Oral history interview with Joe Szwaja

Joe Szwaja played a key role in mobilizing Madisonians in support of the Madison-Arcatao Sister City initiative. As a graduate student at UW, he became involved with Community Action in Latin America (CALA), ultimately joining as paid staff. He, along with Kate Thompson and other local residents concerned about human rights and US policy in Central America, collaborated with Salvadorans, activists with the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES), and Madison-area leaders to draft the Sister City resolution that the Council adopted in April 1986. In this interview, Mr. Szwaja reflects on those busy days of organizing in favor of the resolution and the positive impacts of that Sister City relationship—past and present.

  • INDEX 

    [00:00:00] INTRODUCTIONS 


    [00:00:00] INTRODUCTIONS 

    Interviewer: So starting out, would you - let's start by you saying your name for the record and spelling it out for those who might be transcribing this.  

     Joe Szwaja: Great. My name is Joseph Joseph Szwaja, and to American's, we say Szwaja. The Polish put a pronunciation is Szwaja, which we still say in the family, but the American pronunciation rhymes with "hiya”, and it's spelled S like Sam, Z like zebra, W-A-J-A.  


    Interviewer: Great. And so what is the backstory to your involvement with the Madison Arcatao proclamation push. I remember from a previous conversation you said that you were involved with CALA. Is that where it began or did it - was there other aspects involved?  

    Joe Szwaja: Yes. I had moved to Madison in '79 and it was - to study Latin American history, and I you know, got involved in activism during that time with Latin America. I had lived in Latin America. I had lived in Colombia and Mexico previously, and you know, there was a lot of US intervention in Central America at that time, and I got in - when I moved to Madison in '79, I got very involved in activism with Community Action in Latin America. There were a lot of wonderful veteran activists there that welcomed me in. I had gotten my master's in '84, and I just was more drawn to activism, I guess, that I was to academics at that point. And CALA, which I'd been a lot involved in issues related to South America, Chile, and so on, and it had died down a little bit, it's reach or the people involved.  

    And so when I left the graduate thing, I became the staff person and tried to revive it, and you know, get it more active again and focusing more on Central America. And you know, that was pretty successful. We got a lot of people involved and we were - when I was a staff person there, we were linked up with three different national solidarity networks. We were linked up with CISPES, which is, you know, it's a community in solidarity with the people of El Salvador. We were also linked up with a national network of Nicaragua, and also NISCUA with Guatemala. So we were part of those three solidarity networks. By that time, I think by '84, '85, the El Salvadoran thing was really, really huge and a really big part of our work. And we worked with CISPES in various ways. You know, there were other groups that were sort of linked to us in kind of off shoots,CASA and also medical aid with El Salvador with Mark Rosenthal.  

     I worked a lot with him. You know, we tried really hard to raise money for CISPES and for the effort in El Salvador. And you know, we had some success, we had some good events and everything, and we were able to raise some money. They were always asking for money for specific communities, and specific campaigns, and you know, we're pretty good at what we did, at least in a small way. We you know, we got good connections with the church community. CALA was kind of rooted in the progressive church community. We have pretty decent, pretty solid community - series of community connections, but we weren't really haven't the huge impact that we would like to have.  


    Joe Szwaja: And one of the things that CISPES recommended was - they were doing these sister cities, and so we - Kate Thompson who I really want to highlight because she is a very self-effacing, modest person who I just feel like never got the credit that she deserved.  

     And so Kate Thompson, who was also in the group, and I, we were interested in pursuing that possible angle. And we connected with the national CISPES, and then they actually connected us to a possible community. You know, Arcatao and we got communication from Arcatao and we got all the information about what might be the benefits of it and you know, what was the characteristics of Arcatao. And so yeah, so we started making those inquiries and it seemed like it was a really good fit. They were really eager to connect with us, and we were with them. We just thought that having a sister city would perhaps humanize the situation and get average people in Madison, who maybe weren't so political to be - to identify with people in El Salvador and the horrible violence that we knew was happening against the civilian population.  

