Filmmaker Junior Gonzalez made it his goal to show his Salvadoran culture in a positive light. Or, in any light at all, really. There were no films that he could think of on the subject, save for those on the notorious MS-13 street gang.
“When I say I'm Salvadoran, some people will throw up gang signs as a joke, because that's all they know,” he says.
But while attending a Salvadoran festival at Exposition Park near USC in 2005, he saw his first Salvadoran hip hop performance, and soon learned there was a growing scene in small pockets around the U.S. After being denied several grants and funding opportunities for his idea, he finally decided to simply go it alone. And so he took a camera his friend had given him and began filming the scene around the country and in El Salvador.
Now, finally, Words of Revolution is making its debut tonight at California State University, Northridge.
“It's a documentary about a culture trying to revive and progress from a history of violence,” he says. “I just wanted to bring awareness and do something positive for my culture, so that they can feel proud of something.”
Salvadorans started migrating heavily to Los Angeles about 30 years ago, and about a third of the country fled to escape a brutal civil war. They were not welcomed in Los Angeles by other minority groups. Eventually the MS-13 gang was formed to provide protection.
The major wave of Salvadorans coming to the United States in the '80s coincided with the explosion of hip-hop, and in time Salvadorans started to participate. “It is small scene, but if you go to certain bars and venues in South Central or the MacArthur Park area, you'll see people getting down to Salvadoran rap,” Gonzalez says, also mentioning a site dedicated to Salvadoran rap.
Highlighted in his film are New York Salvadoran hip hop pioneers Reyes Del Bajo Mundo (Kings of the Under World), who formed in 1992. They helped pave the way for other rappers in the film, like Santos and Fenomedon. Gonzalez also documented the scene in San Francisco, Washington D.C., and New York. He thinks the subset is on the verge of establishing a cultural identity.
Cal State Northridge is actually home to the only Central American Studies program available as a major. Meanwhile, students are forming their own Central American networks on college campuses across the country. Concludes Gonzalez: “We are just starting to learn what it means to be Salvadoran in the United States.”
Words of Revolution will be screened tonight at California State University, Northridge in Juniper Hall 1131 at 5:30 p.m.