|1.734 million (2010 Census)|
|Regions with significant populations|
|California, Maryland, Washington, D.C., Texas, New York, Massachusetts|
Salvadoran Americans (Spanish: Salvadoreño estadounidense) are citizens or residents of the United States of Salvadoran descent. As of 2010, there are 1,648,968 Salvadoran Americans in the United States, the fourth-largest Hispanic community by nation of ancestry.
First Salvadorans in United States
Salvadoran immigration to the United States is a fairly recent phenomenon. The movement is small in comparison with some of the great immigration waves of the past, but it has a profound significance for both countries. The flight of Salvadorans from their own country was the most dramatic result of El Salvador's civil war, draining that country of between 20 and 30 percent of its population. Half or more of the refugees—between 500,000 and one million—immigrated to the United States, which was home to less than 10,000 Salvadorans before 1960 (Faren Bachelis, The Central Americans [New York: Chelsea House, 1990], p. 10; cited hereafter as Bachelis). El Salvador's exiled population is already changing life at home through its influence and its dollars and will undoubtedly play an important role in its future history.
Salvadoran American immigration has changed the face of foreign affairs in the United States. The flood of refugees from a U.S.-supported government forced a national rethinking of foreign policy priorities. This in turn transformed the nature of American support for the Salvadoran government and may have helped to end the war in El Salvador. Salvadoran Americans are at the center of an ongoing national debate about U.S. responsibility toward the world's refugees and the future of immigration in general.
The exodus of Salvadorans was a result of both economic and political problems. The largest immigration wave occurred as a result of the Salvadoran Civil War in the 1980s, in which 20%-30% of El Salvador's population emigrated. About 50% percent, or up to 500,000 of those who escaped headed to the U.S., which was already home to over 10,000 Salvadorans, making Salvadorans Americans the third-largest Hispanic or Latino American group, after the Mexican American majority, Cubans, and (when not including Stateside Puerto Ricans).
As civil wars engulfed several Central American countries in the 1980s, hundreds of thousands of Salvadorans fled their country and came to the United States. Between 1980 and 1990, the Salvadoran immigrant population in the United States increased nearly fivefold from 94,000 to 465,000. The number of Salvadoran immigrants in the United States continued to grow in the 1990s and 2000s as a result of family reunification and new arrivals fleeing a series of natural disasters that hit El Salvador, including earthquakes and hurricanes. By 2008, there were about 1.1 million Salvadoran immigrants in the United States. Salvadorans are the country's sixth largest immigrant group after Mexican, Filipino, Indian, Chinese, and Vietnamese foreign born.
The immigrant population from this tiny Central American country is now nearly as large as the immigrant population from much larger China. (As reference, China's total population is 200 times larger and its territory is about 500 times larger than El Salvador's.)
Race and ethnicity
Much of the Salvadoran population that came to the U.S. are of mixed Native American/White (more specifically mostly Spanish) ancestry. The Salvadorans of mixed ancestry Mestizos, can be varied differently from European and Native American ancestry. There are some others also with Afro-Salvadoran ancestry.
Among Salvadorans who also identify themselves as Mestizo culturally are Salvadorans who are racially European/White, especially Mediterranean, Indigenous Salvadorans who do not speak indigenous languages nor are they acculturated into Indigenous Salvadoran culture, and partial European/White Salvadorans of Nordic ancestry. The Indigenous Salvadorans are mostly of Pipil and Lenca ancestries, some are Mayan. Many of the mixed (more specifically mostly Mestizo) and White Caucasian Salvadorans have ancestry from, Italy, Portugal, Germany, Turkey, France, Switzerland, England, and Ireland.
Salvadorans also have Arab ancestries that include Lebanon, Syria, Iran and the majority come from Palestine that immigrated to El Salvador. There is a significant number of Jewish Salvadoran families in the country.
Misconceptions and Stereotypes
Many cultural observers contend that mainstream America has not yet formed a distinct stereotype of Salvadoran Americans. Salvadorans have settled in neighborhoods already populated by other Latin Americans, and outsiders generally have only a vague sense of the various Latino nationalities in those neighborhoods.
