Famous Salvadoran People: Salvadoran Artists, Scientists, Leaders, Musicians, Politicians and Athletes
In this Country Profile
El Salvador has an ancient history and has many archeological ruins that indicate that the Aztecs, Mayans and Pipil Indians inhabited the country before the Spanish came. Despite its small size, and the turmoil that El Salvador went through in the past, the country still has a host of famous people, some of them local heroes who have made their mark not only in El Salvador but also internationally. Some of them drew inspiration from their forefathers.
:: List of Famous People from El Salvador ::
He was one of El Salvador’s first heroes. He was the Indian Chief who led his people to repel the invasion led by Spain. He was mighty good with his bow and arrow as he and his men were able to stop the Spanish from invading the coast of Conchagua near the Gulf of Fonseca twice before succumbing to the invaders on their third invasion attempt. Chief Atlacatl became a local hero and a 2.2-meter statue dedicated to him was erected in Antigua Custatlán in La Libertad. Of course, nobody knew what he looked like so the sculptor, Valentin Estrada made it in his likeness.
Art has always been a part of Salvadoran culture and the pre-historic cave drawings, particularly those found near Lake Guija are quite awesome. There are many Salvadoran artists who created marvelous art pieces through the course of time. One of them was Valentin Estrada, who was born in 1898. He was one of the foremost sculptors in El Salvador. In his lifetime he had created more than 250 sculptures made of stone as well as bronze. He drew inspiration for his pre-Hispanic predecessors and his works can be found around the country. Some of his most impressive works are the statue of Chief Atlacatl which he did in 1928; the bas relief works called Rotonda de los Próceres and the Obelisco y Medallón found in Los Planes de Renderos and the Monumento a la Madre.
José Arturo Castellanos Contreras
José Contreras was born in San Vicente on December 23, 1983. He was the Consul General of El Salvador and stationed in Geneva during the Second World War. He was also an army colonel in El Salvador. He became famous for saving more than 40,000 Central European Jews from persecution by the Nazis. He accomplished that with the help of György Mandl, a Jewish-Hungarian businessman. They provided the Jews with fake documents signifying they were Salvadoran nationals.
José Matías Delgado y León
José Matías Delgado was from San Salvador, the country’s capital, where he was born on the February 24, 1767. He was a doctor and a priest, and was widely known in the country as El Padre de la Patria Salvadoreña, or The Father of the Salvadoran Fatherland in English. Delgado became the leader of the independence movement in El Salvador together with Manuel José Arce, his nephew. He rang the bells of the Church of La Merced on November 5, 1811 to begin their quest for independence from Spain. He became a provincial deputy of the federation of colonies in Guatemala City in 1813 and in 1820.
Delgado was one of the signatories of the Act of Independence of Central America. The act was signed in Guatemala City on the September 15, 1821, which became the official date of independence of El Salvador. In November of the same year he was selected as San Salvador’s political chief. He and his court opposed El Salvador’s annexation to Mexico and opted to leave the federation and Guatemala. His government ended when Mexican troops took control of San Salvador in the early part of 1823. When the rule of Agustin de Iturbide, the Mexican emperor collapsed in the same year, Delgado was appointed as a representative to the Federal Republic of Central America and presided over the congress.
A year later he was also appointed as San Salvador’s first bishop. As the appointment was done by civil authorities, he was constantly at odds with the Vatican and the Archbishop of Guatemala. He bought a printing press in 1824 using public money and printed the first newspaper in El Salvador, called El Semanario Politico Mercantil. He received public honors after his death in 1832. A town was named after him and a learning institution was named Dr. José Matías Delgado University. Such was the country’s love for the priest and doctor that a marble bust of Father Delgado was commissioned and placed on the Avenida Independencia in San Salvador.
Manuel José Arce y Fagoaga
Manuel José Arce was born on New Year’s Day in 1787. He was a colonel in the Salvadoran army and a political leader of wide renown. He was also the president of the United Provinces of Central America for four years in 1825 up to 1829. He was one of the leaders of the movement calling for the independence of El Salvador from Spain, joining his uncle Father José Matías Delgado in the movement. He led the troops that fought the Mexican invasion led by Manuel Arzú in 1822, as he was one of those who opposed the annexation of El Salvador to Mexico. He also opposed the request of some Salvadoran political figures to annex the country to the United States due to Nicaraguan threats.
Óscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdámez
Óscar Romero was born in Ciudad Barrios on August 15, 1917. He was baptized as a Catholic and showed leaning towards a religious life at a young age. Growing up in a town where land ownership belonged only to 13 wealthy families, he developed an affinity towards the poor people of his country. While serving as a parish priest in San Miguel he supported devotions to the Virgin Mary, started an Alcoholics Anonymous program and other apostolic works. He was appointed as El Salvador’s Secretary of the Bishop Conference in 1966 and director of Orientación, the archdiocesan newspaper. Romero was appointed as the Archbishop of El Salvador in 1977. He saw his friend, Jesuit priest Rutilio Grande when he was assassinated and thought that he should also walk the path that his friend took, helping the poor to be more self-reliant.
