Candelario Melendez came to the United States as a political asylee from El Salvador, Central America. Candelario was born and grew up in the Canton of San Francisco, department of San Vicente, El Salvador. “Don Cande” as his friends and colleagues lovingly call him has always made it his mission to help people and be of service to the community. Don Cande took pride in being a community organizer and still does this work today.
As the civil war erupted in El Salvador in 1979-1980, Candelario became more involved with his community. Don Cande worked to help protect his canton from the guerillas and the military that were trying to recruit people to fight for their side. But after having his house shot, although no one was hurt, he and his family decided to move to a nearby town of Verapaz. They all believed the town was bigger and safer than his small canton. But the civil war hostilities increased and Don Cande found himself organizing again to protect the community. Because of his work he began receiving death threats.
In 1986 Don Cande received a threat from the guerillas on his doorstep. The note stated he was an enemy of the revolution and would be punished by the people unless he stopped working as a community organizer. Don Cande realized he had to be very careful because his life and that of his family was at risk. His brother had already been murdered by guerillas when defending his town as a member of a civil defense group. But this did not stop Don Cande from being of service to his community. Don Cande became the town registrar 1998 and then was elected Mayor of the town in 1991.
His election was short-lived since he had to concede his post when he was directly threatened with death by members of the opposing party. When he asked the higher ups in his political party for protection they responded that there was nothing they could but change him to a different political position. Don Cande knew that the treats were real as other mayors in nearby towns had been murdered. Don Cande decided to give up his political office and continued working to help his community. Yet he still feared the death threats would be acted upon so he tried to stay out of the public when he was not working. Ultimately the civil war was getting worse, many were dying, and Don Cande had to make the difficult decision to flee and leave his family, his community and his country.
Don Cande came to the United States in 1991 and sought political asylum. His asylum was granted in 1992 after which he applied for legal permanent residency in 1993.
After many years of living in San Francisco and working in the community Don Cande decided it was time to become a United States Citizen. Don Cande came to La Raza Centro Legal for assistance in his citizenship application. La Raza screened him for any inadmissibility or deportability issues and took on his case for representation. Don Cande was assisted in the drafting and filing of his application, including applying for a fee waiver which was approved. Don Cande not only was able to apply for his citizenship free of cost but also granted free legal services at La Raza Centro Legal. La Raza assisted Don Cande with preparation for his interview by having a mock interview and practice test. On October 21, 2014 Don Cande went to USCIS (United States Citizenship and immigration Services) for his naturalization interview with his attorney of record and was approved for citizenship. Don Cande officially became a U.S. Citizen on November 19, 2014. La Raza is now helping Don Cande petition for his wife and his adult children so that they can finally be reunified after 2 decades of being separated.
Candelario continues to be an advocate for the Community in San Francisco and Oakland, Ca. Candelario is a dedicated volunteer at Causa Justa a community agency that is a multi-racial, grassroots organization building community leadership to achieve justice for low-income San Francisco and Oakland residents. To quote Don Cande from Causa Justa’s website:
“I came here when I saw Causa Justa helps the community. Without hope, nothing changes. I came in and asked what I could do to help. I see how they treat community members and resolve cases. The service that CJJC gives the people, well, if they weren’t here a lot of these clients would be out on the streets. I was organizing in El Salvador when I was a young man. I came here and this is where I landed. This is my place.”