The 147 high school age musicians in Banda El Salvador traveled four days by bus from their Central American homes to take part in today’s Rose Parade.
It’s been a learning experience for them and for the Southland residents helping them out during their stay.
There are more Salvadoran immigrants in Southern California than anywhere else in the United States. Hundreds of them filled Duarte High School’s football stadium on Sunday for two concerts by Banda El Salvador.
The campus has become the band’s home, literally. Money for flights and hotels didn’t materialize. So 147 teens are sleeping and showering in the high school gym and taking their meals in a large, very drafty vinyl tent. At 8:30 on Monday morning the grill’s fired up, greased, and serving hungry teens.
“She’s making pancakes right now, we have the kids serving pancakes, sausage, and they’re serving a lot of food in here,” said Duarte school board president Reina Diaz. She's been one of the main people rounding up volunteers, business donations, and city hall help to house, feed, hydrate, and otherwise take care of Banda El Salvador.
Percussionist Elena Flores said she’s grateful for the hospitality. The 18-year-old still can’t believe she’s in a place she’s heard so much about. A few days ago she and her marching band friends went to Hollywood, where, she said, they stared at the famous names on the Walk of Fame: “Winnie Pooh, Tinker Bell, Michael Jackson.”
Huddled over some corn flakes, pancakes, and sausages, Flores and her gave a sampling of one of their Rose Parade songs. It’s called “Sombrero Azul,” poetic reference to the sky as El Salvador’s “blue hat.”
The band’s concerts and presence has brought tears of cultural pride to a lot of people. One of them is Nelson Araiza, a Glendale hospital administrator. He came from El Salvador 35 years ago to escape Central America’s bloody civil wars.
“A lot of people have said, ‘Oh you’re Americanized. You’re not Salvadoran.’ To an extent, they may be right because I have been able to obtain my education here,” said Araiza. He didn’t return until decades later, after his parents had died.
“Deep inside I’m still the same kid that left my country at the age of 17," he said. "That’s why I’m able to connect with these kids, because I was this age the last time I saw my parents, my family.”
The band’s also here to counter negative stereotypes. Director of logistics Edgardo Moreno said most people know El Salvador as the home of the violent Mara Salvatrucha gang.
“We have a big problem with gangs, violence, to promote the music, education, no more money for the jails, we need more bands like this,” he said.
The band’s trip to march in the Rose Parade has also led to emotional reunions with family they’ve not seen in years.
Twenty-year-old clarinet player Nelson Hernandez saw his older brother for the first time since he came to the US to study and work 12 years ago.
“It was perhaps one of the most beautiful experiences in my life,” he said.
Hernandez says his brother is more like a father to him because he sent money to pay for Hernandez’s college tuition.
Andres Trigueros plays saxophone. His father left El Salvador 14 years ago to look for work in Los Angeles. This trip’s only the second time he’s seen him since.
“I’ve felt his absence a lot,” Trigueros said. He keeps in touch with his father through social media.
This year’s Rose Parade Theme is “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” The members of Banda El Salvador said they’ve taken the theme to heart. They’ve already reached one of their dreams, and there are so many more places to go.