Saludos from El Salvador, land of my ancestors and of ghosts loving and hostile, a land that’s -again- on the verge of volcanic, platetechtonic shifts of consciousness – regardless of the outcome of this week’s historic elections. In the short time since landing last week, my own consciousness has been shaken by the central fact of Salvadoran life today: how absolutely and passionately people here are ready for change. Even small talk in this small country is full of big ideas –democracia, cambio, justicia-and other things we who are Border Walled-off from the insurgent continent can learn from. For those of you that don’t know me personally, intimately or otherwise, there would simple y sencillamente be no Of América without the people of El Salvador, their espiritu de lucha, mi espiritu de lucha.
Those of you who visit the site regularly may find some of my dispatches a bit more personal than usual. For example, as I prepared for the trip, the “journalist” within cautioned against exposing too much of my personal or political past. I even hesitated about sharing the pic above taken from within the pretty pink walls my aunt’s room in the province of San Vicente; I think the culture of fear and paranoia that fills the tropical (and very polluted) air here had infected me and manifested its noxious symptoms in the cautious voice of the journalist. But as I thought about it, having family that has sympathies for the right-wing Arena party -family that I love despite politics- is a fact of life for many a Salvadoran whose heart was not mangled or killed during the 12 year civil war. Furthermore, the frontal, direct assault on the hydra-head of Fear is nothing if not the great defining trait of people on the verge of another big revolutionary step.
It’s late and I’ve been on the road. So, the best thing I can do with remaining energy is to preview one of my stories by sharing pics from a recent visit. Am trying to share the stuff that reporters stationed behind the guarded, air-conditioned walls of hotels in San Salvador might not be able to.
This pic is from San Vicente, my mom’s hometown. This is the view from the cobblestone street in front of my grandmother’s house, a street I used to float paper boats on. I also used to chase giant green dragonflies on the street with Luisito, my best childhood friend when I visited San Vicente. Luisito disappeared one teen year and I later found out he flew off to join the FMLN, El Salvador’s former guerrillas, who are now well-positioned to win the Presidency in this Sunday’s elections against the Arena party (pictured in pic of pink wall). Luisito called my aunt after being injured in combat. He wanted to speak with his mother before he died and my aunt was the only one with a phone back then. His radicalization and death weren’t something you talked about in small town San Vicente-even after the war ended in 1992.
This picture is interesting because the busloads of FMLN supporters, several of whom are members of Luisito’s family, are standing in front of his home wearing the red shirts and scarves and waving the red flags, something unimaginable years back. Thought it was also interesting that the FMLN campaign office is located across the street from Luisito’s.
You might also note the big red, white and blue flag of the Arena party, which is behind in most polls. Further in the background is the white wall of the Iglesia del Pilar, a colonial church, where ,in the 1830’s, Nonualco indian leader Anatasio Aquino took the crown of San Jose and crowned himself King of the Nonualcos after he and 3,000 men rebelled against local land barons. Aquino was later betrayed, beheaded and buried in the San Vicente cemetery where my family is buried.
Aquino and other indigenous leaders were adopted by the FMLN as symbols of their struggle while Arena draws inspiration from people like Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez, the dictator who started El Salvador on the road to modernization after slaughtering between 20,000 to 30,000 mostly indigenous people in what historians call “La Matanza” or the Great Killing of 1932. He ruled until being ousted in a coup in 1944 and was later assassinated (more below)
My aunt showed me the wall where, as a girl, she saw Martinez’s troops execute criminals, indians, alleged subversives and other personas nada gratas. I walked over to the wall and also found one of the big treats of my trip thus far: Aquino’s tomb. Right in front of the tomb, radical students, some of whom were gathered in front of Luisito’s and the FMLN office, painted a mural last year on the same wall where Martinez’s troops killed many innocents. In their younger days (1980’s), older, 40-50 something others in the FMLN crowd gathered for electoral activities had come down from the mountains pictured behind the walls and hid in the cemetery before launching military offensives inside the town.
The pink, bloodied and rebuilt walls of El Salvador will be voting on Sunday too.