Goodlife People: A Q+A with Gerson Martinez
Hi! My name is Gerson Martinez, I’m the son of two Salvadoran immigrants, which makes me Salvadoran-American. I was born in US, but as an infant I was sent to El Salvador (there’s a long story there perhaps for another day), and then moved back to the US when I became school-aged.
Over the course of the 1980s to early 2000s, my entire family (on both sides) ended up migrating from El Salvador to the US for issues ranging from the violent civil war in the 80s to the proliferation of gangs in the 90s.
Thanks to my parents’ sacrifices, I enjoyed a safer upbringing in the US where I got my K-12 and college education.
I have an incredible wife of twelve years and two absolutely beautiful daughters. Fun fact—our daughters were both born on the same date (July 5th), four years apart. The three of them are truly the center of my world.
Professionally, I spent time in a few different industries—from capital markets, to education and non-profit leadership, to bitcoin mining and early-stage investing today.
How has your perception of the country changed in recent years?
Wow—well, to put it in the simplest terms–my perception of El Salvador as I was growing up in the US was that it was a place to escape from, not escape to.
What are some of the improvements you are seeing in the country?
There are so many improvements—from the easily observable like cleaner beaches, streets, sidewalks, all over the country—to much more important improvements. For example, the country is physically safer to traverse by an order of magnitude compared to what it used to be. During the decades when my parents left, daily homicides related to war and/or gang violence were in the double digits per day on average. El Salvador famously became the ‘homicide capital of the world’ in 2016 with an average of one homicide being committed per hour.
One improvement that is hard to quantify is the pride with which Salvadorans (in particular those who had to leave and never had the opportunity to come back) see their country. This is of course not a generalization, but in my experience, the Salvadorans around whom I grew up in the US reflect on their country with a deep sense of pride that they’ve never experienced in their lifetimes.
What are some of the challenges that still exist?
El Salvador has a long way to go still in terms of building and/or improving public infrastructure systems and improving economic opportunities for young people such that they choose to stay in El Salvador rather than leave for other countries.
Tell us about your involvement with Bitcoin and a specific example of how you’ve seen it benefit the local community.
I am a Bitcoin saver, I own a small Bitcoin mining business, and I make early-stage investments in businesses that support the Bitcoin network. I also do whatever I can to support non-profit efforts to educate about Bitcoin or directly improve the lives of everyday Salvadorans—projects like Mi Primer Bitcoin (MPB) and New Story Charity (NSC). MBP has made enormous strides in educating high-school students in El Salvador with respect to sound money principles generally and bitcoin specifically. Meanwhile, New Story is building low-cost homes in El Zonte and offering mortgages to otherwise unbanked families, and has plans for build-outs in other areas of El Salvador.
Are you considering spending more time in El Salvador?
YES. My family and I are spending more and more time in El Zonte specifically, where everyone feels like family already.
What are some of your favorite things to do while you’re here?
I never got a chance to surf in the US, and I’ve fallen in love with the sport. Also, I really enjoy visiting archeological sites in El Salvador. There is so much to see and understand about the Pipil indigenous population, and it fills my heart to visit sites like Joya De Ceren and other important historical sites. Lastly, I love spending time getting to know people’s stories. I love asking questions of any and everyone we interact with while we’re in El Salvador to understand how they see the country. After all, it is their voices that matter most.
What would you recommend to others when they visit? You can be specific, list restaurants or activities or hotels
I highly recommend staying in El Zonte at any of the local-owned hotels like Esencia Nativa or Palo Verde; eating at Olas Permanentes, visiting Luis Rivas El Zonte School and taking one of his sightseeing tours. In San Salvador, there is so much to see and eat that it’s hard to list it all. But some highlights would taking a stroll through Centro Historico and eating at Brutto or Il Bungostaio. Also, visiting volcanos is a must. Specifically the Volcan de Santa Ana and El Boqueron are sights to behold. The beaches in oriente like El Cuco and Punta Mango are also amazing places to visit.
If you could share one message with the world about El Salvador what would it be?
El Salvador is not what you’ve been conditioned to think it is. Its people are amazing, selfless, hard-working, generous people. Its natural resources are abundant. Its youth are hopeful. Its leaders have a big vision for the future. El Salvador is an incredible place and it deserves much more respect than what its gotten over its history.
If you could share helpful advice to Salvadoran people hoping to return to their home country, what would you say?
I would advise Salvadorans to engage their local consulate for help and advice on all matters related to visiting or repatriating. Their consulates around the world are staffed and equipped with technological tools that make applications for paperwork and information for diaspora members readily available. Most of all—take the leap! I advise folks to forego vacationing in Hawaii, Puerto Rico or anywhere else in the tropics and just visit El Salvador!