Columbus-Copapayo Sister City Project

A Brief Historical Sketch

El Salvador’s recent history is marked by a twelve-year civil war from 1980-1992. The civil war arose out of conflict between the military led government and efforts by left-leaning organizations, such as the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN). Though history will ultimately demonstrate that the United States served as a chief instigator in El Salvadors’ civil war and as a main catalyst for the social, cultural, and political upheavals of the time, there were grassroots initiatives by people across U.S. which contested involvement and U.S. military aid to El Salvador. The “Sanctuary Movement,” for instance, was part of a large network of grassroots religious groups that worked to alter the direction of U.S. policy in Central America (Brett 1994).

People fleeing war ridden El Salvador to the United States sought refuge and asylum. Churches and church members offered space and homes. The Sanctuary Movement is described as a “loose conglomeration of over four hundred congregations which sponsored, transported and provided legal, medical, and other assistance to Central American refugees, many of whom were undocumented” (Westerman, p.224). United States interest in Central America peaked in the 1980s after the murder of Archbishop Óscar Romero and rape and murder of four U.S. churchwomen, an act thought to be perpetrated by U.S. trained and funded personale. The Peace Treaty of 1992 “officially” ended the Salvadoran civil war but the ongoing effects remain open.

Copapayo-Columbus Sister City Project

According to a document obtained from The National Center of U.S.-El Salvador Sister Cities main office in New York, forming a Sister City bond lets you and your city develop a direct, people-to-people relationship with a Salvadoran community. Through this relationship, U.S. citizens can help a Salvadoran town build a future, and can learn about Salvadoran history and life from the people themselves. Through sister city relationships, Salvadoran and U.S. citizens learn from one another, share hopes and dreams, and work together to build a world in which peace, understanding, freedom, equality and justice are the guiding principles for relationships among all people.

In Columbus, activities in solidarity began in mid 1980’s. Many social religious groups and local branches of Pastors for Peace, CRIPDES (Christian Committee of the Displaced), CISPES (Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador), SHARE (Salvadoran Humanitarian Aid, Research and Education Foundation ), among others, came together to support an agreement between the city of Columbus and the city of Copapayo, located in central El Salvador. The Sister City Project in Columbus aimed at intervening in El Salvador through sending “delegations” to Copapayo, contacting state and local representatives, and bringing awareness to the general public. Delegations comprised of small groups of people - between 10 to 15, but varied from year to year and organization - that raised funds through individual and church donations in order to travel to El Salvador to “maintain peace” in various parts of El Salvador.

The activities of the various delegations varied, but most identified their participation as playing the part of “human shields” during their short tenure in El Salvador. In 1987, the City of Columbus officially endorsed and recognized the Columbus-Copapayo Sister City Project through the ratification of an official city resolution signed by the then mayor Gregory S. Lashutka. In 1989, the first delegation to Copapayo established contact with community members. Aid was distributed to the local community members in the form of medical supplies and children’s toys. Funds were brought to begin building community centers for women and children, as well as a school. The number of delegations to Copapayo from Columbus is unknown, but there is reason to believe delegations to Copapayo continued until the Peace Treaty of 1992, which “officially” ended the El Salvadoran civil war.

In the Spring of 2014, participants in Dr. Borland’s fieldwork course completed extensive research, which included tape recording oral histories from Copapayo-Columbus Sister City delegation members and leaders, retrieval of archival materials from said delegation members, and contextualizing initiatives in Columbus, Ohio within larger U.S. efforts in El Salvador. Copapayo-Columbus delegation members and key leaders were interviewed over the course of the Spring 2014 semester, and a working list of archival materials, listed below, was compiled.


What’s in the collection?

Key documents of the Columbus-Copapayo Sister City Project and surrounding movements and organizations have been archived at The Ohio State University Center for Folklore Studies Archives. Mark Stansbery, Ruth Jost, John Florian and Martha MacFerran provided key documents. Documents collected include newspaper clippings, delegation information, personal correspondence, video footage, a book and other miscellaneous documents. Other items include material objects like t-shirts, posters, crafts from Copapayo and the FMLN. Moreover, archived are a number of interviews conducted from February-April 2014 with key leaders and community members involved with the project.

View or Download

Columbus-Copapayo Sister City Project at OSU Folklore Archive Advertisement [pdf].

Columbus-Copapayo Sister City Project audio story [mp3] and Audio Story Transcript [pdf].

Borland, Katherine. "The Columbus-Copapayo Sister City Project: A Service Learning/Research Model." Practicing Anthropology. 39.2 (2017): 39-43. Print.

References and Suggested Reading

  • Americas Watch. El Salvador's Decade of Terror: Human Rights Since the Assassination of Archbishop Romero. New Haven, London: Yale University Press, 1993.
  • Brett, Edward T. “The Attempts of Grassroots Religious Groups to Change US Policy Towards Central America: Their Methods, Successes, and Failures.” Journal of Church and State 36.4 (1994): 773-794.
  • Westerman, W. (1998). Central American refugee testimonies and performed life histories in the sanctuary movement. The oral history reader, 224-34.
  • United States Institute of Peace Report, 1993. From Madness to Hope [pdf]