Monday, March 26, 2012
Second day in El Salvador, 2012
It is the second day of our trip to El Salvador and I have had quite an impactful, beautiful experience throughout the course of just one day.
To start off our day, we visited a park where El Monumento a la Memoria y la Verdad stands. This memorial lists about 30,000 names of homicides, disappeared, and found individuals from the Salvadoran Civil War. The wall has a gold, brown, tannish mural with an image representing Salvadoran history from the 1930s on protruding from the cement.
The mural depicts the theme of death as integral to modern Salvadoran history. Bullets are shown flying over the heads of figures hugging each other. There was also a group of women illustrated toward the center of the mural who held a portrait of Monsenor Romero, and whose eyes held the most intense, almost accusatory glance. The vast amount of names was daunting, especially since I had never visited a similar memorial, and it was impactful to think that there were a lot more names that were missing. I really appreciated an image at the end of the mural which represented those whose names were not etched into the mural.
We also attended mass today for the first time and at first I was a little hesitant because even as some of us kneeled and went along with the prayers our group was more or less conspicuous as a delegation. Further, we arrived in the middle of mass which I hadn’t expected. For some reason, I thought we would attend the entire mass, and while that may not have really been the point of our presence or perhaps even possible due to our tight schedule, I couldn’t help but think what the Salvadorans in the church might have thought of a group of American youth strolling (not literally, of course) into the church mid-mass. I come from a family that finds late-comers somewhat rude, and while that’s most likely not a widespread feeling, I couldn’t help but wonder whether we might be unintentionally perpetuating possible stigmas regarding the fleeting, not earnest presence of the United States as in solidarity with Latin America.
Not that such misconceptions can really ever be avoided without conversation and a mutual search for understanding – and no doubt Salvadoran’s perceptions of Americans are much more nuanced to generally judge a gringo harshly from the get-go. In general though, the service was a great experience – I heard songs that I grew up with such as “Cordero de Dios” and “Entre Tus Manos,” which was truly an uplifting experience especially since I realize that these same songs are played throughout Latin America, or at least in Chile, Mexico, and El Salvador. The sense of community and general spirit they brought to the room seemed to me to be a testament to religion’s potential power for bringing people together for positive change.
After lunch, we listened to Jenna and Maria, two young women who work with Salvadoran youth who are incarcerated, helping them express their harsh, jarring experiences through creative writing. The talk the girls gave was impressive – I also really appreciated their new method for maintaining attention during lectures – moving about or spinning around quickly, etc. etc. at 15-minute intervals. Their talk was fascinating, as was reading the Salvadoran girls' poems, and several students mentioned the similarities amongst the incarceration system in the US and that which Jenna and Maria shared with us in the workshop.
After that, we heard Jean, a journalist, and his wife, Guadalupe, give their accounts of their experience in the civil war. Guadalupe's tale was extremely touching and despite its gravity she managed to be extremely expressive and animated, smiling throughout and, at the end, recognizing her family's fortune in being protected by god and also describing the humanity of those who perpetrated grievances against her family. She said that there were both FMLN individuals who harmed her but also some "with big hearts."
We closed the day with an equally impactful group reflection. I am excited for what the rest of the week will bring.