Salvadoran Americans have sometimes had tense relations with their neighbors in the cities where they are concentrated. Salvadoran gangs have fought with Mexican gangs in Los Angeles, and in Washington, D.C., a city with a significant Salvadoran population, they have competed with African Americans for jobs and resources.
Areas of Concentration
Many Salvadoran Americans reside in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Orange County, California, the Inland Empire and San Diego; Miami-Dade or South Florida as well in Central Florida; The Washington Metropolitan Area: Washington, D.C., Maryland and Northern Virginia, is currently the only metropolitan area in the entire country where Salvadorans are the majority among Hispanics, most concentrated in the suburbs in Northern Virginia and Maryland. A city dubbed Chirilagua has existed for decades in between Alexandria and Arlington in Virginia due to the many Salvadorans living there from that particular town. There is also a large number in Texas esp. in Houston, Austin, Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas; increasingly New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005; and in other California regions outside of Los Angeles such as the San Francisco Bay Area. In addition, there is a significant number of Salvadoran Americans in the New York City area such as Northern New Jersey, Flushing, Queens and Long Island. Recent census data shows that for the first time and are now the largest Latino group in Long Island, there are more Salvadorans living on Long Island than Puerto Ricans, with Salvadorans, now numbering nearly 100,000, representing nearly a quarter of all Hispanics in the region. Salvadorans are also highly concentrated in Atlanta and northern Georgia as well in the Chicago metro area.
The states with the highest number of Salvadorans in 2011 are as follows:
Acculturation and Assimilation
Asylum laws prohibit many Salvadorans from renewing their ties to their home culture. Most asylum seekers cannot visit El Salvador, even for a loved one's funeral, without losing their legal status in the United States. (The assumption is that anyone who travels to El Salvador—whatever the reason—is not really afraid of persecution there.) Thus, many Salvadoran Americans are torn between embracing the culture of America and maintaining their Salvadoran identities.
Salvadoran Americans form an insular community—with their own social clubs, doctors, even banks—and often have little contact with outsiders. They maintain a tight network, living almost exclusively with other people from their home country, or even their hometown (Pamela Constable, "We Will Stay Together," Washington Post Magazine, October 30, 1994; Doreen Cavaja,"Making Ends Meet in a Nether World," New York Times, December 13, 1994). Many older immigrants have spent more than ten years in the United States without learning any English.
Although they immigrated largely out of fear rather than a desire for a new life, Salvadorans in the United States, especially the younger generations, are gradually becoming Americanized. While conditions have improved in El Salvador, few refugees have returned home. The United States—once a place of refuge—has become a new home for Salvadoran immigrants. To reflect the changing needs of the Salvadoran American community, the Central American Refugee Center in Los Angeles (CARECEN), one of the largest support organizations for refugees, changed its name to the Central American Resource Center (Elston Carr, "A New Direction," Los Angeles Times, May 9, 1993).
Foreign-born men and women from El Salvador have higher rates of participation in the civilian labor force than immigrant men overall. They are also heavily concentrated in construction and services.
Politics and Government
The Washington DC Metro Area has some Salvadoran American politicians representing the voice of the second largest Salvadoran community that lives there. Leading the county board of the smallest self-governing county in the US with the 3rd highest income, Walter Tejada governs over Arlington County, VA. Delegate Ana Sol Gutierrez represents the 18th District of Montgomery County, MD, the 10th highest income county in the US. Delegate Victor R. Ramirez represents the 47th District of Prince George's County, MD, the wealthiest African American-majority county in the US. A partner of Ramirez is Prince George's County Council member William A. Campos.
