2014 Stanford Delegation

2014 Stanford Delegation
Stanford Delegation in the UCA Chapel

Saturday, March 20, 2010

3/20: Reflection from 2010: National Solidarity March

When we first arrived at Salvador del Mundo for the national solidarity march honoring murdered Jesuit priest Oscar Romero the sun was blistering. The crowd was surprisingly small, until we encountered pockets of people hidden away in the small triangles of shade created by the stage, speakers, and banners, seeking a respite from the hot, still afternoon air. The emcees at the event constantly called out to the crowds, trying to rile them up, calling for "Aplauso, aplauso, mas fuerte!" but the crowd resisted, lethargic and seemingly uninspired. As the afternoon progressed, more and more groups arrived, filling in the empty spaces. Every so often an emcee would take the mike to welcome another new solidarity group who had come from some far corner of the world to share in the celebration and commemoration of Oscar Romero. There were groups from many departamentos (regions) of El Salvador, as well as Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico, the US, Canada, South America, Cuba, and even Italy and Germany. In fact, the overwhelming number of foreigners was concerning, if not off-putting. In a solidarity movement such as this one, what does it mean to see (perhaps?) more foreigners than nationals celebrating? My impression is that the most likely constraint for nationals was money and time--there were likely many Salvadoran citizens who would have desired to participate in this powerful event, but did not have the luxury to travel long distances by bus, or pay bus and hotel fees. The foreigners, however, had no problems forking out for long airplane flights and extended hotel stays. While I found this imbalance to be largely concerning, I tried not to be consumed by it while I focused on the event itself.

Throughout the afternoon we listened to a series of musical groups, performing well known and revered songs praising the life and work of Monsenor Oscar Romero. Just as the sun began to set, the entire group--hundreds of people--proceeded down Alameda Roosevelt, chanting and cheering in solidarity of the struggle for liberty and freedom from poverty and oppression. The procession passed by landmarks both grand and ordinary--Optica la joya, an eyeglass store, and Parques Bolivar, celebrating the great revolutionary Simon Bolivar, and Parque Cuscutlan, home to a memorial naming over 25,000 victims of the Salvadoran Civil War. The march ended at the national cathedral, where the entire crowd was led in a mass and vigil. All along the way,calls of "El pueblo, unido, jamas sera vencido! The people, united, can never be divided." and "Romero vive! La lucha sigue! Romero lives. The fight continues." populated the dusk, as people from all countries joined together in the call and response. These calls, and the energy they invigorated, were initiated almost entirely by young people. It was amazing to see the excitement the youth brought to this process--it reminded me of organizing for Obama during the primaries and leading up to his election. If they feel anything like the hope that we all felt in that electoral climate, that bodes very well for the future of democracy and poverty alleviation in El Salvador.

Perhaps the most powerful moment in the march occurred before the march had even begun. Recently elected President Mauricio Funes appeared--unannounced--to speak to the crowds about the legacy of Romero and the importance of continuing his work. Coming from a country who's administration had been involved in the murder of Romero and many other Jesuit priests during the civil war less than 20 years ago, this was a powerful statement about the new direction for the country under this new leadership. This marks the first time the Salvadoran head of state has formally recognized or spoken at an event commemorating the death of Oscar Romero. Funes spoke of bringing young people together around the movement for justice, and specifically of a project he initiated to create a national soundtrack for the movement, incorporating traditional musical styles but also hip-hop, heavy metal, and other "music of youth". He also unveiled a new mural to be painted at the airport, welcoming everyone--both foreigners and returning Salvadorans, some driven out by the war itself--to a country that publicly honors Romero's struggle for the poor and is committed to continuing that struggle. Funes' message was loud and engaging, and the crowd perked up to hear him speak. Despite the heat, the excitement in the air was palpable. While many listeners probably understood very little (there were just as many foreigners, if not more, than Salvadoran nationals), Funes' messages did not fall on deaf ears. It stands to be seen how much he will actually change, but this march, and his words, definitely give reason to be hopeful.

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