Act | KCET
Just last year Israel's Holocaust remembrance organization bestowed on Castellanos the "Righteous Among the Nations" title for his role in saving thousands of Jews from German concentration camps. The title puts Castellanos on the same pedestal as Oskar Schindler, whose deeds were documented in the film "Schindler's List."
At the opening of the school last year Castellanos's granddaughter Ana Velasquez beamed with pride that L.A. Unified bestowed this posthumous recognition. Castellanos, a colonel in the Salvadoran army, didn't talk about what he did to save Jews during World War Two.
"When we asked him, he would say, 'Anyone in my place would do the same thing.' But remember that many people could do the same thing that he did, but they didn't. And some of them did and got money for it. And my grandfather he never asked for money," she said.
The naming is one of the first such civic recognitions of the contributions of Central Americans to Southern California life. As it has built more than a hundred new schools across the huge school district, L.A. Unified's board has named quite a few after prominent Mexicans and Mexican Americans. The uni-brow painter Frida Kahlo has an L.A. Unified school named after her. So does retired L.A. congressman Esteban Torres.
It may be a cold day on Beaudry Avenue before Nicaraguan guerrillero Augusto Sandino or Salvadoran poet Roque Dalton have a public school named after either of them. The Castellanos naming is a nod to Central Americans, to Salvadorans, and to a group of Central American Jews who've re-discovered their roots and have revived a nearly 90 year-old synagogue in East Hollywood.
Dominguez discovered that the president of the synagogue had a connection to Jose Castellanos. Longtime synagogue member Harvey Shield still has the Salvadoran citizenship certificate issued to his father in-law as the family was arrested in Holland by the occupying German army. That certificate, he says, kept the Jewish family from being sent to Auschwitz and certain death. Shield's wife was born in the U.S. about a decade later after the family arrived in the United States.
That story and the Central American kindred spirits at the temple led Dominguez to pursue his mother's stories of her German father having to hide his Jewish roots in El Salvador. And ever since, Oscar Dominguez has become a regular at Temple Knesset Israel.
Poet and Journalist Adolfo Guzman-Lopez writes his column Movie Miento every Tuesday at 2 p.m. on KCET's SoCal Focus blog. It is a poetic exploration of Los Angeles history, Latino culture and the overall sense of place, darting across LA's physical and psychic borders.