Salvadorans do not have nearly as much influence with the political establishment as voting constituencies have. In Los Angeles, for instance, there is a stark contrast between the U.S.-born Chicano neighborhoods of East L.A. and the Pico-Union and West-lake neighborhoods, populated by immigrant Mexicans and Central Americans. The former have many community centers, legal services, and social workers; the latter have very few (Hector Tobar, "No Strength in Numbers for LA's Divided Latinos," Los Angeles Times, September 1, 1992). This situation is slowly changing, however: Carlos Vaquerano, the Salvadoran community affairs director of CARECEN, was named to the board of Rebuild L.A., organized to help the city recover from the L.A. riots in 1992 (Miles Corwin, "Understanding the Riots," Los Angeles Times, November 16, 1992).
One area of U.S. politics in which Salvadoran Americans have played an important role is in legislation regarding their immigration status. In the debate leading to the passage of Temporary Protected Status for Salvadoran refugees and the extensions of that status, Salvadoran organizations lobbied politicians and brought their cases of persecution to the press. At first, refugee organizations were run by Americans, and Salvadorans often appeared in public only with bandannas over their faces. Gradually, Salvadorans and other Central Americans began to take charge of the refugee organizations and assume a higher public profile.
Salvadoran Americans have also contributed significantly to labor union activity. Many refugees fought for the right to organize under repressive conditions in El Salvador, and they brought dedication, even militancy, to American unions. In a 1990 Los Angeles janitors' strike, for instance, Salvadoran union members continued to march and demonstrate even under the threat of police violence. And Salvadoran street vendors in Los Angeles have organized to improve their precarious situation (Tracy Wilkinson, "New Questions Arise for Salvadorans in Los Angeles," Los Angeles Times, January 12, 1992).
Salvadoran Americans relations with El Salvador
Most Salvadoran Americans are not active in or outspoken about Salvadoran politics. Those U.S. organizations most actively involved in Salvadoran politics (such as the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador, CISPES) have attracted little participation by Salvadoran Americans themselves. The immigrants' own organizations have focused not on politics at home, but on relief and jobs in immigrant communities throughout the United States. This relative indifference to home politics may be surprising, given the political passions that have long raged in El Salvador; but the majority of Salvadoran Americans seem interested in putting the hatred of the past behind them.
While the most ideologically committed of the Salvadoran refugees settled in Panama, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Australia, or Canada, those who settled in the United States focused on survival and building a community. Refugees who fled the government and refugees who fled the guerrillas have a lot in common; many will not even discuss their political beliefs, lest it disrupt the fragile solidarity of the refugee community. Furthermore, many Salvadorans on the left became active in politics because of the desperate poverty and class war in El Salvador; when they arrived in the United States, where it seemed for the first time possible to escape poverty through hard work, their political commitment sometimes melted away.
Salvadorans outside El Salvador are not permitted to cast absentee ballots in that country's elections. The majority of the refugee community is thought to favor the left, and the absence of their votes is believed to have helped the right-wing party ARENA win the Salvadoran presidency in 1989 and 1994 (Lisa Leff, "At Peace but Uneasy, Salvadorans Vote Today," Washington Post, March 20, 1994).
The relative lack of political influence among Salvadoran Americans is not necessarily permanent. Salvadoran immigrants are densely concentrated in a few cities, and they have a strong infrastructure in refugee organizations. As more Salvadorans become U.S. citizens, the immigrant community will probably play a larger role in local and regional politics. And given their economic contribution, they will almost certainly come to exert more influence in El Salvador.
El Salvador and United States relations
The history of U.S.-El Salvador relations encompasses some controversial moves and operations by the United States, e.g. the U.S.-involvement in the Salvadoran Civil War and interference in Salvadoran elections such as during the 2004 presidential election.
President Obama and President Funes announced the U.S.-El Salvador Partnership for Growth during President Obama's March 2011 visit to El Salvador. El Salvador is one of four counties—-along with the Philippines, Ghana, and Tanzania—-with which the United States is undertaking this partnership. The Partnership began with an analysis by economic experts from both countries, which identified the two key binding constraints to growth in El Salvador as crime and insecurity, as well as low productivity in the tradeables sector. Based on this assessment, the U.S. government worked closely with the Government of El Salvador to identify and prioritize key activities that would address those constraints to growth and unlock El Salvador's economic potential. The activities are outlined in a Joint Country Action Plan that will steer the partnership moving forward.
