The Heart, Soul and Engine Aquiles Maga¤a writes about Salvadorans in the United States and their role in the solidarity movement. During the last 50 years hundreds of thousands of Salvadorans have migrated to the United States, seeking relief from chronic economic crisis and sanctuary from the political violence that engulfed El Salvador for decades. Salvadoran refugees sought to build a new life for themselves, and also politically to challenge the emerging role of the U.S. government in propping up a brutal social order in El Salvador. One of the first waves of Salvadoran immigrants came to the U.S. after the 1932 bloodbath. More than 30,000 Salvadorans were killed in less than a month while demanding better social conditions and protesting a coup d'etat against the reformist civilian president who was introducing modest social and democratic changes. This same year the first link was established in a chain of ruthless military governments that would rule El Salvador for 60 years. During the 1970s, social unrest and the government's political violence dominated the life of El Salvador. To avoid persecution and violence, many Salvadorans decided to leave. In 1979 the civil war exploded and the largest migratory wave in Salvadoran history began. One-fifth of the Salvadoran population left the country and became refugees. Of the estimated one million Salvadorans currently living in the U.S., some 90 percent arrived after 1979. LAND OF THE FREE? Since the very first day of their arrival Salvadoran immigrants learned that survival was not going to be easy. The conditions in many neighborhoods were very similar to those left behind. The words of the country's national anthem had a special meaning for refugees: the U.S. is indeed "the land of the free and the home of the brave," where everybody is free to come but has to be brave to remain. In a short time, Salvadoran immigrants have been able to make important socio-economic and political contributions to their community, as well as to their native country, despite their minimal resources and the language barrier. As soon as Salvadorans arrived they began to tell their personal stories of what they, their friends and family had suffered at the hands of the government. The 1980s were one of the most violent times in Salvadoran history. Between 1980 and 1983 an average of 20 Salvadorans were killed every day by the military and the death squads. By raising public consciousness about the government's violence, Salvadoran refugees hoped to save the lives of those still in El Salvador. Salvadoran refugees were the heart, soul and engine of the most important solidarity movement since the Vietnam era. Through personal testimonies and tireless organizing, strong solidarity and refugee organizations were created. Hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens were persuaded to actively oppose the U.S. foreign policy and military intervention in El Salvador. One of the first national actions carried out by Salvadorans was the 17-day Walk-A-Thon from New York City to Washington D.C. in summer 1983. The lack of legal immigration status, limited English, and inadequate knowledge of the geography of the U.S. did not stop the more than 60 Salvadoran refugees from walking 400 miles to share their tragic experiences with 22 communities on their way to the White House. Religious leaders and church members, elected officials, professionals, industrial and farm workers, school teachers and students, journalists, peace and community activists learned first hand what their government was doing with its deadly investment of almost $1.5 million per day being sent to the smallest country in Latin America. The Salvadorans told stories of opposition activists tortured and killed with sadism and cruelty, piles of beheaded corpses appearing on the main streets of the cities, citizens kidnaped and disappeared by the so-called "Security Forces" and massacres of hundreds of peasants. These reports moved thousands of U.S. citizens to participate in solidarity actions. Diverse forms of moral, political and material solidarity were generated in response to the refugee testimonies. The religious community through the Sanctuary movement challenged the immorality of the U.S. involvement in El Salvador and provided refuge for thousands fleeing the war. Hundreds of churches, universities and some major cities declared themselves sanctuaries and actively opposed the U.S. government's deportation policy. Large marches were organized throughout the country. Federal buildings and elected officials' offices were the scenes of creative protest actions every time that a human rights violation occurred. A very effective system of emergency responses was set up to prevent opposition leaders and activists from being killed when captured by the Salvadoran army. Thousands of telexes and faxes protesting human rights abuses inundated the presidential office in El Salvador. Civil disobedience actions were staged at the U.S. Capitol, Pentagon entrances and military bases where the Salvadoran Army was being trained. The tenacity and hard work of Salvadorans and North Americans in the solidarity movement helped prevent higher levels of U.S. intervention, saved the life of many Salvadoran citizens, and legitimized the democratic opposition peace proposals. Besides generating solidarity with the democratic opposition in El Salvador, Salvadoran immigrants have achieved much for their own community in this country. One important victory was winning the political refugee status which in 1987 led Salvadorans to gain permanent residency for more than 300,000 refugees through the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA). Later, in 1990, 287,000 Salvadorans that did not qualify for amnesty were given a temporary protected status (TPS) which allowed them to legally remain and work in this country for 18 months. Last year temporary safe heaven was extended another year and a half. These victories had contributed to increased respect for immigrant rights, and recognition of the potential of the Salvadoran community. COMMUNITY IN TRANSITION In less than 15 years Salvadoran immigrants have reached a substantial size in most urban areas throughout the U.S. and have integrated into this society. A sizeable number of former "illegal aliens" are now permanent residents and in many cases naturalized citizens. Once an anonymous community, Salvadorans are now at the forefront in defending social, civil and immigrant rights, and creating the institutions and organizations that will help the community to meet their immediate needs. At the same time, Salvadoran immigrants are looking ahead toward new challenges. Peace agreements to end 12 years of civil war were signed in January 1992 between the Salvadoran government and the democratic opposition, including the FMLN. This package of modest reforms will initiate a period of transition from war to peace, and from a dictatorial system to a democratic one, in which Salvadorans will have the opportunity to recover their civil rights, to rebuild their lives, and achieve reconciliation in the society. After one and half years of a fragile peace in El Salvador, initial progress has been clouded by the reactivation of the death squads and the intransigence of the government about reforming El Salvador's socio-economic structure and ending the impunity of the Armed Forces. The integrity of the March 1994 Elections, in which Salvadorans will elect a new president, 84 new legislators and 262 new mayors, and the institutional overhaul of the government, is threatened by this stonewalling. Once again Salvadorans living outside El Salvador, and especially those in the U.S., have the patriotic responsibility to support the democratization of their country by educating and mobilizing the U.S. public as they did during the past decade. The Salvadoran community is a community in transition that is still identifying the opportunities and dangers ahead. The community has gained a prominent place in the U.S. and the respect of other communities which enabled them to get out of the "American nightmare" and to move onto pursuing their own version of the "American dream."