This protester could not save Nicaragua, however he is restoring an L.A. monument to its beloved poet

Utilizing a paintbrush and a spatula, Alex Vanegas smeared cleansing answer over a brass bust of the Nicaraguan poet and nationwide idol Rubén Darío.

The bust, stationed in a park south of downtown L.A., had been marred with rust that had unfold throughout its bottom. Grey stains tarnished Darío’s brocaded waistcoat, and a protracted, staggered crack ran alongside his head.

Vanegas first glimpsed the statue days after arriving in Los Angeles lower than a yr in the past. Top-of-the-line-known dissidents in opposition to the Nicaraguan authorities, he’s a part of a rising neighborhood of Nicaraguans who’ve fled violence, poverty and corruption and located refuge in California.

Venegas already felt dazed and disoriented as an asylum seeker in a brand new land. Then he noticed the monument.

“It made me so sad to see it in such a state,” he stated.

He resolved to revive the statue of Darío, his nation’s image of prosperity and id.

“He’s one of those figures that give us hope while we learn to orient ourselves in a new country,” he stated. And that’s the reason he was slathering cleansing answer onto the bust, decided to make it shine once more.


Earlier than he fled, Vanegas made headlines as Nicaragua’s “maratonista” — marathon man — by jogging via the streets of Managua, Leon and Chinandega to protest the autocratic rule of President Daniel Ortega and his spouse and vp, Rosario Murillo.

The 65-year-old Vanegas ran in blue-and-white basketball shorts, festooned with flowers, balloons and Nicaraguan flags, and wore a T-shirt that learn, “I run to force Ortega out.”

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and his spouse, Vice President Rosario Murillo, lead a rally in Managua in 2018.

(Related Press)

Vanegas did laps round his neighborhood and a visitors circle known as the Rotonda Rubén Darío. He’d cry out traces from certainly one of Darío’s most notable works, “Si la patria es pequeña…” — If the homeland is small — till pedestrians and motorists shouted again, “Uno grande la sueña!” — then one desires huge.

“It’s what I knew how to do best, and therefore became my method of trying to raise awareness and call the government out,” Vanegas stated.

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However the marathon man’s protests landed him in jail for 4 months till he was launched in February 2019.

Shortly after arriving within the U.S., Vanegas made contact with German Peña, who based the Nicaraguan American Alternative Basis, a 26-year-old L.A.-based group that gives companies and acts as a cultural area for Nicaraguan immigrants.

Peña took him to Maywood Riverfront Park, the place he noticed the Darío monument, the bust topping a construction of black marble.

He set to work. He patched cracks and holes and lathered on a recent coat of copper paint. Progressively, the monument started to shine.

Alex Vanegas  renovates a bust of Rubén Darío

Vanegas found the Rubén Darío monument in Maywood quickly after his arrival in Los Angeles.

(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Occasions)

All of the whereas, Peña helped Vanegas together with his immigration and political asylum paperwork. In recent times, such work by the muse has turn into extra important than ever. Financial and political turmoil throughout Latin America has pushed tens of 1000’s of individuals to to migrate.

There are greater than 400,000 folks of Nicaraguan descent dwelling in america, far fewer than the variety of Salvadorans (about 2.3 million) and Guatemalans (1.4 million), the 2 largest Central American sub-groups. Within the larger Los Angeles space, the Nicaraguan inhabitants of about 40,000 is second solely to south Florida’s, in keeping with census knowledge.

Nearly all of those that flee Nicaragua enterprise to neighboring Costa Rica or Panama, the place there’s a far larger likelihood of discovering jobs and asylum than in america. Those that make the expensive and harmful trek to the U.S. have an intense goal for doing so.

“Those who end up coming [here] are the most determined to do so,” stated Raúl Hinojosa-Ojeda, an affiliate professor within the UCLA Division of Chicana and Chicano Research and an knowledgeable on migration.

However for Nicaraguans feeling remoted and overwhelmed in Los Angeles, the muse fosters a way of neighborhood and belonging.

“It’s spaces like these where I can find people who look and speak as I do,” stated Vanegas, who commonly attends the group’s cultural occasions. “It’s a little reminder of home.”