The recent 2009 elections resulted in the election of the leftist Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) party over the ARENA party that had been in power since 1992. ARENA supporters argued that the victory of FMLN would result in retaliation from the United States and lead to political reforms similar to those in Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela despite the U.S official neutral position. An Obama visit to El Salvador symbolized its acceptance of the new government and show to other Latin American countries that it will maintain strong ties despite the change of regime. The shift from ARENA to FMLN does symbolize the growing disenchantment of the Salvadoran population with Washington foreign policy. Despite this shift, El Salvador has not decided to become more self-reliant. The economic development it experienced by following the Washington Consensus was worth the cost of economic reforms because it was able to access the American market and compete in the global market. Therefore, the Obama visit validated the stability within El Salvador in the transition from ARENA to FMLN and showed other countries in the region the benefits of following the Washington Consensus. Obama’s visit was in order to strengthen America’s position in Central America and show that countries that follow liberalization reforms enjoy stronger ties with the United States.
El Salvador’s accommodation on economic and militia demand also meant that the United States would provide more benefits to Salvadorans living within the United States; Salvadorans have been eligible to receive TPS (Temporary Protection Status) since 2001. Approximately 2 million Salvadorans live in the United States, making it the sixth largest ethnic group in the United States. Such a large number of Salvadorans means that they have the capacity to send money back to El Salvador, which would make a very large contribution to its economy. Remittances from the United States make El Salvador more dependent on the United States support for Salvadorans living there. Thus, it is imperative that El Salvador maintains strong political ties with the American government because of its dependence on remittances. Remittances account for twenty percent of El Salvador’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which makes the economic ties with the United States even more important. Salvadorans who reside in the United States benefit as well from El Salvador’s accommodation as exemplified by the American government’s consistent extension of the TPS. El Salvador has lobbied successfully for those extensions because of the strong ties that have been forged. United States-El Salvador relations have been a reciprocal relationship in which El Salvador has gained much more than if it were to have chosen a resistance strategy. Thus, President Obama’s choice to stop in El Salvador exemplifies to the Salvadoran community in the United States that they have nothing to fear with the change of political parties.
The special relationship developed between the United States and El Salvador in the past 20 years has differentiated El Salvador from its neighboring Central American countries. Despite the high level of violence, El Salvador has transformed itself into a stable democracy and a success story in economic development.
U.S.-Salvadoran relations remain close and strong. U.S. policy towards the country promotes the strengthening of El Salvador's democratic institutions, rule of law, judicial reform, and civilian police; national reconciliation and reconstruction; and economic opportunity and growth. El Salvador has been a committed member of the coalition of nations fighting against terrorism and has sent 10 rotations of troops to Iraq to support Operation Iraqi Freedom. On August 26, 2011 Ambassador Mari Carmen Aponte joined Salvadoran Minister of Defense David Munguía Payés in a formal send-off ceremony for 22 Salvadoran troops who will deploy to Afghanistan on August 28. The 22 troops will serve as instructor trainers within NATO Training Mission – Afghanistan (NTM-A). Specifically, 9 Air Force Trainers will work with the Afghan Air Units in Herat, 3 Military Police Trainers will work with the Afghan Police Academy in Kabul, and 10 Counter-Insurgency Instructors will operate throughout Afghanistan, training military and police units as part of 6 Mobile Training Teams.
Salvadoran troops have earned a reputation as an effective and professional military force for their participation in international humanitarian missions to Lebanon, Liberia, Côte d'Ivoire, Sudan and Haiti. El Salvador’s Cuscatlán Battalion also served with distinction during 11 rotations in support of humanitarian and reconstruction activities in Iraq. This latest deployment will mark El Salvador’s first participation in the NATO mission to Afghanistan.
