The crowded streets of San Salvador gave way to mountain roads as California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s motorcade traveled out of the city Monday. The cars wound their way into the forest over bumpy pavement, flanked by palm trees and tall bushes with fuchsia flowers. Jesus gazed down at the passing SUVs from a mural painted on a white brick wall, a common image in the country where most people are Catholic or Evangelical Christians.
Around 2 p.m., the governor arrived in Panchimalco, a rural indigenous town in El Salvador, the country Newsom chose for his first international trip. It marked his first official event outside the capital city of San Salvador, where he’s spending three days in an attempt to learn more about migration from Central America to the state he governs.
Newsom has drawn some criticism for the trip, which was funded by the California State Protocol Foundation, a nonprofit that finances travel for the governor. The state Republican Party released a statement over the weekend saying Newsom should focus on improving his own state instead of traveling abroad.
Newsom says the trip, which he’s taking with his wife Jennifer Siebel Newsom and Assemblywoman Wendy Carrillo, who is Salvadoran, is helping him understand the people he governs. More than a quarter of Californians are foreign born and more than 680,000 Salvadorans live in the Golden State, according to Newsom’s office.
In Panchimalco, he was greeted by the town’s mayor and a performance by local dancers and musicians. A line of boys nervously assembled in front of the audience as they kicked off the presentation with a song played on flutes called zampoña. A group of young men in white shirts and young women in long red skirts followed with a traditional dance.
Speaking to the audience after the performance, Newsom alluded to U.S. President Donald Trump’s harsh criticism of migrants from Central America.
“I imagine for most Americans, this is not the way they see your country,” Newsom said. “Millions of Americans need to understand more fully what this country is, what it represents, its people.”