BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — He is a Chilean community member, and a longtime Buffalo resident, striving to create meaningful change in the community.
Santiago Masferrer does this with teaching culture and language and helping with professional opportunities for everyone who crosses his path.
Masferrer also founded the organization, Latin American Cultural Association (LACA).
Along Elmwood Avenue, in Downtown Buffalo, sits an historic building, built in the early 1800s called "El Buen Amigo". It is a Spanish title, which translates to "the good friend", in English.
"The most important thing is open the door to the community," Santiago Masferrer told 7ABC's Pheben Kassahun.
Inside this historical building, many will find the tenacious Masferrer. His name carries weight, Buffalo, as a community leader who strives for inclusivity.
"The store gives room to many cultural programs. We have a Spanish class; all levels. The majority of the people that come here are the professional people. We are very proud to provide that important service to the people of Western New York. Many schools come here. A field trip cultural extension program," he explained. "For the college students, we have the internship programs; accounting, English major, political science major, economical major. "
Masferrer's mission of uniting the community regardless of background began before he and his wife came to America in 1977.
In 1973, he was a political prisoner in Chile while helping the poor, under Augusto Pinochet's Dictatorship. Pinochet was known for violating human rights violations in Chile, under his reign.
"Working together to heal the underdog people there," he explained. "I spent 22 months in a concentration camp. I grew a lot. I learned a lot about myself. In that time, I spent six months in solitary confinement. It was a gift because when you're not coming out, you're coming in. You discover you really are. You grow your foundation with that experience. You grow your faith. Grow your hope and believe in humanity."
Once Masferrer was released in 1975, after no charges were found to keep him detained. He sought political asylum, in Buffalo, with his wife and two kids.
Soon after, the multicultural store, El Buen Amigo, was created when he and his wife, Eugenia bought the building, in 1989.
"We started the idea in Chile when we bring crafts through the Vicariate of Solidarity was a concern of religious people. Not just Catholic," he said.
It was created as a tribute to the people of Latin America.
Masferrer said, "Open a place where the craft people from Latin America sell what they do in their own community; Nicaragua, El Savador, Guatemala."
Craftspeople from Latin American then send their crafts to the store and then the store returns the profits to the people in said countries to improve their living conditions.
"I'm very proud to be inclusive; my brothers and sisters of the Black community, the Native American community, and the Latino people, Arabian people, Asian people, European people, you are welcome here," he added. "In the time we live in, we need to build sisterhood and brotherhood."
Also in the works outside of the store is a mural. Masferrer told 7ABC that it will be displayed along the wall on the south side of the building, where the parking lot sits.
"Whoever controls the language controls the outcome, and we need to start recovering our language better than everybody. Not just a few," he said.
Additionally, he said the store needs volunteers during the week. Any student who is able to give their time to El Buen Amigo, is asked to contact the store at (716) 885-6343.