U.S. ties to El Salvador are dynamic and growing. More than 19,000 American citizens live and work full-time in El Salvador. Most are private businesspersons and their families, but a small number of American citizen retirees have been drawn to El Salvador by favorable tax conditions. The Embassy's consular section provides a full range of citizenship services to this community. The American Chamber of Commerce in El Salvador is located at World Trade Center, Torre 2, local No. 308, 89 Av. Nte. Col. Escalón, phone: 2263-9494.
Principal U.S. officials include:
- Ambassador: Mari Carmen Aponte
- Deputy Chief of Mission: Robert Blau
- USAID Mission Chief—Deborah Kennedy-Iraheta
- Political Counselor—Maeve Dwyer
- Economic Counselor—Mitch Ferguson
- Commercial Officer—Michael McGee
- Public Affairs Officer—Marti Estell
The U.S. Embassy in El Salvador is located in Antiguo Cuscatlán.
US communities with high percentages of people of Salvadoran ancestry
Top US communities with the highest Salvadoran ancestry in 2010:
- Brentwood, New York 26.3%
- North Bay Shore, New York 23.9%
- New Cassel, New York 24.7%
- Langley Park, Maryland 22.5%
- Brentwood, Maryland 22.0%
- Edmonston, Maryland 22.0%
- Mendota, California 21.9%
- Chillum, Maryland 21.8%
- Uniondale, New York 20.2%
- Hempstead, New York 19.9%
- Adelphi, Maryland 19.1%
- Wheaton, Maryland 18.5%
- Central Islip, New York 18.5%
- Cottage City, Maryland 18.3%
- Chelsea, Massachusetts 18.2%
- Roosevelt, New York 17.8%
- Hyattsville, Maryland 16.4%
- Huntington Station, New York 15.8%
- Inwood, New York 15.6%
- Herndon, Virginia 15.5%
- Mount Rainier, Maryland 14.4%
- Seven Corners, Virginia 13.6%
- Woodbridge, Virginia 13.1%
- Glenmont, Maryland 12.7%
- Bull Run, Virginia 12.6%
- Manassas Park, Virginia 12.1%
- Bailey's Crossroads, Virginia 11.5%
- Dale City, Virginia 10.7%
- Freeport, New York 10.4%
- Manassas, Virginia 10.2%
- Silver Spring, Maryland 9.9%
- Hybla Valley, Virginia 9.5%
- West New York, New Jersey 9.1%
- Dumfries, Virginia 8.7%
- Gaithersburg, Maryland 8.3%
U.S. communities with the most residents born in El Salvador
Top 25 U.S. communities with the most residents born in El Salvador are:
- Langley Park, MD 25.2%
- Seven Corners, VA 18.0%
- New Cassel, NY 15.5%
- Mendota, CA 13.8%
- Brentwood, NY 12.9%
- Hempstead, NY 12.3%
- Bailey's Crossroads, VA 12.2%
- Adelphi, MD 11.3%
- North Bay Shore, NY 10.6%
- Herndon, VA 10.3%
- Edmonston, MD 9.6%
- Chelsea, MA 8.8%
- Wheaton-Glenmont, MD 8.7%
- Chillum, MD 8.2%
- Silver Spring, MD 7.9%
- West New York, NJ 7.8%
- Uniondale, NY 7.8%
- Jefferson, VA 7.5%
- El Jebel, CO 7.5%
- Colma, CA 7.5%
- Mount Rainier, MD 7.3%
- Huntington Station, NY 7.2%
- Cottage City, MD 7.2%
- West Gate, VA 7.2%
- Freeport, NY 7.2%
- US Census Bureau 2011 American Community Survey B03001 1-Year Estimates HISPANIC OR LATINO ORIGIN BY SPECIFIC ORIGIN retrieved October 28, 2012
- Faren Bachelis (1990). The Central Americans. New York: Chelsea House. p. 10.
- George Miller. "El Salvador: Policy of Deceit", The New York Times, October 21, 1988.
- Dana Rohrabacher Speaks out on El Salvador Election, Clashes With Obama Administration
- "Top 101 cities with the most residents born in El Salvador (population 500+)". city-data.com. Retrieved 2008-08-01.