MANCHESTER – Nearly two dozen people celebrated the raising of the Salvadoran flag in Manchester this month as part of Hispanic Heritage Month (HHM). State Representative Maria Perez, a Salvadoran native from Milford, organized the event.
Perez told NHPR that her goal was to include Latinos and people from other cultures. “I don’t want [other] groups that are underrepresented to feel excluded,” she said.
According to a Pew Research Center analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau, an estimated 2.5 million Hispanics of Salvadoran origin resided in the United States in 2021. Approximately 63,000 Hispanics and Latinos are living in New Hampshire. Just over 1,300 of them are from El Salvador.
Mayor Joyce Craig said Salvadorans contribute to the city with businesses, industry, art, faith, education, and politics. Craig noted Manchester has put forward a Multicultural Advisory Board, and she would like to support similar initiatives at the state level.
Photo: Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig with State Representative Maria Perez, Milford (Credit: Rep. Maria Perez)
The first Salvadorans to the United States before the El Salvador Civil War (1979–1992) began arriving primarily in San Francisco, where they worked as shipyard employees in the early twentieth century. During the ongoing civil war for about 12 years, approximately 1 million Salvadorans fled seeking refuge; about 50 percent immigrated to the United States. Over the past 20 years, more Salvadorans have immigrated to the U.S. due to social inequality, disputes over social and political issues, and increased violence.
The Salvadoran diaspora in the U.S. has established a few large and well-funded organizations. The Salvadoran American Humanitarian Foundation, ENLACE El Salvador, Salvadoran American Leadership & Educational Fund, El Rescate, and Christians for Peace in El Salvador are among them.
Perez emigrated from El Salvador more than 30 years ago, escaping violence and looking for a better life for herself and her family. The struggles of her fellow compatriots that she knows firsthand are not far from her thoughts. “It wasn’t easy to get here,” she told WMUR. “But I always remind myself I am here because I got the opportunity to be here.”
She grew up in the 1980s during the height of guerilla warfare in El Salvador, witnessing brutal acts of violence. At age 16, her family sold her for an arranged marriage in the United States. Perez said it was not her choice, but got her away from her father’s abuse and the war.
Her arranged marriage lasted 11 years and gave her two children. Perez earned degrees from Nashua Adult Learning and Nashua Community College.
Perez has turned to politics to represent others who need help. She said she wants to be a voice for Latinos and for people in rural communities struggling to be heard.
At the flag-raising ceremony, Perez honored her country by wearing a white embroidered blouse and a red skirt with indigenous patterns from El Salvador. The Central American country celebrates its independence on September 15, the first day of HHM.
Cover Photo Credit: Rep. Maria Perez