Like Vanegas and most Nicaraguan refugees, Peña fled as his homeland slid from revolution right into a regional conflict that price tens of 1000’s of lives.

He left in 1983 as violence escalated between the Soviet-supported Sandinista Nationwide Liberation Entrance, which in 1979 had ousted the U.S.-backed right-wing dictator, Anastasio Somoza, and allied insurgent teams collectively often known as the Contras.

On the time, Peña couldn’t afford to carry his two youngsters alongside and left them with their grandmother; his spouse had died just a few years earlier. So, on their lonesome, Peña took a bus to Mexico.

“It tortured me from the minute I left,” Peña stated. “I cried every day for them.”

‘It tortured me from the minute I left. I cried every day for them.’

— German Peña, on leaving his youngsters behind in Nicaragua when he fled in 1983 for america

The isolation didn’t cease as soon as he reached Los Angeles (and the place his youngsters would reunite with him two years later). Nearly all of Latinos in L.A. are of Mexican descent, and Nicaragua’s cultural traditions are starkly completely different.

Throughout his first weeks in Los Angeles, Peña walked right into a Mexican restaurant and ordered what a close-by patron had on his plate: birria tacos with rice and beans. He took consolation within the latter — staples of Nicaraguan delicacies — however wasn’t ready for the birria, meat stewed with a heavy focus of chile. He fell in poor health for a number of days.

He realized simply how far he was from house.

“They’re tiny differences that can often make someone suffer,” he stated.

Peña later attended a private {and professional} progress seminar and realized what he needed to do: assist Nicaraguan refugees dwelling in Los Angeles. Although L.A. didn’t have many pinoleros — as Nicaraguans name themselves — he noticed a necessity. He additionally pledged to serve his homeland.

When Hurricane Mitch hit Central America in 1998, it induced 1000’s of deaths throughout Nicaragua and greater than $1 billion in harm.

By the muse, Peña collected donations and tried to boost consciousness in regards to the tragedy. When america introduced that Nicaraguans and residents of different hurricane-ravaged international locations would have the ability to obtain short-term protected standing and stay within the U.S. legally, California turned certainly one of a number of states that noticed an inflow of migrants from the small nation.


Yelba Quintana met Peña whereas he was accumulating hurricane reduction provides and got here to her with the concept of making a sequence of seminars and cultural occasions geared toward highlighting Nicaraguan heritage, which he dubbed Peñas Culturales Nicaraguense.

“There wasn’t a space for us where we could even convene for social gatherings,” recalled Quintana, 42. “I was really motivated to be part of something that reflects our culture and convene amongst ourselves.”

She had fled Nicaragua to forestall her son, Armando, then 17, from being pressed into army service by the Sandinista-dominated authorities.

On the cultural sequence debut, she was thrilled to listen to a well-recognized mixture of dialects and accents and to see the blue-and-white Nicaraguan flag on the wall of the group’s Beverly Boulevard workplace. They talked about why they left Nicaragua and shared tales from their lives again house they’d recounted solely to their youngsters or different kin.

“I felt so nervous to talk so openly about those emotions that we carry within us,” Quintana stated.

On the cultural occasions, folks would meet to observe Nicaraguan films and documentaries and bond over plates of gallo pinto and cacao. In addition they mentioned works by Nicaraguan authors, and that, after all, led to Darío and his work as a poet and journalist in Latin America and Europe.

Sculptures and parks throughout Latin America honor him. There’s a metro station in Madrid named after Darío, as are streets in Mexico, Panama, El Salvador and Honduras. In Miami there may be Rubén Darío Center College.

For Nicaraguans, Darío serves as a reigning image of pleasure, in addition to a voice of resistance to colonialism and imperialism throughout the hemisphere.

The muse ultimately formulated the concept of erecting a monument to Darío. Though the vast majority of Central American residents stay within the downtown L.A. space, Peña set his sights on Maywood, the third-smallest included metropolis in Los Angeles County. The monument was unveiled the day the park opened to the general public: Might 27, 2008.

