers have made it clear to deny our voices and homogenize us. We’re people of dreams, of hopes, of aspirations, of beauty, of soul. That’s what we are, and that’s all we ask to be seen, to be heard. Things like being interviewed. It’s awesome. It’s cool to be represented in something.
So as long as we’re recognized and respected for our humanity and dignity as a people, then things will start to change.
Jackie: Anything else?
Enrique: I know that being a Central American at Cal, also comes with dealing with the past — our history. And well, sometimes that history is so hard to internalize. It’s really, really, really hard. So I guess I want to leave a message for other Central American Golden Bears and the next generation of students — know that it’s okay to seek out mental health resources and that healing is an important part of the journey.
They don’t want us to heal. They don’t want us to find a way to mend the wounds in our communities. When you come here, know there’s a community that cares and wants to see you thrive and succeed. And even when you think you might be alone, you’re not.
Jackie Bueno is a senior at UC Berkeley studying Sociology. For further inquiries or if you would like to be featured, please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.