The first time I heard Maria Guardado tell her life story I was a young graduate student at Stanford University. I had heard many stories like hers growing up Central American in San Francisco. My family, like many others, provided safe houses for refugees fleeing the repression of state-sponsored violence in El Salvador and Guatemala during the 1980s. I heard even more similar stories in the early 1990s as a translator for lawyers working on Central American asylum cases. But Maria Guardado's story is one of the most unique, not because of the brutality that she has endured, but rather because of what she has done and who she has become since she arrived in the United States.
Maria Guardado is probably the foremost and most easily recognizable Salvadoran activist in the United States, not a small task given the large and talented number of Salvadoran activists revitalizing the U.S. left. She is active around multiple issue areas, from solidarity, human rights, working to create a progressive alternative to the Democratic Party, to being a member of Los Angeles' Bus Riders Union (Sindicato de Pasajeros). Come to any major protest or progressive political event in L.A. and you are sure to find Maria Guardado somewhere in the mix, always building bridges between oppressed groups and reminding people of their common cause. Any chance she gets she reminds people of the trauma that we Central Americans faced during the 1980s, why we immigrated to the U.S. as political refugees, how many of us still have not been granted legal status, of the U.S. government's [End Page 760] complicity in the state terrorism; but most importantly she reminds us that our struggle is not over.
Testimony is her life story. It introduces her to the audience as a person and as an activist. The movie is not a propaganda piece. It does not hold Maria out to be some larger than life heroic figure without flaws. Instead it documents her as she is: A human being of humble origins who became empowered in the struggle for social justice and whom physical and psychological torture could scar, but not defeat. The movie itself is not glitzy or glamorous and at times its technical dimensions are weak, but this is actually part of its allure. It is a grassroots documentary about a grassroots activist.
Testimony chronicles Maria's life while introducing or reminding the audience of what happened in El Salvador during the 1980s and the U.S. government's role in the state-sponsored terrorism. It is a tribute to her humanity that Maria is not more bitter and angry with the United States, for she has every right to be. Yet, she has dedicated her years here not trying to destroy the country that she blames for her torture, but trying to improve it, especially for Central Americans, immigrants, workers, and the poor. In this sense, Maria Guardado has become the mother of all Salvadorans in the United States, constantly fighting on our behalf. As one of her poems states, "I have adopted as my own child that for which we are still struggling . . . libertad, libertad, libertad!"
Los Angeles, California