things that matter

Let’s Revisit The Times Four Salvadoran Men Skateboarded From El Salvador To The US To Flee Gang Violence

levivonk / Instagram

Exactly three years ago this week, Rolling Stone published a piece detailing the extent four guys went through to flee the gang violence surrounding them in El Salvador. The four men crossed thousands of miles north to the U.S. with skateboards as their main form of transportation.

Known as the four skaters, or patinetos, Kelvin, Rene, Kevin and Eliseo all told writer Levi Vonk their harrowing stories of how they had formed a brotherhood through skating, one they were willing to trust while migrating north undocumented.

Vonk talked to NPR’s Latino USA about how he was living in Mexico at the time as a Fulbright Scholar and encountered these four skaters whizzing by on their boards. He was at a migrant rights’ march at the time in Oaxaca.

“They wanted to go to LA because it’s the land of skaters and glitz, and they heard it had jobs, and they heard it had good skating,” Vonk told Latino USA.

Kelvin was the oldest of the group, 27 at the time, while the other skaters were all 20. Skateboarding had allowed for the four skaters to escape the pressures of living under gripping violence, but it was also a risk that surrounded them on the streets.

“It’s discouraged by the gangs who run the areas. It’s discouraged because they see it as a threat to their power within the neighborhoods,” Vonk said.

“For many of the skaters that’s what it was all about—was actively choosing a life that isn’t about violence,” Vonk added. “That isn’t about extorting others, it isn’t about harming others.”

https://www.instagram.com/p/5P3U95yZwc/

The four friends had had enough with the gang violence when several local skaters ended up in the hospital in March of 2015. They grabbed the little money they had, a change of clothes and started their journey north from El Salvador in the dead of night, skating 350 miles to the southern tip of Guatemala. It took them about a week to make it from San Salvador to the southern tip of Mexico, according to Rolling Stone. They slept in church shelters or on the street, and receiving free food from other skaters.

“That’s how we break borders with skating,” Kelvin told Rolling Stone. “We can connect with other guys practicing our sport.”

Kelvin also said local Mexican skaters protected them and invited them to party with them, and that they had ‘nothing but love for their Mexican brothers.’

Once the four skaters made it to Mexico, Kevin and Eliseo were apprehended in Mexico City by immigration officials and put back on a plane to El Salvador.

https://www.instagram.com/p/6qQPAcyZ_j/

The remaining guys took buses north through Mexico with the little money their families sent along. They managed to make it to the U.S. border, but the easy part of the journey wasn’t over yet.

Vonk wrote the two skaters got their skateboards taken away by coyotes, but they were able to cross into the U.S. with their help.

The article ends with Rene and Kelvin waiting it out at a coyote’s house and a follow-up piece was never written leaving the story unfinished.

In the NPR interview, audiences were told a little bit more about the whereabouts of the four skaters at that time: Eliseo and Kevin were trying to make it north again, Kelvin was at a coyote’s house in Texas and Rene had been detained at the Rio Grande Detention Center.

“When skateboarding started, they broke the rules because they were prohibited from skating,” Kelvin told Rolling Stone. “There are some that still think that skating is bad. But it’s better to be on a skateboard, breaking barriers, breaking the law because, in reality, the world shouldn’t have borders.”

Read the full Rolling Stone article here.


READ: This Three-Year-Old Latino Skateboarder Takes Slams And Gets Buck In This Vid

Share this story with all of your friends by tapping that little share button below!

Cuban Youths Are Skateboarding In Record Numbers And Don't Want To Be Nationally Recognized As A Sport

things that matter

Cuban Youths Are Skateboarding In Record Numbers And Don’t Want To Be Nationally Recognized As A Sport

GoPro / YouTube

Skateboarding has been used as a form of inclusion for teens and young adults to express their individuality. It keeps them active and allows them to form a tribe of like-minded individuals who can converse on the latest skate tricks and develop an artistic identity outside the conventional norms of society. Cuba is known around the world for the strict government and austerity that permeates the island. But a small group of young adults are taking their boards to the street to give themselves, and others, hope.

That sentiment extends to the marble-lined strip of Paseo del Prado in Havana, the main strip for skaters to practice stunts in the city.

Che Alejandro Pando, a tattoo artist and veteran of the skateboarding scene in Cuba, told the Havana Times, “With the boredom we have in this country, if you give a kid a skateboard and he goes for it, you are giving him something healthy to do, instead of hanging on to the outside of buses or drinking out and about.”

Skateboarding has given young people something positive to do in a country where good news is rare.

Teens are using skateboarding as an active, healthy lifestyle choice, and skater girls and women are using it additionally as a way to empower themselves. Although women on the island do have a certain degree of equal rights, the typical expectation is to be revered as a wife, mother and sister—not to go and dare to be anything they want to be.

With a board in hand, some Cuban women are seeing it as their metaphorical form of a spear and shield.

Team up with sPACycLOUd tomorrow, Aug. 5th to help female shredders in Cuba! Come to Local 16 and join our fundraising…

Posted by Skate Girls Tribe on Friday, August 4, 2017

“I do totally have this sensation of being different just for having a passion,” Belkis López Correa told the Miami New Times. “Like I’m fighting so hard to do something I love.”

López Correa endured stares, questions from her parents and scraped knees all to do the sport that she loves.

Regardless of who is on the board, skateboarders in Cuba are wary of authorities and are conscientious that they are not seen as a recognized sport by the country’s National Institute of Sport, Physical Education, and Recreation (INDER) for fear of being regulated by bureaucratic red tape. Some skaters have reported having their boards confiscated, being slapped with fines or even getting arrested.

Getting a board confiscated is often a literal derailment for skaters, since boards are hard to come by on the island.

Some non-governmental organizations such as Amigo Skate and Cuba Skate (both coincidentally started in the same year) have been providing skateboards and equipment for Cuban skateboarders since 2010.

The skateboarding community in Cuba continues to grow and offers necessary hope.

Amigo Skate’s website says “the primary focus of our mission in Cuba has been to facilitate the tools and skills needed for Havana’s at-risk youth to foster a world where creativity has no limits.” Now the organization is working on expanding past Havana and bringing the support of the organization to eight other cities on the island that have a thriving skateboarding culture.

And there is no shortage of organizations facilitating the growth of this sport.

Cuba Skate also began in 2010 when two University of Michigan alums who had studied abroad in Cuba and made close ties with local skateboarders decided to keep that connection going. What emerged was a NGO to “establish sustainability for the island’s skateboarding communities.”

Skateboarding has a short history in Cuba, coming to the island just 40 to 50 years ago.

According to the Miami New Times article, skateboarding was first introduced in Cuba by Soviet soldiers, doctors and students who brought skateboards to the island in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Kids around Havana soon started making their own makeshift skateboards. By the ‘90s, skateboards were smuggled in thanks to travelers or those who worked abroad. Then in the 2000s, skateboarding culture started growing in the city. Havana even received donated ramps from Red Bull to build the Patinodromo, one of the only skate parks in the city.

Skateboarding still has a long way to go in Havana, since it is still seen as a ‘rogue activity’ due to its unofficial status as a sport and its ties to American NGOs and partnerships. Yet, the young men and women skating up and down the cities of Cuba are giving the country’s youth something to look forward to.

READ: The Latinos Who Defined Skateboarding’s Future Featured In ‘L.A. Boys’ Documentary

Share this story with all of your friends by tapping that little share button below!

Paid Promoted Stories