Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador is remembered during a 2005 Mass… (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)
Members of the Salvadoran community in Los Angeles realized a long-awaited dream Saturday when groundbreaking began on a plaza to honor Msgr. Oscar A. Romero, a Catholic archbishop who was slain in 1980 during El Salvador's civil war.
Romero, an outspoken advocate for the poor and a revered figure for many Central Americans, was shot while celebrating Mass by an assassin with suspected ties to right-wing government security forces.
El Salvador's bloody 12-year civil war claimed tens of thousands of lives and sparked an exodus of Salvadorans.
The new plaza is in MacArthur Park at 7th and Alvarado streets in the Westlake neighborhood.
"MacArthur Park has a lot of history and a lot of memories for the Central American community," said Carlos Vaquerano, executive director of the Salvadoran American Leadership & Educational Fund. The nonprofit organization has been overseeing the project, which was first envisioned about seven years ago.
Vaquerano, 52, who said he fled his country after his three brothers were killed by death squads, was among hundreds of thousands of Salvadorans who settled in places such as Los Angeles, Houston and the Washington, D.C., area during the 1980s.
"I had no choice but to leave," Vaquerano said.
In Los Angeles, many of the refugees ended up in the Westlake and Pico-Union neighborhoods west of downtown.
The area was a focal point for protests against the civil war and home to several nonprofit organizations that formed to assist the burgeoning Salvadoran community. Today, the area has one of the largest concentrations of Central Americans in the United States.
The Romero monument will cost about $350,000 and feature a circular plaza with quotes from the archbishop's speeches and writings, organizers say. A statue of Romero will stand in the center of the plaza, which is expected to be completed in three months.
"The monument will not only serve the Central American community, but it will also offer Angelenos an insight into the rich history and culture of our diverse city," said Councilman Ed Reyes, who represents the area and helped provide funding for the project.
Mayor-elect Eric Garcetti said the monument will be a "symbol that shows our city stands in agreement with Romero's principles."
"This is more than a monument of a man," Garcetti said in a statement. "This is a monument that salutes courage, humanitarianism and the rights of the poor."