WORLD IN A SPIN: FOREIGN STUDENTS REFLECT ON TUMULT : El Salvador: 'It's difficult to be . . . here getting the terrible news.'

Martha Arevalo is one of the 350,000 Salvadorans in Los Angeles haunted by the news from their homeland: danger, destruction and the delay of peace in Central America.

In El Salvador, there is no wall being chiseled away, no voice of democracy taking over, no cause for celebration.

"Unlike the events in (Eastern) Europe, there has been only news of death and terror in my part of the world," says Arevalo, 19, who is studying psychology at Loyola Marymount University.

In the last month, six Jesuit priests were slain in El Salvador, a crime blamed on right-wing extremists tied to the military. Soon after, leftist guerrillas assaulted a wealthy neighborhood and seized a hotel, trapping U. S. military advisers. Then came the break in diplomatic relations between El Salvador and Nicaragua--a crushing blow to peace efforts.

And every day, new battles have erupted between soldiers and guerrillas in the decade-old political war that has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Salvadorans.

"I never knew if I would come home to a house and a family after school or to a bombed neighborhood. We left because of the war," Arevalo says of her family's 1981 journey to the United States.

"It's really difficult to be a Salvadoran and be here getting all the terrible news. You want to do so much to help," she says. "You know you are safe here, and yet you also know that there are so many people dying in your country in a war that doesn't end."

Lately, Arevalo and her family in Los Angeles try to call relatives in San Salvador daily, making contact only when the phone lines are working in the capital city. They are mostly concerned for her 58-year-old father, Adolfo. He returned five months ago to live with her sister Alpagracia, 31, who never left.

Arevalo says her father was visiting her aunt in the Escalon neighborhood when rebels seized the Sheraton Hotel. "My father couldn't leave because of the shooting," she says. "None of my family was harmed, but they were caught in the middle of the fighting. It was very scary. We feel helpless here, and we can only feel the hopelessness that our people are going through."

Still, Arevalo says that she, her mother, brother and another sister hope to go back once peace is declared. Until then, she says, they will hope and pray for the safety of their loved ones.

Like Arevalo, Carlos Velasco, 21, a junior at UCLA who is studying history and international law and who is the coordinator of the Central American Refugee Aid Project, is frustrated by the turn of events in El Salvador. He says he would like to be in El Salvador now, but believes he can do more for his country "by staying here and getting a good education."

Velasco hopes to return to the land his family left eight years ago "once the situation gets better" to teach English and serve as an interpreter. "I feel the knowledge I am gaining here will help my people more if peace is ever accomplished."

He says the revolution in El Salvador is "not about communism, it's about oppression--oppression of the people who are paid low wages, who have no schools, no freedom of speech, no basic care.

"When I hear of events happening in El Salvador, like the killing of the priests, I think, 'Wow, how can they do this?' But through the years, you know what to expect and what can happen. You get beyond being astonished and surprised."

Oscar Arce III, 19, a sophomore at Loyola Marymount and a Salvadoran-American, finds the news about South America depressing.

Although he and his five siblings were born in Los Angeles, he has heard his parents discuss the war-torn homeland they fled 25 years ago. To help his parents' country recover from the war, Arce, who is a dance and philosophy student, hopes to one day travel to El Salvador and perform missionary work.

"I still have cousins and a great-grandmother in El Salvador. They won't leave. They could come here, but they were born there and they want to die there as well. It is because of them my family talks about the events every day."

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