    Funds, I didn't - regrettably funded and really engineered, in many ways, by the United States. So yeah, they got - they sent us all this information. We sent stuff about us, and there was a lot of back and forth. And it was - where both parties were really excited and I was also involved in local politics at that time, to some extent. And Rosa Escamilla who I've talked to about this project, and she's - I'm in touch with Rosa. She's living in Ohio, now. She was a person I knew from CALA. We had gone to high school outreach together. She'd come and help me talk to the - to high school students. That was one of the programs we had to educate people about the conflict in Central America. Rosa is a Chicana woman, very progressive, very activist oriented. She lived in Eagle Heights, as I did, and she was a law student. And she wanted to run for city council, and the lefties don't usually have people that know how to ask for money and that's - although I'm very bad at money things, I'm pretty good at asking for money, so she asked me if I would be the treasurer and just kind of a fundraiser.  

    So I did, and Jay Westbrook, he was the - I'm sorry, Jay Bradbury who was the head guy of the campaign. So we did it! We ran and a little bit to our surprise, we won. Because we ran against this woman - I'm forgetting her last name. It's got a French name. But she was somehow connected - she had a nephew who is a state official, an uncle. She had a big political name, and she was kind of connected to the democrats, so people thought she would win. But we just went door to door with Rosa, and we won by 45 votes. It was quite amazing. It was really surprising to everybody, and a little bit including yes. And -  


    Interviewer: So Rosa was on the committee then, or on the council when the proclamation was -  

    Joe Szwaja: That's right.  

    Interviewer: how did the proclamation come in and -  

    Joe Szwaja: Okay, so Rosa got elected and Rosa, in November of '85 because it was a special election because the previous older person had stepped down. So, the elections were usually in April, but she - it was a special election. So, Rosa, you know, she was very involved in city council stuff, but she was also very open to anything that we wanted, you know, the people that had worked so hard on her campaign that wanted to put forward. And since I - I mean, I wanted to make it, but I didn't support Rosa to do the sister city. I mean, I did it because I thought she was great, and she is great, but you know, she was very open to any issues that we wanted to bring up, those who were part of her campaign. And one of the issues I wanted to bring up was the sister city. So she, you know, she said well, you know, you're the one who knows about it, so you know, you just get it together and try to figure out how we might do it.  

    And I think because of racism, and because you know, Rosa's parents were farm workers. Her father was kicked out of his job like, after he'd worked for many years, and she had a very difficult life personally, and I think by her own admission, she had a little bit of difficulty relating to some of the upper middle class Madison liberals. And she said well, you're a little bit better at getting along with them than I am. So maybe, you know, I'm doing a lot of city stuff. Maybe you can just try to figure out how to navigate through it. The person who was really the progressive power broker on the council at that time was Billy Feitlinger. And I don't know if you heard of him. He was, you know, I knew people that knew him. I guess I knew him a little bit, but he was sort of straddling the line between liberals and more progressive or radical people, and he was kind of the - I don't know, he was kind of viewed as the broker. Like if you're going to get something done, you know, you probably want to talk to Billy. Right? So I would talk to Billy, you know, he had - we had some good personal friends who have spoken highly of each other to both of us.  

    And he was very, you know, he was very focused and he was very like well, this is exactly what you've got to do. And you know, don't make it sound, you know, you have to make it really relatable to the people of Madison, and show there's a lot of community support, and he gave us some possible ideas. And I think he connected me with his staff. Also, Ann Monks, I think, was the women who was this very progressive staff person who worked with me on it. And yeah, I just remember that Ann and I and Billy had coffee a few times and talked about it in a few different iterations, and Billy was very positive. And he just - he was very smart about just like, you know, you just make sure you've got some people in every district that you know, write letters and call. And we did that. We were very, you know, Kate was super organized, super hard-working, and she was like the more the organized, behind the scenes person. I was kind of more the, little bit more the person that would talk on the phone and schmaltz with them.  

    That was kind of our division of labor. Yeah, we - I remember, we called people in every district, and we wrote letters. And this was before the internet, of course, so yeah, we just spent a few months doing that and giving them all the information, and you know, Billy wanted to have Q and A. I remember we put together a Q and A sheet. I have one of them, here, that we gave to the city council.  


