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Perspectives: Fredy Vasquez, 37

April 29, 2007 |  4:25 pm

Vasquez heard shots. Two days later, he came out on a Sunday to look at the shrines on Figueroa, where at least one person had died.

He is former soldier from civil war-torn Guatemala. "This is a never-ending story," he said, looking at the shrines. "On these streets there is someone dead on every corner."

Fredy2_2 Vasquez spoke in excellent but heavily accented English, of which he was proud. Just one year in school here, he said.

He told this story: As a youth, he was drafted into the Guatemalan army. The government was forcing soldiers to go into the mountains and kill entire of villages of people. Vasquez did not want to do it. So after he was trained, he fled the country, first to Mexico then to the United States.

His old army friends in Guatemala stayed and fought the war.  Later he learned that several committed suicide, became drunks, or "walked around like zombies"--tormented by flashbacks of what they'd done. "One million dead. One million disappeared. Their bodies were never found," he said. "If there is an identified enemy, I would fight for my country. But in a fight between brothers, nobody wins."

In South-Central L.A., where he came in 1991, there were frequent gunshots. "From one war to another war," he said. He worked for low pay. "Why are you working?" his friends here asked him. They all joined gangs. It was an easier way to make money. They wanted him to join, too, but again, he didn't want to do it. He had managed to get out of Guatemala "with clean hands," he said--that is, without killing anyone--and he wanted to keep it that way.