“I’d say Maywood is the No. 1 cultural city in the world. Why? Because that’s where the Rubén Darío monument is located,” Peña stated.


It was 2018 when Vanegas noticed on the information that 15-year-old Alvarito Conrado had been shot within the neck by police whereas the boy carried water to varsity scholar demonstrators at a barricade within the Nicaraguan capital, Managua. His demise was one of many a whole bunch throughout protests that originally started as a push for social safety reform however erupted into a bigger motion in opposition to the federal government itself.

Vanegas, who had taken up operating in his 40s, felt compelled to indicate his anger over Alvarito’s demise by some means. Working can be his methodology, he determined. He went into the road and ran.

A single lap become dozens, and over the course of a number of months, he had run a whole bunch. Native media regarded him because the nation’s Forrest Gump, the peripatetic hero of the 1994 movie starring Tom Hanks.

“It became bigger than myself,” Vanegas stated.

It was a coincidence he hadn’t predicted.

Like thousands and thousands of primarily poor Nicaraguans, he had supported the Sandinista Nationwide Liberation Entrance when it overthrew the Somoza dynasty that had dominated the nation for many years. Daniel Ortega, then the Sandinistas’ revolutionary younger chief, was imprisoned and jailed for 4 months as an city guerrilla combating for the opposition celebration.

However over the course of 4 many years, his opponents — in addition to many international governments and human rights advocates — say that Ortega has become the form of dictator he as soon as fought to oust, persecuting political enemies and the media.

In accordance with the Inter-American Fee on Human Rights, not less than 325 folks have been killed and greater than 2,000 wounded over the course of the unrest, and greater than 50,000 refugees have fled Nicaragua.

Vanegas was arrested greater than a dozen instances. In a single occasion, he was pressured right into a police automobile after spending an hour operating in Managua, in keeping with a video of the incident. His arms dangling out of the automobile, he cried out in protest as officers fought to restrain him.

At two prisons, he was starved and overwhelmed by guards whereas sharing quarters with rats, scorpions and cockroaches, in keeping with a number of accounts from Nicaraguan media shops following his case.

Pablo Cuevas, authorized advisor for the Everlasting Fee on Human Rights in Nicaragua, stated in a 2018 information convention that Vanegas continued to reel from the bodily and emotional torment he underwent in jail.

“He sends the message that he was only trying to fulfill and do what was within his own constitutional rights of protest,” he stated whereas Venegas was imprisoned at El Chipote, extensively recognized for housing Nicaragua’s political prisoners and described by jail well being consultants as abusive for inmates.

He went on to be positioned below home arrest. His spouse was warned to not see or contact him. His 4 youngsters typically visited and introduced him meals. An area alliance that had helped acquire his launch warned Vanegas they might not assist him.

“I truly felt as though I had no place in the country I’ve called home all my life,” Vanegas stated.

And so he hoped to succeed in his brother, who was dwelling in Los Angeles.

Though the muse has avoided civil protest since its founding, the group was current in June exterior the Ninth Summit of the Americas, held on the Los Angeles Conference Heart. The group’s protest hoped to make clear Ortega’s authoritarian rule, holding up indicators that learn, “Rescatemos Nicaragua” (“Save Nicaragua”).

“From here on out, we will use the prestige of NAOF to fight for the liberation of Nicaragua,” Peña stated. (The U.S. authorities, reacting to the Ortega authorities’s crackdown on dissent, in October imposed new financial sanctions in opposition to Nicaragua’s gold trade.)

Vanegas, who took half within the L.A. protest, stated he’ll proceed to unfold consciousness of the troubles in Nicaragua. And he can nonetheless be discovered scrubbing lint, graffiti and scratches off the brass bust of Darío.

“He is my hope,” he stated.

Alex Vanegas restores the monument to Rubén Darío

Vanegas can nonetheless be discovered scrubbing lint, graffiti and scratches off the brass bust of Darío.

(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Occasions)

And if Darío, his nation’s image of pleasure and resilience, can stay in pristine situation, then perhaps Nicaraguans searching for refuge in L.A. like Vanegas can discover solace and peace of their new house.

And perhaps his homeland, although small, will sometime notice its huge dream.