Immigrant seeks office in homeland
AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORESanta Anita opens winter meet Saturday with loaded card And from the tenements of Pico Union to the cul-du-sacs of Santa Clarita, they have become increasingly influential in their homeland. At least five U.S. residents – from Maryland to Los Angeles_ learned Friday that they had been certified for the March ballot. “Immigration has changed the face of business and the political relationships in Latin America,” said Hugo Herrera, consul general of El Salvador in Los Angeles. “In the next 10 years, (immigrants) are going to have a bigger influence in what happens in El Salvador, not only in remittances but also in social and business investments.” Matute arrived penniless on the doorstep of a friend of his mother. She welcomed him to her one-bedroom Sunland apartment, where she lived with her teenage son, and told him it was the beginning of a new life. “She told me, ‘You have to do whatever it takes to survive,”‘ he recalled. Matute slept on a couch he shared with her son. A few days later, he got a construction job, earning $20 for nine hours of work. PACOIMA – Twenty years after coming to the U.S. with only the clothes on his back, Salvadoran immigrant Mario Matute will return this spring to his war-torn country as a candidate for political office. Like tens of thousands of Salvadorans with a foothold in the United States, the 45-year-old political novice wants his voice to be heard in his native land. At the top of Matute’s priority list is giving nationals a voice, stemming the tide of international gang links and pushing for the right to vote abroad. “We want to be able to be a part of the destiny of our nation,” said Matute, who runs a social services agency in Pacoima. “Distance of geography doesn’t matter any longer … What happens to people in El Salvador happens to people in the United States.” An estimated 1 million Salvadorans live in Los Angeles, more than any other place outside the country’s capital. In 2004, they sent $2.5 billion back to their families in El Salvador. Then 25, Matute spent months walking around the sprawling San Fernando Valley in bewilderment. His English was poor; he could barely ask about buying food. “Ahm-bu-gah” was the only thing he knew how to order at the Jack-In-the-Box across the street from the apartment. He filled his pockets with $10 bills, hoping the cashier would not ask him for change – or anything else – in English. “It took a few months to realize how difficult it is to really make it here, one (reason) is because of the language. But two, people here work endless hours to be able to make it,” he said. Despite the hardships, Matute just kept plugging away. He got a job as a dishwasher, eventually moving up to busboy. He enrolled in an English-language class, then at Glendale Community College. He transferred to California State University, Los Angeles, and took a job in a mental health facility in Echo Park. He worked there through graduation, eventually applying for citizenship. By the time he enrolled at the University of California, Los Angeles, seeking a master’s degree in psychology, he was a working as a counselor at a clinic, where he met his future wife, Stayce Carr. They now have two children, Aaron, 13, and Jenny, 9, and live in a three-bedroom house in Santa Clarita. And though he could have opened his own clinic after graduation, he took a job in the San Fernando Gardens community center, helping gang members and their families find jobs. Today, Matute runs the Youth Policy Institute, a $13 million educational and technology program in Pacoima. It includes a charter school, provides job training, helps with after-school programs and provides educational and technological training to poor families. “He has quite a leadership ability. He doesn’t push himself on you but he leads by example,” said Dixon Slingerland, executive director of the Youth Policy Institute. “People respect him for that.” Last year, he signed up for the El Salvador Chamber of Commerce in the United States, looking to help create jobs in his homeland. He began lobbying local congressman and legislatures for the Central American Free Trade Agreement. The connections impressed leaders of the Partido Democrata Cristiano, a small center-right party with little influence in Salvador’s 84-member congress – La Asamblea Legislativa. In December, Matute got an e-mail from a representative from the party, thanking him for his charitable work with the Rotary Club. The call eventually led to a dinner with representatives, who asked him to run in the March election under the party’s banner. “I was surprised because I didn’t think people would look at me. I said, ‘Why me?’ The answer was, ‘Because you have resources here; you know people in government,”‘ he said. Using a loophole in the rules that prevent nonresidents from being a congressman – or diputado – Matute will run as an alternate, a post that will allow him to introduce legislation in the Asamblea and, if all goes right, become a voice for the millions of Salvadorans that call the United States and other countries home. The alternates stand in the place of congress members but do not need to run on their own; their campaign is tied to the diputado. Matute will be aligned with Rudolfo Parker, a long-standing and popular member of the partido. Other parties, such as the left-leaning Frente Farabundo Marti para la Liberacion Nacional, are planning on running candidates under the same rule. “Parties that want to expand their bases are casting a wider net in the United States,” said Cecilia Menjivar, author of “Fragmented Ties: Salvadoran Immigrant Networks in America” and a professor of sociology at Arizona State University. “They are hoping that they will influence families through remittances and in their political life.” Rachel Uranga, (818) 713-3741 [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!