    Interviewer: What was the importance? What was the reason why it was so important to have a resolution or a proclamation presented to and then passed by the council?  

    Joe Szwaja: I think, you know, CISPES told us this, and it was kind of my political instinct, but I also just learned much more once it happened that this is true, that the sister city thing really just - I don't know. It kind of builds - you know, so much of politics is human. It's not just abstract. Right? So like when we're - like, we would have these events and have these fundraising pitches, and I would be the one to give the pitch. And you know, we did well. As a lefty group, we did well, but still, it was kind of a drop in the bucket. It just wasn't really, you know, it wasn't reaching out to really large groups of people. And we had the hope that the sister city thing would because it gives it a sort of legitimacy. Right? I guess it's - I always break it down to two things. Legitimacy, it's official. Right? Even though the city isn't giving money, and they made it really clear to Billy. We are not giving money for this, just so you know.  

     Right? We're not going to give any money. We're helping, we're facilitating the connection of human beings in Madison to Arcatao via this official thing, but you guys raise the money. We're not giving you any money. And we told them we didn't ask them for money. I think it's the official thing, but it's also just - and that kind of opens it up to the humanity thing. Right? Relate to you, officially. Right? It's sort of this fictive kinship that humans have. You know? And I don't know if that makes any sense. That's what they told us, that it would just be an opportunity - it was sort of, it sort of gave recognition to what, you know, the whole struggle of the people in El Salvador, too. Right?  

     Interviewer: Yeah. What - what about, so if the intention was the legitimacy, the humanity, recognition of what's going on, and to draw more interest, what about the organizing around it in terms of the broader political scene in Madison? What were some of the sticking points or difficult aspects or the line-walking that you all had to do - or did you have to do that in order to get the proclamation passed?  

    Joe Szwaja: I don't remember anything of line-walking like that. Like, I'm certainly remembering a lot of line-walking with CALA and all the solidarity stuff, but I don't remember any - well, I think people understood that it was a way to build all the things I just said. You know, legitimacy in human connections, and I think everybody that I knew - well, I wasn't really - I think there was always a little bit of some times people in the solidarity movement a little bit were like well, you're kind of one of those people that want to have coffee with the city council, or you want to go on TV with a suit on. That was - sometimes people would critique me for that. I was like well, you know, I don't know. I don't see - I don't think that makes me a sellout. You know? I think there was a little bit of that, but not in any deep way. I think most people really respected it as a sincere effort to reach the broader public.  

    And I'm sort of joking about that. I mean, I don't think - I don't remember that about Arcatao. I just remember that dynamic a little bit of like, CALA, you're the group who goes on TV with suits, and you're the ones who talk. But you know, come on. That's like not really a serious thing. So -  


    Interviewer: So with Madison then, at this time, was Madison a really heterogeneous in terms of political views? Or in a broader - in terms of US intervention, and Reagan's policies, and how city council proclamation would lead to a statement, you know protesting many of those policies. I'm curious about that kind of finagling.  

    Joe Szwaja: I think that Madison was, you know, it was and it is, I think, a very progressive city as American cities go. I loved it. I, you know, so there was a lot of support in Madison. There was a lot of opposition to what the US was doing. I think, you know, most people were democrats and most people were relatively progressive democrats. You know? But there was also some opposition. There was also, you know, the city council was far less progressive than you would think on issues like - well, just I mean, gay rights. Like, we did this gay rights bill that I authored together with a gay person two years later, and most of the liberals didn't support it. We had to fight for two years to get that. And some liberals on the council were saying really homophobic things during the hearings that was quite amazing. So I think most people were in a sort of a general way against US intervention.  

