From the time she was 15-years old, Ofelia Mena, now 50, attended clandestine political meetings in her native Nicaragua with students and workers who were seeking an end to the Somoza family's rule of their country.
When she married, her home became a hiding place for revolutionaries trying to topple the Somoza government. She emigrated to the United States in 1965, so her four children could get beyond the sixth-grade education she had received and supported her family over the years by cleaning bathrooms at Trader Vic's and cleaning table in the Kennedy Center's rooftop restaurant.
In 1978, when the Sandinistas, the guerrilla group that now governs Nacaragua, began launching major military offensives, against government forces, Mena, a small-boned silver-haired woman, returned to Nicaragua to "make bombs, throw bombas, make and distribute food."
Today, with the Sandinista revolution accomplished, she is back in Washington. One evening last week she sat in the smoky basement of All Soul's Church on 16th Street NW and collected $1 from each person who came in, which she stuffed in a brown envelope. The money eventually will make activists in nearby El Salvador who want to effect the same kind of revolution Nicaragua had.
Mena is one of a growing number of Hispanics living in Washington who are part of a network to disseminate information about revolutionary activity in Latin America here, and to raise funds to support it.
Mena was one of the key organizers of National Solidarity Week for Nicaragua and El Salvador -- a week of forums and cultural events have ended with a rally Saturday night at All Souls Church.
The week was topped off by visits by two representatives of the Sandinista government. Noel Gonzalez, of the Nicaraguan foreign relations secretariat, and Sayda Hernandez of the National Associaton of Nicaraguan women, who spoke in the Adams Morgan community twice last week about life after the revolution in Nicaragua.
Both times, they asked for donations for the nationwide literacy campaign in Nicaragua, a country where 1 million people -- half the population -- are illiterate.
Their visit, as well as the solidarity week events, were timed to coincide with the 46th anniversary of the death of Augusto Sandino, an opponent of Somoza whose life and death became the symbolic inspiration for the Sandinistras' struggle against Somoza.
The sponsors of the week's events are a rather loose coalition of Washington-area residents who participate in about half a dozen local groups that gather information tags on developments in Latin American countries and send money there.
These groups have attracted a diversified following: El Salvadoreans, here without proper immigraton papers: Americans who have traveled or done volunteer work -- in the Peace Socialist Party and women's rights activists: and American community who have come to know about El Salvador and Nicaragua through their Hispanic neighbors and friends.
Members of one of the groups, D.C. NICA, said that they have raised about $10,000 for Nicaragua since the revolution.About $2,000 was raised at a fair held in September at the Wilson Community Center at 16th and Irving streets NW. The other chapters of NICA nationwide have raised a total of $100,000, they said.
Both visiting Sandinistas denied that any of the money raised here is used to purchase military equipment. They said the money is helping to send "teachings groups" into factories and rural villiages to teach Nicaraguans to read and write. Their overall goal, they said is to raise $500,000 in the United States by next week to go toward the general reconstruction of Nicaragua.
The government has a $618 million past due debt when the Sandinistas took over from Somoza.
A spokesman from the El Salvadorean group -- the D.C. Committee in Solidarity with Salvador -- could not give figures on how much money has been sent to El Salvador.
They said the money is channeled to the Popular Revolutionary Block in El Salvador and is a group of peasants, workers, teachers and union activists, and is used to purchase "food, medicine, leaflets and newsletters. . . that tell about the government massacres (of the El Salvadorean people)."
Rosario Guardado of the D.C. Committee in Solidarity with El Salvador estimated that 20,000 El Salvadoreans live in the Washington area. Many are here illegally, she said.
Many Nicaraguans who has been living in Washington have returned to Nicaragua since the revolution, but members of the D.C. NICA estimate there are still about 10,000 Nicaraguans in the area.