He spoke of the needs of the poor of Latin America and the innate dignity of all men and women, of a world where money is spent not on armaments, but on the education and welfare of the people. Above all, he urged his listeners not to forget the people they may have left behind in Latin America.
Like a family member on a rare visit from far away, Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Perez Esquivel of Argentina addressed about 500 members of the Hispanic community here one evening recently, and his words struck a personal chord for many who had come to see him.
For some of the Washington-area Hispanos, though they have long ago left such countries as El Salvador, Honduras, Panama, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Ecuador or Chile for a new life in the United States, they are still actively involved in the politics of their homelands and in trying to help the people they left behind.
Perez Esquivel is one of the most effective voices of dissent in Argentina, a country where thousands of political activists have died -- or simply disappeared -- at the hands of the Argentine military government. He stressed human rights in his talk.
His words seemed particularly poignant to Amelia Ruiz from El Salvador. Ruiz lives in Adams-Morgan now but is no stanger to the problems -- poverty, political repression, illiteracy, human rights violations, social injustice -- that plaque El Salvador and several other Latin American nations.
"As I was in El Salvador in August, I saw what was happening," she said softly in Spanish. "Every day I went out and I saw young men, as young as 13 years old, in the streets of San Salvador, decapitated.
"They put the dead on the streets so others can see them and be afraid."
The political strife in El Salvador has reached bloodbath proportions in recent years. Both leftist and rightest political factions battling for power have been responsible for numerous killings.
Though Ruiz now lives the quiet life of wife and mother in Adams-Morgan, a good deal of her time is still dedicated to El Salvador. Recently she started a prayer group to pray for a cessation of the bloodshed and restoration of peace in her country.
But Ruiz is quick to explain, "The group is also dedicated to action." She and the other members have been collecting clothes and trying to raise funds for the poor of El Salvador. Recently the group showed a film, "Revolution or Death: El Salvador," at the Calvary United Methodist Church on Columbia Road NW.
A young Guatemalan teacher who asked not to be named ("You see, everyone opposed to the government is automatically considered a communist," he explained), said he was particularly struck when Perez Esquivel called on Latin American youth to carry out the "true Christian's mission" of helping one's neighbor.
"I think he was absolutely correct in addressing the youth, because there is a tremendous number of youths in Washington's Latino community," said the teacher.
This teacher, who works in a CETA-funded training program that aids Hispanic youths, and he is a member of two groups here, the Inter-American Coalition for Human Rights and the Association of Solidarity with Guatemala. These groups, he says, accuse Guatemala's military government of widespread political repression.
"We try to talk to different groups here and we publish a newsletter to try to raise the consciousness of the American people to the situation in countries like Guatemala. We are trying to stop (the U.S. government's) arms sales to Guatemala and El Salvador because we know the governments (of both countries) are using these arms against the people," he said.
Maria, a social worker from Chile who also requested that her real name not be used, has lived in the United States almost five years. She feels that her mission in life is to "educate people as to the development of democracy in Chile until 1973," when the Chilean military, which is still in power today, staged a bloody coup against the last democratically elected president of Chile, Salvador Allende.
So Maria, a tall, thin woman with jet-black hair and onyx-colored eyes, attended the event for Perez Esquivel to talk about political and cultural repression in Chile.
A member of the D.C.-Chile Coalition, Maria and fellow Chileans here have spent a good deal of time circulating information denouncing the cultural administration in Chile, which must approve all cultural undertakings in the country. Maria and the others say that through this administration, the Chilean military regime has clamped down on the arts.
Maria said she and the others are also working to get the Chilean government to extradite for trial here two Chileans believed to have been involved in the 1976 slaying of former Chilean ambassador to the United States Orlando Letelier in Washington.
Other Hispanics who attended the Perez Esquivel talk were not involved in political causes relating to their homelands, but in keeping alive their native culture as they carve out a new life for themselves in the United States. There was Dr. Norma Small of Panama, a professor at George Washington University, who heads a Panamanian folkloric group here; and Mayra Lexcano-Gomez, consul general of Panama, who came down from Baltimore and who also spends much of her time promoting Panamanian culture.
There was Raul Mena from Ecuador who now lives in Arlington and arranges concerts of folk dances and music from Ecuador in the area.
The Hispanic community's meeting with Perez Esquivel was arranged by Father Sean O'Malley, who heads the Spanish Catholic Center of Washington.
"It's just a simple get-together," O'Malley said of the Perez Esquivel talk. "I just wanted the people of the Latino community here to have a chance to meet him and shake hands with him. Usually when a celebrity like this comes to Washington, they never get a chance to meet with the people."