     There was a smaller group that were more knowledgeable and more committed to it. There was also, you know, there are republicans in Madison and just moderate democrats, or whatever you want to call them, who were - who kind of viewed it as - and I always got this in my campaigns. You know, you're spending all your time on - I can show you a newspaper article of this guy Mark Riley, or even this guy who ran against me the last time Hanz Wasserburger. You're spending all your time working on sister city resolutions, and I was like you know, this is ridiculous. We don't even spend one tenth of one percent of our time on that. That's - if you say that, you're just not paying attention to what happens in the city council. But there was, even in '86 and '85, there were people who were like why are we getting involved in this? I mean, they wouldn't really make ideological arguments. Like, they wouldn't say for example the US policy is right. They would say, more often, why are we getting involved in these things that have nothing to do with us. Right? So our task was to respond by saying well, you know, people in Madison care about human rights. People in Madison care about upholding the rule of law and not killing civilians. And so we're expressing the views of the people of Madison. Right? And does that make any sense?  

    Interviewer: Yeah, absolutely. And then the personal connection when you actually have people who are, as you put it, fictive kin telling their stories for the Madison community themselves, as opposed to something you read in the New York Times, or something you've seen on News Hour.  

    Joe Szwaja: Exactly!  

    Interviewer: It's different and has a really different -  

    Joe Szwaja: It really is different. I really is different. Yep.  


    Interviewer: So as far as drafting the proclamation, you mentioned that there were conversations and sort of a designed plan discussions, how many drafts did the proclamation go through, or what - what kind of strategies or adjustments did you have to make through the process?  

    Joe Szwaja: It wasn't huge. I think it was - I don't remember all the specifics, but it wasn't a difficult process. It was two or three drafts, and I remember - I think I, you know, I'm not going to lie. I mean, I wrote it and there was some input, certainly from Kate and from Ann Monks, and from Billy. And I think there were a couple things where Billy and Ann were like well, that's great. We don't disagree with that, but that's a little bit too strong, or something. You know? Yeah. But it was a very positive process. And what they emphasized was we wanted to have a clean, identifiable, you know, a reasonable sounding resolution, but also that - and I learned this in the council, too, it's you know, if people get lots of very positive, specific letters or calls from their constituents, your arguments make a lot more sense than in the abstract. So I think, you know, in Madison, I was - my wife always makes fun of me because I mix up Madison and Seattle.  

     In Madison, the down - so-called downtown, the you know, central isthmus, the isthmus was the more progressive. So there were 6 members of the central caucus, and then that was pretty easy to get those people, and then we branch out from there. Right? And nobody voted against it. I don't think anybody voted against it. You know, there was a guy, Larry Olson I can't remember if he did in his time. I came to really like him. He was really a right-wing guy, but very principled. Not right-wing in the sense of now, like, not hateful or not - he was just a free market guy, and he would just, he would abstain on a lot of these things, but he wouldn't make negative comments. We just tried to make it humanitarian and human, and not political in the sense of you know, everybody who - you know, we want to connect with these people who are suffering. That was the appeal. And then -  


    Interviewer: And what do you think the impact of the proclamation - well, how did it feel when they voted in favor?  

    Joe Szwaja: It felt - it was one of the biggest things I'd been involved with politically at that time. I mean, for me, I was - when I came to CALA, I was a very introverted person, originally, and I think going door-to-door raising money got me out of my shell and when I came to CALA, I'd read a lot of books, and I knew how to raise money door-to-door, but I didn't know how to organize events or do anything like this. And this is the first really big campaign that I was the spearhead of. And it's - it felt huge, and I remember I was standing there, Rosa was the closest, you know, I was sitting on the sidelines of you know, like where you can look in on the city council and Rosa was the closest, and Billy was the next person over. And Billy just looked at me and went like - like good job. And I felt, you know, I felt really great because I felt like it was going to be a great thing for CALA, for - but mostly for the people of Arcatao.  

    And I felt like this was a little bit more in the big time. Like, Billy Feitlinger, he was a guy who knew how to get stuff done and we worked with him successfully, so I felt like that was a good thing.  

     Interviewer: And what do you think the longer-term impacts of it were?  

