Hector Recino Jr., 16, came to Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School last week to give students his age a glimpse of life at home in El Salvador. It was a story, students said later, that shocked and saddened them.
Recino's mother and sister are missing, his father is in prison and his country is in turmoil. He said that his father, the president of the hydroelectric workers union, was arrested in 1980 during a national strike against the government and has been tortured and mistreated ever since.
Mark Simon's Latin American studies class was one of a dozen stops Recino made last week on an East Coast tour sponsored by a labor coalition in support of the National Federation of Salvadoran Labor Workers, a coalition of 23 labor unions in El Salvador.
Two years after his father was jailed, Recino said, his mother and sister were abducted by heavily armed police as he and his two brothers were playing in the street. His mother and sister have not been seen or heard from since.
"We went next door to hide," he said. "Then we went to our grandmother's house." For the next year Recino worked in a brick factory and took care of his siblings, now 8 and 13.
Because of his father's notoriety, the children had to change their names when they reentered school in 1983, he said. A year later, he received an invitation from a cousin in Los Angeles and, with his father's consent, slipped across the border to Guatemala with his brothers and eventually crossed the California-Mexico border illegally. He has applied for political asylum and is awaiting a response.
"We were able to leave and are doing what my father said we should do," Recino told the class. "He said to us, when we finally get to a country where there is freedom, we should know it is not a sin . . . to speak out about human rights. . . . We're asking for your help too . . . that you help us secure the release of my father and others who have been tortured."
The class, which has been studying political conditions in Central and South America, listened intently as Recino made his case. "To the government of El Salvador," he told them, "you are probably worth more than any Salvadoran."
Recino's story personalizes the political turmoil they have been studying, students said after class.
"I'm about to start crying," said Molly Laub. "It's the most depressing thing. I know there are problems there, but not what the feelings of the people are. It's just so awful -- and to be so young."
Recino said his agenda is to free his father, lobby to choke off the American arms supply that he says keeps the war going and to help persuade President Reagan to support a dialogue "between those who have guns in their hands."
Before his father was imprisoned, Recino said, he was like many other teen-agers in El Salvador. He was not a guerilla, but was supported changes in the Salvadoran government, he said. He followed the national political debate and often went with his mother to the office of the Committee of the Disappeared, a human rights organization made up of relatives of Salvadorans who have been abducted or arrested, many without charges, by the national guard or paramilitary groups.
" Salvadoran President Napolean Duarte is a screen," Recino told a student who asked who controls his country. "The high command of the armed forces, they really control the scene."
"What if the El Salvadoran government was sending up arms to kill your mother and father?" he responded to a question about supporting a "right side" in the war.
About 30,000 Salvadorans living in the United States have applied for political asylum, immigration officials say. In 1982, 72 had their requests granted, Recino said. Salvadoran and American human rights organizations are currently investigating 76 cases in which political asylum was denied and the deported Salvadorans were killed when they returned to their country.
"If you had to go back, would you be imprisoned yourself?" a student asked Recino.
"They'd be waiting for me at the airport," he said.