While his request for the investigation of the murder of his friend was continuously ignored, he became more outspoken, and openly spoke about torture and assassinations, social injustices and poverty. As his pro-poor humanitarian efforts gained international notice and he received an honorary doctorate from the Catholic University of Leuven, his views did not sit well with members of the government. Archbishop Romero was assassinated on March 24, 1980 while saying mass at a hospital chapel. The funeral mass for Archbishop Romero was attended by more than 250,000 mourners coming from all parts of the world. There was a smoke bomb thrown and gunshots were fired during the ceremony, causing mass panic and about 50, according to media reports, were killed.
In 2004, the US District Court acting on the civil action suit filed against Álvaro Rafael Saravia, Salvadoran Air Force former captain and chief security officer for Roberto D’Aubuisson found Saravia guilty of conspiracy, aiding and participating in Archbishop Romero’s assassination. He was ordered to pay US$10 million for crimes against humanity and extrajudicial killings. The lawsuit was filed by the Center for Justice and Accountability.
On March 24, 2010, President Mauricio Funes of El Salvador offered an official state apology for the assassination of Archbishop Romero. The apology was given in front of the Archbishop’s family, diplomats, officials of the government and Catholic Church representatives.
Roberto D’Aubuisson Arrieta
Roberto D’Aubuisson was born in Santa Tecla, in the department of La Libertad on August 23, 1944. He was a far-right supporter, a major in the Salvadoran army military intelligence unit and was a political leader and founder of the Nationalist Republican Alliance or ARENA. He led that party for five years in 1980 until 1985. During the civil war of 1978 until 1992, D’Aubuisson was the commander of the death squads, which was responsible for thousands of civilian deaths. Shortly after the death of Archbishop Romero, he and his cohorts were arrested and caught red-handed with plans to start a coup against El Salvador’s Revolutionary Government Junta. But he was supported by right-wing terrorists and came back to power almost immediately. He gained infamy for openly speaking of the need to kill about 300,000 people for peace to reign once again in his country. Though blamed by his opponents for heinous crimes, he was never tried for any of it. He earned the nickname Blowtorch Bob, as he frequently used a blowtorch when conducting interrogations. He was also called “Chele” or someone with a pale face. D’Aubuisson died of cancer of the esophagus in 1992 and it was only after his death that a confirmation was issued that the assassination of the Archbishop was carried out on his order.
Mélida Anaya Montes
Mélida Anaya Montes or more popularly known by her pseudonym, Ana Maria was born in Santiago Texacuangos on May 17, 1929. She studied at the University of El Salvador where she received her Doctorate in Education. She became a professor of education at the university. She also became an assistant director of the Alberto Masferrer University in San Salvador. She was an activist and became a prominent leader of the National Association of Salvadoran Teachers 21 of June or ANDES 21 de Junio and was a leader of the strikes of professors in 1968 and in 1971.
Montes became the second in command of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front or FMLN, a left-wing political party in El Salvador founded in 1980. She became an icon of the revolutionary women of her country and lived the life of a guerilla. However, while in Managua, Nicaragua on April 6, 1983, she was brutally murdered, an act which was later revealed to be done by her comrades. Rogelio Bazzaglia, leader of the hard line faction within the FMLN confessed to her murder, although others within the party blamed Cayetano Carpio, also a comrade. She is still hailed as an icon for those struggling against oppressions as well as educators. The San Salvador-based Melida Anaya Montes Language School is named after Ana Maria.
Juan José Cañas
Juan Cañas was born around 1826. Although he was a Salvadoran, he spent most of his student days, outside of El Salvador, getting his high school education in Nicaragua and later studying medicine in Guatemala. He was a poet and a diplomat and went to San Francisco in the United States to practice medicine in 1848. He was credited for writing the national anthem of El Salvador together with Juan Aberle, a composer born in Italy.
Cañas was a Salvadoran army general and had served as Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs and Political Governor. He was later appointed as El Salvador’s diplomatic ambassador to Chile. Cañas started writing at age 17 and his works were published at the Central American Poetic Gallery and in Guirnalda Salvadoreña. He received several distinctions, including being a foreign honorary member of the Colombian Academy in Bogota. He also became the Spanish Royal Academy president for the Salvadoran Academy of the Language.
Consuelo Suncín Sandoval Zeceña
She was born to a wealthy family in El Salvador on April 10, 1901. The name may not ring a bell, but she was the wife of the author of internationally famous book, The Little Prince, Antoine-Marie-Roger de Saint-Exupéry. Consuelo was educated in France, in Mexico City and in San Francisco in the United States. She was first married to Enrique Gómez Carrillo, a journalist and diplomat from Guatemala whom she met in France. After her husband’s death in 1927, Consuelo decided to live in Buenos Aires. She met Saint Exupéry in 1931. The two got married and moved to France. She did not have a blissful marriage as her husband was constantly going on flying missions. He also had several affairs. When her husband disappeared in 1944, she wrote a memoir of her life with Saint Exupéry to ease her pain. The memoir was entitled The Tale of the Rose. It was never published though and was only discovered hidden in a trunk 20 years after her death by her heir, José Martinez-Fructuoso. It was edited, the French language improved and the story divided into chapters by Alan Vircondelet, who was also the author of her husband’s biography. It was published in 2000 and had been translated into 16 languages. Despite her husband’s many affairs and her tumultuous relationship Consuelo had with Saint Exupéry, he referred to her in his famous novel, The Little Prince. She was the rose that was kept protected by a glass cover and the special rose that the fox told the Little Prince is the one he actually loves.