    Joe Szwaja: Well, I mean, I think it was great. I mean, I think - so what happened after that was 8 days later, they attacked Arcatao and they bombed the hell out of them, and they had to flee. They did all the stuff that we were, you know, all the horrific things for which we had gotten involved to oppose to begin with. And then Kate and I, that was the time that really, I remember being kind of ecstatic about it for a few days, and then they bombed. And then Kate and I just went to work for the next few weeks. I remember just calling her for hours. Just everyday for hours and hours, and it was kind of like a whirlwind. I don't remember all the details of it other than we just were calling CISPES constantly. We were calling, we were trying to get all the information we could and mobilizing people to oppose what the US was doing. And let me just back up, when we were getting support for the sister city, we had this - we did a lot of outreach with our donors and sent, you know, sent mailings and stuff, and we've also had a long-standing high school outreach program that I started.  

    And then we had gone to the kindergarten - I'm sorry, I don't remember the name of the kindergarten, but I have - I sent you, I think I faxed you the article with me and Carol Hoffman. Carol Hoffman was a kindergarten teacher, a very wonderful person, and so we already had a lot of connections with people who had heard about the sister city project and had contacted the council. And so we contacted those people to ask them to contact the US consulate in El Salvador and demand that they stop the bombing. And a lot of people were really involved in that. Church people, but I remember Carol Hoffman taking a really huge role and getting people to you know, the families of the kindergarteners. I mean, the kindergartners had even raised money for pencils, and you know, all this stuff. You know, we sent them money for pencils, and then they killed all these people in Arcatao, and they killed the kindergarten teacher and carved a cross on his chest.  

    We've learned that from CISPES. And when we told them that, they were of course outraged, and that provoked many, many, many calls. And then - I'm sorry, I wish I could tell you exactly how long, but I just remember for the month or two after that, we just - Kate and I worked every day. And I remember finally talking to the US guy, and I have a tendency to exaggerate things when I tell stories, but I'm going to try to just tell it straight up. He said look, when I call him, he said don't tell me, you're from Madison, Wisconsin and you're outraged about blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Okay. Okay. I've heard it all. Yeah, you know, it's some bad stuff happened, it's kind of exaggerated what you're saying, but yeah, you're right. Some bad stuff happened and we're not going to do it. The bombing is stopped. Okay? Don't call me anymore. Okay? So I was ecstatic.  

     Talked to Kate and we were like yeah!  

    Interviewer: For the record, I've looked at a lot of documentation from the US government and Salvadoran government from this period, and that kind of commentary comes out in the documents from the US embassy, as well. Just constant Madison - dozens of calls, or they list the number of calls or faxes or effects that had been received that day. So it definitely made a point.  

    Joe Szwaja: Oh, that makes me feel good. I also remember - I remember them one time mispronouncing my name, and I told them a million times how to pronounce it, you know. And I remember Kate, who is like, really the nicest person in the world, but one time I got really angry. I was like my name is Szwaja, and she was like Joe, you got to calm down. But they were just - they would be really, really kind of either really professional and then be kind of a snooty way, or overtly rude. You know? But when we finally talked to the guy, we were just like, this is so great. You know? And it did. The bombing did stop.  


    Interviewer: That's wonderful. Wonderful. So kind of coming towards a close because we've been going for about 20, 25 minutes, what is - I know you've shared a number of powerful memories, but is there another particularly powerful memory from your time, your work on this campaign for the proclamation, or in the early days of the Madison Arcatao sister city project?  


     Joe Szwaja: I just remember that after that, I just remember that everything became a lot easier to - I mean, of course, the people in El Salvador were suffering terribly. You know? But our ability to support them went up just dramatically. I mean, when we would give events - when we would have events and raise money, the money just really flowed in. And then we got some articles and we would go door-to-door, and people were like oh, yeah. You know, we - I heard something about that on the TV, you know, or the radio, and you know, we would go on the TV and people - I kind of knew this, but it was - it really struck home to me how Americans, you know how like if you're on TV, and that's after that we started to do, we did a public access show on TV, which a lot of people didn't want to do because they're like come on, public access? Nobody watches. People do watch public access. And if you - people saw you on TV, they'd say yeah, I saw you on TV or I heard you on the radio. And it gave us a chance - it allowed us to get in the media way more.  

