Alex Vanegas Restores Monument to Ruben Dario in Los Angeles
Vanegas was arrested by Daniel Ortega’s police five times, for which he decided to go into exile, first in Costa Rica, and later in the United States
HAVANA TIMES – Nicaraguan marathon runner Alex Vanegas has been in charge of polishing a bronze bust of the poet Ruben Dario, located in a park south of downtown Los Angeles, California, where he arrived less than a year ago fleeing the repression of the regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo.
“Using a brush and a spatula, Alex Vanegas spread a cleaning solution on a bronze bust of the Nicaraguan poet and national idol Ruben Dario”, begins the account of his story as an exile, published on November 11 by the Los Angeles Times newspaper.
Vanegas felt dazed and disoriented as an asylum seeker, the text notes. Seeing the time-worn monument made him very sad and he decided to restore it. “He is one of those figures who gives us hope as we learn to navigate a new country,” he said.
Vanegas, 65, was a recognized figure of the citizen rebellion of April 2018. He would run from town to town and city to city protesting against the Ortega regime, soon becoming a visible face of the struggle. The threats, verbal attacks and five arrests forced him into exile in Costa Rica, where he lived on the street, according to a publication in La Prensa newspaper.
Vanegas ran everywhere in Managua, the Nicaraguan capital, especially around the Ruben Darío roundabout. He shouted verses from one of Dario’s most notable works, “If one’s homeland is small…”, until the pedestrians and motorists responded, “You dream it big”, he told the L.A. Times.
“It’s what I knew how to do best – run – and, therefore, it became my method to try to raise awareness and call the government,” said Vanegas, who was in prison for four months before going into exile in 2019 to Costa Rica, and then, in 2021, to the United States.
Shortly after arriving in the US, Vanegas contacted German Peña, who founded the Nicaragua American Opportunity Foundation, a 26-year-old Los Angeles-based organization that provides services and acts as a cultural space for Nicaraguan immigrants.
Peña took him to the Maywood Riverfront Park, where he saw the Darío monument, the bust atop a black marble structure. Vanegas went to work. He patched up cracks and holes and lathered up a fresh coat of copper paint. Little by little, the monument began to shine.
A little Nicaragua in Los Angeles
Meanwhile, Peña helped Vanegas with his immigration and political asylum paperwork. In recent years, this work of his foundation has become more essential than ever.
According to the Los Angeles Times, there are more than 400,000 people of Nicaraguan origin living in the United States, far fewer than the number of Salvadorans (about 2.3 million) and Guatemalans (1.4 million), the two largest subgroups. from Central America. In the Los Angeles metropolitan area, the Nicaraguan population is approximately 40,000 residents.
For Nicaraguans who feel isolated and overwhelmed in Los Angeles, the foundation fosters a sense of community and belonging. “It’s spaces like these where I can find people who look and talk like me,” said Vanegas, who regularly attends the group’s cultural events. “It’s a little reminder of home,” he told the newspaper.
Alex Vanegas keeps running to oust Ortega
Although most Central American residents live in Los Angeles proper, Peña set his sights on Maywood, the third-smallest incorporated city in Los Angeles County. The monument was inaugurated the day the park opened to the public: May 27, 2008.
“I would say that Maywood is the number 1 cultural city in the world. Why? Because there is the monument to Ruben Dario,” Peña told the Los Angeles Times.
Meanwhile, Alex has not stopped running. He continues to participate in the protests organized by the diaspora in Los Angeles. He assured the newspaper that he will continue to publicize the problems in Nicaragua and take care of Dario’s bust. “He is my hope,” he assured the newspaper.