Not sure what has just happened, but I’ve somehow just embarked on a journey. I’m not sure what type of journey this is, definitely not a heroic one. As I’m sure the more I travel…back in time, the more it will hurt. What’s even worse I don’t even know why I’m doing it, but I know I must do it.
What originally started as simply wanting to highlight the amazing representation of Salvadoran culture, pride, and it’s people. Has now led me to a journey of wanting to know more of our past. I want to know why this small country was so important to the United States under the Reagan Administration. In fact, so important that it hid a massacre of almost 1000 townsfolk in El Mozote. I want to understand why Central America has always been a soft spot for the United States, was it because it lost its grip on Cuba? Some might even say China.
What’s even more important, I want to understand why the country has had so much internal conflict. Why is this country torn, why is it that those in power, including those that claim to be for the people because they are of the people, have stolen from the people? Why do we believe Bitcoin is the answer, but not having our own currency? You took our colon away, but now you want people, poor illiterate people to understand and use crypto currency?
I might be setting myself up for failure. I’m sure many questions will go unanswered, as I’m here not there. I’m a gringa, not a guanaca. I simply do not understand, even with my dual citizenship- I will not understand.
But here’s the thing-I want to understand. At least attempt to.
I’m digging myself a rabbit hole, and I’m going in willingly. All I wanted to do was highlight the Salvadorian representation in honor of El Salvador’s Independence Day on the 15th of this month. I thought that would be such a fun task, I would read some works by Salvadoran authors, along with some historical books about El Salvador, mention some cool Salvi instagram accounts or businesses you should support and call it a day.
In a way, there’s a reason for my madness. I wanted to do this because I’m amazed with all of the representation that exists today. You see growing up, I didn’t have this. The only Salvi’s I knew were family members. We didn’t have a Salvadoran Corridor, or zona Salvadoreña as it is known in Los Angeles. That didn’t exist when I was a kid, mind you I was a kid in the 1980’s and 1990’s-yes, when the country was still at war.
My immediate family lived in the Boyle Heights area, which is predominantly Mexican. We had family in South Central and every time we visited I was surrounded by Salvadorians with Mexicans being the minority. Typically in the form of a new husband/wife and some other kids like me-half and half. But outside of these circles I, as a child, didn’t know any other Salvi’s.
I remember in sixth grade, there was another girl that had my same last name. I asked her if her family was from El Salvador, she said yes. Oh boy, I was excited, this was big. “What part?” naturally this was my follow up question. But then something happened, she got weird. She got quiet. Hmm, I’ll check in on her again tomorrow. I noticed the next day, she barely talked to me. I didn’t understand why, I wanted to know if in some amazing out of this world way we were related. Wouldn’t that be cool?
But I never found out. She was indifferent and cold towards me, and I was not having it. I didn’t want to know that badly. In retrospect, we probably were. Related I mean. My grandparents had the same last names (not related), one was from the West and the other from the East part of the region. So, no matter how you diced it we more than likely were related. There was some distance, but we most likely were. To this day, I don’t understand what happened. Did she get spooked? Did she tell her parents and they told her to stay away? This was in the late 1980’s, it was not unheard of for people to deny that they were Salvadorian because of the Civil War.
People felt they had to be cautious. Didn’t want to be pinned as from the left or the right. Didn’t want to jeopardize their asylum requests, or even bring attention to themselves if undocumented. Even if you asked them if they were (our salvi accents give us away), they would deny it. Even if you said you were too, they would be like “No, soy Mejicano” and sometimes would say their Central American accent was because they traveled to the Mexican/Guatemalan border a lot or some other weird excuse.
Anyways this representation means a lot to me and it will to my son as well. I am half-Mexican and half-Salvadorian, but I was raised by my Salvadorian mother. I don’t know much about my Mexican side, other than the indigenous tribe that lived in the territory where my father is from and the knowing that their blood runs through my veins. When it comes to my other half, its different. Not only because my mother raised me within the culture with the food, and the language. But also because I lived there, I lived in El Salvador as a teenager, during my time there I got to learn and revisit some of the traditions that my mother forgot to teach or didn’t have time to practice due to the necessity of providing for her family on both sides of the border.
This culture, this part of me is extremely important. If you know me, you know this about me. It’s more than just a country, it’s my Abuela, it’s my Mother, my lineage, it’s where I realized who I was and I wanted to be. For this I show my appreciation by being proud and wanting to share this with those I love.
I’m sure by now you want to know what embarked me on this journey, right? As I was reading my third book as part of this project “The Massacre at El Mozote” I was in pain. I originally thought it would be a quick read, but I was so wrong. I knew that this had happened, I knew that the US was involved in the war. This was no surprise. I know wars are horrible, the bloodshed, the violence, and how it is all okay because of this self-righteous belief by a majority, in this case US funded, majority that believed they were in the right so all was fair. Needless to say this is another one of the US’s dirty wars.
I’ve studied conflict and I understand that we’ve had more conflict than peace in the world. There’s always something happening somewhere.
I don’t know if this just hit me differently because I’ve been to the places that were mentioned in the book. This book was explicit, the violent murderers of children, women, seniors, and men begging for the sparing of their lives. I would read a few pages and have to put the book down. I wanted to talk to someone about it, so I tried my mother. She asked that I not share with her any of the details. She wasn’t there when it happened. She was here, with me.
Mark Danner does a great job of highlighting the work by Raymond Bonner of The New York Times and Alma Guillermoprieto of the Washington Post. Danner also lists in great detail all the resources he used for this book, including official documents, interviews with survivors, politicians, military officials from both countries. Including the name of some that were murdered in El Mozote. Which I naturally looked through to see if there were any that carried my last name.