    We went on public radio all the time. I remember that they tried, this kind of goes back to your question about were there people in Madison. There was a guy, I'm trying to remember his name. He was the head of the Republican party. Maybe his name was Nick Furman, that comes to my head. So he was a young guy, very well-intentioned, very nice guy. He believed in the free market; he'd just been told all these lies. You know? But he thought that, you know, what was happening in El Salvador was the bad communists were killing the good democrats and he would go on TV with me or on the radio because he was the head of the Republican party and he would - he wanted to get in the media. And he was absolutely terrible. He was terrible. He was a terrible spokesperson. I'm not saying I was great, but he was a very easy person to debate because he would even get the countries mixed up. And even the reporters would be like, but no, that was Nicaragua. He'd kind of go well, I don't know, whatever. You know? I remember - and so it was great, because we would go on TV or the radio and we would just - we were getting a lot of support.  

    We would get - we got much bigger donations than we did before. We were able to funnel a lot of money to them. And I remember after one public radio thing, somebody called in and said you know, you got to get somebody better as the conservative guy. Like, he's just getting killed. And they said but he's the head of the republican party. They said, but still, you got to find somebody - anybody. But it was - it really helped us a lot. It helped us tremendously, and you know, I was - but the next year, I got elected to the city council, and so I saw - because Rosa left to move out here to the northwest. I wasn't involved in it directly as much anymore. It was - it switched over to other people, you know, Kate continued to take a leading role, and Eric Popkin, and my role at that point was much more indirect and we would do ceremonial things with the city that they'd asked me to do. And I would - I was kind of a little bit more in the realm of Billy Feitlinger.  


    Joe Szwaja: Like we can do this, but we can't do - you know, there were certain things we couldn't do. It also led into the Apartadó project with the county because the - I had lived in Colombia, have a connection to Colombia. Cecilia Zarate Laun asked me if we could do a sister city there. And I looked into it, and you know, when you're on the city - you got to be realistic politically, and by that time, we had a bunch of sister cities and they were just like no, Joe, we're not going to do another. So I thought, well, maybe we could do the county. Tammy Baldwin was on there, she was really progressive, so we worked with her, and we got the Apartadó thing, which I think is still going on. So I'm just really - I was really blessed and it was a great pleasure to be part of this amazing group of people that really cared about what was happening into El Salvador and wanted to humanize it, and make it - bring it home to people in Madison and I was just really very ecstatic to be part of an effort that connected those two groups.  

     And I'm just so, so, so, so, so happy and pleased to know that it's still going on.  

    Interviewer: Would you say just a few words about your work with Guatemala? Because I think that - because I think that - the little that I know, it seems like it's very similar connected to the kinds of stuff that you did in Madison.  

     Joe Szwaja: Yeah. The stuff I did, I mean, Guatemala is my job, now. I'm retired, but it's kind of what I do. I've founded and the president of this group called the New Dawn Guatemala, and it's not an official relationship in the sense that the Madison one was. Here, they have too many sister cities. They won't allow you to even talk about that. But it's the same thing of connecting people, you know, in a US community to people down there and trying to, I guess, really in a way, to try to do what we did in El Salvador, in a positive, humane way, make reparations, repair the damage that, regrettably, was done in our name by our government incorporations. And I started it as a schoolteacher. I took the kids to Guatemala to learn Spanish and we looked for some projects to connect with, and after going there a few times, we decided to just fund one project instead of 3 or 4, and the students and I sat down democratically and decided that this ex-refugee community - and it, the whole time I was doing this, I thought about Arcatao because the connections are so palpable.  

    I mean, the people in Arcatao were driven out of their homes and had to come back, courageously, and the same thing with Nuevo Amanecer is the name of it. They were from all over Guatemala and had to flee because the government with our taxpayer's dollars murdered their, you know, destroyed almost their whole community and they had to flee to a difficult exile in Mexico and live there up to 17 years. And when things got a little bit better, came back and created a beautiful social justice, democratically-based community founded around the principles that they were persecuted for originally. And so the kids and I thought it was great to link up with them. The first project that we had were scholarships. Because we were a high school, we had been raising money for scholarships, and the first scholarships were 6 people, and now we fund 30 to 40 people every year, solar energy, tree planting. It's a beautiful community.  