José Antonio Cortéz
Former National Football League player José Cortéz was born in San Vicente, El Salvador. He later acquired US citizenship and played in the NFL. He studied at the Los Angeles Valley College where his college football career started. He was signed on to be the punter and kicker. When he transferred to Oregon State University he was a two-year letterman and earned an honorable mention in All-Pac-10 team during his junior year for converting 11 of the 19 field goals he attempted to kick.
His NFL career started in 1999 when he was signed up by the New York Giants. Cortéz played for several football teams during his career simply because he was signed up to be a pinch hitter, a fill-in when the starting kicker got injured. His great success came in 2001 when he was with the Los Angeles Xtreme playing in the XFL, an off-season tournament created by Vince McMahon, owner of the World Wrestling Federation. He kicked 20 field goals and led the team with Tommy Maddox, a quarterback, to win the XFL title and bagged for himself the Most Valuable Player award for kicking four field goals during the championship game. That success led to being signed up by the San Francisco 49ers prior to the start of the NFL season in 2001. Overall Cortéz was part of the handful of American players to have played in the Arena Football League, XFL, NFL and NFL Europe. Cortéz has retired from football and now serves as a police officer for the State of Oregon.
Álvaro Torres, from Usulután, El Salvador was born on April 9, 1954. He is considered as a very influential singer/songwriter from the country. His first song was written when he was only 12 years old. Torres is a bolero and Latin pop singer. He later moved to Guatemala to begin a solo singing career and released several albums, including “Algo Especial” in 1976, his first album and “Acariciame.” He moved to the United States in the 1990s and released “Nada se compara contigo” in 1991 and was the recipient of the BMI Songwriter of the Year Award in 1994. “Un poquito de amor,” “La Unica,” “Si Tuvieras Conmigo,” “Lo Que Se Dice Olvidar” are some of his famous singles.
Salvador Efraín Salazar Arrué
Salvador Salazar Arrué was from Sonsonate, El Salvador, where he was born on October 22, 1899. He was more well known as Salarrué. His family was wealthy and they were able to send him to Washington, D.C. to study art at the Corcoran School of Art, where he stayed for three years from 1916. After his graduation he returned to El Salvador and became the editor of Patria, a newspaper owned by Alberto Masferrer. He wrote short stories to fill in the blank spaces in the newspaper. His works were later collected and compiled into a book entitled Cuentos de Cipotes or Children’s Stories. He also wrote stories that were included in his Cuentos de Barro or Tales of Clay, which depicted ideal rural life in his country. These two anthologies paved the way for the Latin American narrative costumbrista or folkloric narrative.
Vicente Alberto Masferrer Mónico
Alberto Masferrer was hailed as the most important fiction writer, journalist and essayist in El Salvador, although he did not receive formal education but rather opted for self-education. He was well-traveled though and had been to Chile, New York, most countries in the European Union and countries in Central America. He was born on the 24th of July 1868 in Alegria. The newspaper Patria, which he founded around 1928 contained socio-political commentaries and gave voice to the oppressed. He became editor of several national and international papers and magazines during that period in his life. He later served as El Salvador’s consul to Argentina and later to Chile, Costa Rica and Belgium. Masferrer also served in the International Court of Justice in 1912 and held several other public positions. During the 1932 uprising of Salvadoran peasants, Masferrer was sent to exile in Honduras.
His writings reflected his views on the rights of individuals regardless of race, gender and status in life, emphasizing that every one has the right to education, shelter, food and work, a philosophy that was termed vitalismo, for which Masferrer was credited to be the founder.
Fernando Llort Choussy
Fernando Llort was born in San Salvador on April 7, 1949. He showed artistic inclination at an early age and graduated from the University of El Salvador with a degree in architecture. After graduation he went to France for further studies in 1968. He also studied theology in Belgium and it influenced his art. He then took art classes at the Louisiana State University. Due to the political instability in the city, he decided to settle in La Palma after coming back to El Salvador. The simple life had a great impact on his paintings and he used basically primary colors on his paintings that depicted simple rural life and every day things you can find in the rural area such as simple houses, flowers, birds and animals, reminiscent of the works of Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró. His art workshop is called El Árbol de Dios. The international art community calls Llort the National Artist of El Salvador.
Miguel Angel Ramirez
Miguel Ramirez is an internationally-known painter who hails from Santo Tomás, a town in San Salvador. Ramirez was born on February 9, 1960. He is very well known for his paintings of Salvadoran children’s faces, showing their different emotions, while still capturing their innocence and depicting the hardships they face. Yet somehow his paintings always evoke a sense of hope.
Ramirez started an arts school called Casa Taller Encuentros. In his school he teaches art to young children as well as young people and adults who mostly belong to low income families. He’s had numerous international exhibitions and one of his paintings now hangs at the Vatican.
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