Osorio’s life began here in San Francisco in 1947 as the son of an American father and a Salvadoran mother. Six months later, his parents divorced and Osorio ended up with his mother in Ilobasco, a town about 31 miles northeast of San Salvador that is known for its ceramics. Osorio found the clay work “a kind of messy” art form and pursued other mediums, but his development stalled when he returned to the United States in 1966. He was 18 and the U.S. build up in Vietnam was underway. Instead of waiting to be drafted, Osorio enlisted in the Air Force.
“I learned to speak English during basic training,” he said. Even though he didn’t like mechanics he rose in rank because of his problem-solving skills. It’s an experience that would become important nearly a decade later. More immediately, Osorio finished his tour of duty in the early 1970s and returned to San Francisco to become part of the Mission District’s growing cultural scene. “He wrote one the first essays in English about contemporary poetry from El Salvador,” said Professor Alejandro Murgía, a long-time Mission District resident and one of the founders of Tin-Tin Magazine where the essays on poets such as the Salvadoran Roque Dalton were published. Osorio was also one of the founders of the Mission Cultural Center for Latin American Arts. At the end of the 1970s, Osorio traveled to El Salvador to open a gallery of fine art but his timing was bad. After a year the government closed his place, Arte Foro, and his friends started to vanish, he said. Once again, Osorio joined the military. This time it was one of the five rebel groups that made up the Farabundo Marti Liberation Front or FMLN. “I had to live in a clandestine way during 12 years” he said. There too, he did well, rising to become a rebel commander. After the war ended in 1992, Osorio became part of a controversy over the American advisers stationed in El Salvador. In a 1995 segment of 60 minutes, Osorio agreed with other U.S. advisers and said the American servicemen stationed in El Salvador during the more than decade long civil war were critical to the government’s war effort.
In fact, Osorio told the co-host, Ed Bradley, the rebels wanted to highlight the combat role U.S. advisors played. He later denied having any direct role in targeting American military advisors and U.S. investigators agreed. After the war, Osorio lived in San Francisco and pursued his art, experimenting with resin and plastic, but always maintaining his connections in El Salvador’s cultural community.
-Excerpt from “U.S. Air Force, Salvadoran Rebel, Artist” by Luis R. De La Torre in Mission Local