Today is Indigenous People’s Day, and for the first time ever it resonates with me. In a very BIG way. I’ve always honored the Indigenous community, for many reasons including the fact that they were wronged by the white man. But also because I knew their blood ran through my veins. However, I can’t sit here and say that I know a lot of that history, because I don’t. I don’t know any of it, but I can still honor it. I got Cora and Pipil blood running through my veins, this always meant something to me but I didn’t know what. I don’t even think I know now-but I know it’s important to me. I’ve been diving into Salvadoran history, reading memoirs of people taking their own journeys to find themselves through their family and country’s history and it resonates with me. I’ve recently embarked on a similar journey, of wanting to know more about my family, for my and my mother’s grandkids sake.
The elders on my mother’s side, the Salvi side, are passing. Each wake, each prayer comes with a lot of history. In less than two weeks, prayers were said for two elders, two cousins from the same family that looked so different from one another. People would never believe they were related or came from the same town. One was light skinned with colored eyes, the other was barro dark carrying the burden of being the same color of a group of people that was once threatened by extinction simply for existing. It’s ironic that I resemble my mother’s older cousins, more than I do my mother, but yet as a child I was not accepted by them because I was the “mexicanita”. Now as we are older and on this side of the border, my absence at family events is felt and is questioned.
When I lived in El Salvador, I remember learning that for a long time it was illegal to be indigenous, you couldn’t even speak Nahuatl or have a name in Nahuatl. I’m sure I learned more, but I was stuck on the “how”, like how do you hide it? How do you hide your skin, your features, or the fact that you don’t speak castilian? How? I had been trying to do that as a kid, so people wouldn’t think I was adopted, so people would automatically know that the light skinned woman standing next to me was in fact my mother.
Now as I’m older and studying our history, I understand that they couldn’t. They didn’t. I never did. That’s why so many were murdered or fled to neighboring Honduras. I also now understand why people got offended if they were called “indio” and why it meant stubborn. However, I now I understand that they weren’t stubborn, they were warriors wanting to protect their land, their family, and their ways. For this they were labeled stubborn, for this their name became an insult. Which makes me question if it was in fact an insult or a threat. If word got around that you were indio, you would be killed.
There’s a level of pride that comes with recognizing that warrior blood runs through your veins. Especially as I read more and more about the Indigenous history of El Salvador. A country that has always in some way or another been tormented by war and genocide. In 1932, the year of the gran Matanza in which 30,000 people-most of whom were indegenous, were massacred by a state leader who resembled the very people he was murdering.
Each reading of this history makes me hyperventilate into a sadness and heaviness reserved for moments of pain brought on by truth. It stings different, if you don’t know what I’m talking about then you are lucky or naive. You decide which.
Then you add the fact that your birthplace carries blood on its hands too. As more remains are discovered from children that were stolen from their families, anger takes over. They weren’t satisfied with stealing their land, but they had to steal and kill their children too.
This violent silence is still burdened on to the first people of this land. Their lands are desecrated by black gold, their women are stolen, never found because they are not worth the white manpower or attention. Their people were ravaged by a pandemic, instead of aid they were sent body bags, while others got top care even when denying the very virus that was killing them.
But yet they keep thriving. They keep honoring who they are, and even if we are ungrateful for it, keep protecting our Mother from our very own greed.
It never upset me before, but now when called India…I smile with pride. Because to me it means “warrior, strong and never ending.” Never ending, because I don’t know how far back my lineage goes and I know it will continue even after I’m gone.
I think this is why for the first time, at 41 years of age this day means something different to me. I’m understanding my history more, which allows me to see my present a lot more clearer, which will then define my future. I feel connected, I feel closer to my roots and my bloodline. I feel closer to my people. It carries much more weight than it ever has.