After reading this book, I simply need to learn more. I need to self-educate. I understand that there will be some bias, we each have our own lens and it’s up to us to translate that into what we know and have seen of the world. I come from an apolitical family. Obviously, it’s not hard to figure out why. I’ll explain. It’s hard to be into politics when you are trying to survive. Especially when anything that you say can be considered treason, and you might not wake up to see the light of day.
Even growing up, we followed the General Election because as undocumented we needed (yes, I know I was born here but when your parents are undocumented its understood as “WE” because we are all affected no matter what.) to know what level of scared and prepared we needed to be. It isn’t until now that oaths have been made, and passports with eagles on them have been granted, that my family is a lot more vocal.
As I read this book, and read dates I couldn’t help but make the connection of my timeline in the country. My first trip to El Salvador was in 1985. Four years after the massacre, I didn’t hear anything about it. Yes, I was extremely young so why would I hear about it right? So maybe there’s that. I also didn’t know the real reason for our trip, to bring my older brother to the US for safety. Kids were being kidnapped and especially boys were being forced to join the fight from either side.
In El Salvador, up the street from our house was a Guardia base, they scared me. Now that I know more about them, I understand why. They were meant to scare us, they were the middle man. Years later, when I lived there, I quite never understood what my Abuela meant when she would tell me “No se metían con nosotros porque sabían que tenía sobrinos en la guardia.” Like I knew these nephews she was referring too, who would be scared of them? They were drunks and womanizers. But years later, I understood. During my first visit, I would hear them running up and down our street, I would hear sirens letting them and everyone else know that the base was under attack. All of this, on our colonia.
A trip to McDonald’s allowed me to see my first military tank. The amazement didn’t last long, as I was later pushed to the floor by my older sister because there were shots fired. Electricity was turned off, as was the water, all part of someone’s control strategy. This happened a lot more when I was a teenager (or maybe I realized it more?), that was a culture shock for me. Having to worry about water, and studying by candlelight was not something this American junior high schooler was used to.
This war lasted for almost thirteen years, that means that each time I visited the country was at war. How is it that I didn’t know this? How did my family act as if nothing was happening? We did live in the capital and a lot of the conflict happened in the small cantons and departments outside of San Salvador so maybe that’s why? This is crazy to me, even more interesting to me was the willingness. The willingness to visit a country at war. This proves that love knows no barrier, this shows me how much my mother missed her mother and daughters. But yet…it’s still crazy. Another trip I remember was in 1988 or 1989, we were going to go out and have lunch. As always my mother was running late, so when we pulled up to the restaurant (don’t think of an American restaurant, this was way more modest than that), we couldn’t get out of the car. The military and police had blocked up the entire place, because there had just been a shooting inside. Someone ran in and started shooting up the place. It was the best sopa de gallina india in town, so a lot of military and local statesmen went there to eat. Don’t know who the target was, but I know we missed it because my mother’s time management skills are non-existent.
Even then, nothing was mentioned. At least not to me, I don’t remember anything else.
I need to know more, maybe the more I know about the country. The more I might know about our family. Maybe not, but it might lead me to ask more questions; for instance, why was my brother the only one that needed immediate saving? My sisters were also in danger, maybe not as immediate as my brother’s (one can argue) but by being females, that puts us in danger everywhere. Which leads to my next question, why was it safe for me to stay and wait as my mother and brother made their way to the US? Kids were being kidnapped, I was five.
After my mother got her green card, did we go every year? I can’t remember any other trips, only these mentioned (aside from the years I lived there, of course). Is it because there were no more trips, or because these were pretty traumatic things to remember?
I’ve been here before, I’ve participated in salvadoran political activities here in the US. I was seeking community when I moved away for school, and I found it in the FMLN of Northern California. I knew their versions were biased, as anyone else telling the story usually are. But yet, I got to meet people traveling around Northern California getting Salvadorians registered to vote in the Salvadoran elections. For the first time, Salvadorans abroad would be able to participate in elections. I didn’t care what party you supported, I just wanted you to vote. I had to prove how Salvi I was to men who fought on the mountaintops, they didn’t understand why a gringa would care. They fought the war, I was just learning about. I didn’t shy from this, they were right. But so what? If this gringa cares enough to give up her weekend to argue with you about it, then you should care too! They registered, good times.
I got to meet candidates that later became VP and President of the country. But yet I wasn’t 100% sold on their promises. What they shared with us here, was not what I had seen on my latest visit as an adult. The blinders of innocence were off that trip, I was in my 30’s, politically aware and active, I saw things differently. I eventually stopped engaging in party related activities, I stopped believing therefore respecting some of the key players.
Now I’m here, wanting to continue this journey on my own. Let’s see where it takes me, let’s see if my siblings get annoyed with me again. It’s ironic that the one that was not born there, is the one that keeps going back. I need to go back and understand the effects of the war on our family, if any. My mother didn’t leave the country because she was fleeing the war, but because she was fleeing the poverty brought on by war. As did her siblings, but yet a day does not go by in which two out of the three elders wish they could go back and live there. Their country was once their hell, but is now their longed for haven.
As I get ready to write our story, I need to know what was written of the motherland. Why certain decisions were made, why certain beliefs were believed, and why certain folx were considered sinners and others saints. I need to know, so I might write our story because nobody else will.
“Have a sense of pride in your motherland. Just as your mother has given birth to you, so too the land has given birth to you.”– Sathya Sai Baba
By the way these are the books I’ve read so far, more are on their way: