Carlos Vaquerano is an advocate for Central American immigrants who works in the Pico-Union area, which suffered severe riot damage. A board member of Rebuild L.A. and community relations director of the Central American Refugee Center, Vaquerano , 31 , sa ys he fled El Salvador 13 years ago after three brothers, who were political activists, were killed by the U.S.-backed Salvadoran army .
Q: How would you assess race relations in Los Angeles today?
A: After the riots there's been a lot of tension. But there also have been some positive things. We never had any relations at all with the Asian comunity. But now we've been meeting and working with them. The same with the African-American community. This kind of dialogue never happened in the past. The riots created the opportunity for bringing communities together. And we've been taking advantage of that opportunity.
A: We've been trying to create bridges in a few ways. We recently started a program where youths from our community meet with youths from the black and Asian communities. We're having a conference called "Breaking the Boundaries of Color" to deal with some of these issues. We plan to have more of these events in future. I've been meeting with politicians and leaders from the other ethnic communities . . . and we've had a lot of people from the different communities talk to us. But these kinds of things aren't enough. Social and economic inequality is the real problem. That's what needs to be addressed.
Q: Why was there such extensive rioting in Pico-Union?
A: It's poverty and lack of jobs and economic injustice. Pico-Union has been an area neglected by the local government. Unfortunately, the riots had to happen for local government to pay attention to this area . . . This community has been forgotten.
Q: Why has the area been neglected?
A: One reason is there are many undocumented immigrants here, and they don't vote. So people say, "Who cares about them." As a result, people here are very isolated . . . They are even isolated from the established Latino community on the Eastside, who don't put enough attention into the problems of these new communities. But it's not the fault of the Latinos. It's the fault of the whole system.
Q: Has your community received a fair share of the rebuilding resources?
A: Most of the resources are going to South-Central. I believe the African-American community deserves the resources. But they're not the only ones. We Central Americans also suffered the consequences of the riots. About 250 Latinos lost small businesses and about 70 buildings were burned here. Many people lost their jobs. Many have not received any assistance yet. I don't think it's fair to focus just on South-Central. Pico-Union, whether people like it or not, has to be part of the rebuilding effort.
Q: Six months after the riots, how would you assess the rebuilding effort in Pico-Union?
A: I don't see many changes right now. I don't think we'll see a major change in the next six months. I think it is going to take some time. My concern is that in the beginning we created many expectations that everything was going to be changed in a few months. Little by little we're recognizing it's going to take longer.
Q: Are you optimistic about the long-term prospects for rebuilding?
A: It all depends on changes at the federal level. The problems in Pico-Union and other areas of Los Angeles are not isolated from the national problem. What Pico-Union is going through is part of the economic crisis in the United States. As long as there are no economic opportunities for poor communities there will be more problems in the future . . .
If government and corporations don't take an interest in this community and devote resources to it, things will not change. If things don't change, we'll see more riots.
Q: Does our government have a responsibility for Central Americans who live in Pico-Union because of U.S. involvement in Central America?
A: Me and a lot of other people wouldn't be here if it wasn't for the war and if it wasn't for the U.S. backing governments in El Salvador and Guatemala . . . We need more opportunities. First to those who are undocumented--to give them a permanent residence so they can stay here legally. We want to be a productive force in this country. We want to contribute to this nation too.