    I really hope you can come there some time.  

    Interviewer: Is that an invitation?  

     Joe Szwaja: It is totally an invitation.  

    Interviewer: I'm there.  

     Joe Szwaja: You'd love it! Everybody who goes there falls in love with the community. They're just - they're such, they're just mensches of the earth and I can't believe what they do. They're so unified and they use the money - we know that the money goes for very specific things that help people, and they're based on sharing, and they're based on love.  

     Interviewer: It very much parallels, as you said.  

    Joe Szwaja: Very much parallels.  

    Interviewer: The Madison.  


    Joe Szwaja: I learned so much in my work with Arcatao. I learned so much politically and how to relate to people, connect with people, how to get something passed. That's the first time I ever got a law passed or a proclamation passed. And later, I did, you know, I got a lot of laws passed when I was on the city council, and Arcatao was a big part of that, and I've continued the work in Seattle. And Arcatao was just a really formative experience for me, and I also feel, you know, the people in El Salvador have - excuse me, in Guatemala, have a tremendous affinity for the people of El Salvador. They - when they were in refugee camps, I shouldn't say camps, when they were in refugee status, some Salvadorans taught them how to do carpentry skills, and kind of help them make it through. And so they have a real, real connection with El Salvador. I'm part of a church, now, that's going to go to El Salvador this year. I hope to visit Arcatao. There's a - one of, it's so amazing, this woman from our church has been to Arcatao. And so I have other documents, and I have this old VHS tape with some stuff that - Kate's there, and there's some people.  

     There's Mary Kay Baum. I'm still in touch with her. She was amazing, too. She was really great. We had her go there for the school board, and that also - that also created a lot of credibility.  

     Interviewer: She - we have, believed that she is one of the people that we're talking to again, and then I've also spoken with her a couple of times as part of this oral - broader oral history project. So she has very wonderful memories of the whole process, as well. Do - is there anything that you would like to add about the Madison Arcatao sister city project beginnings that you didn't - that we didn't address during this conversation?  

    Joe Szwaja: Maybe I addressed it a little bit, I just think it was great in a spirit of love and solidarity. And you know, it was amazing to see people who have never been to El Salvador, and maybe never - couldn't, probably couldn't find it on a map, but through the sister city thing, you know, there was a spark created of human connection. It was a spark that just took off, you know? And I remember going to one church thing and getting ready to give a talk, you know, and Kate coming up to me and saying, you know, there's a bunch more people who want to come in. We have to figure out if we can let them in, or we have to figure out if there's somebody we can talk to because it's kind of like beyond the official capacity. And I was like God, this is amazing! Like, we've really - and you know, we raised - I don't remember the details, but I remember it was a really tremendous amount of support.  

    You know, it was kind of a dream come true in a small way. It's unfortunate that we human beings, I mean, it shows the power of sort of, I don't know, fictive kinship isn't really the right - but establishing a connection within which you can build. You know? So if people feel connected, they just out - can be capable of pouring out love, and solidarity, and money, and time, and effort. You know? This is - I wish there was a way we can channel that more often into more things. You know?  

    Interviewer: Yeah, like politics in our own country.  

     Joe Szwaja: Yeah, because if you hear about - you know, I'm the same way. I mean, you know you hear about stuff, like, there's a lot of countries around the world. You probably get the same way, you know, you donate to stuff, and you hear about something, and I just got a thing about something in Nepal, workers in Nepal. You know, I care about workers in Nepal, I know a little bit about that, and you know, I'm willing to throw in a few dollars or write a thing. But you know, I'm not like connected to it in a way I am to Guatemala. So you know, it's - I wish there were ways we could ignite those human connections more often with more places. But the sister city thing, that's why I told Danny Schaible, my old student. You know, they're going to do it. A sister city with Hyattsville Maryland, I think that's going to be tied indirectly to the Arcatao thing, too.  

      Interviewer: That's fantastic. That is great. Well, Joe, I really appreciate you taking time to speak with me and sharing your story for the Madison and broader public --