2014 Stanford Delegation

2014 Stanford Delegation
Stanford Delegation in the UCA Chapel

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Today, Tuesday, in El Salvador I learned a great deal about the thoughts of the people. I spent the first few days questioning humanity and wondering how the government could commit atrocious crimes and the people could see their position as fate. Today though I decided to personally step back and just listen to the thoughts that were vocalized by the speakers in order to learn more before I start making judgments and pondering about which I know nothing of. 
The first meeting of the day was with Suyapa Perez, a liberation theologian and professor at the UCA. I began the conversation by presenting one of my critiques of liberation theology as a question. My question was along the lines of "why do
Liberation Theologian Suyapa Perez
and students
liberation theologians use Catholicism to justify their demands when the same institution has been used to keep them subdued?" She answered masterfully by alluding to the history of liberation theology and deducing its purpose. The answer that I took from her response, which was rather lengthy, was that Salvadorans are emotionally and spiritually linked to the martyrs of their cause and do not want to depart the church because it is an integral part of life. This is something that I never understood and still do not. I'm able to grasp what this means but I can understand having an institution that I can't separate myself from. Suyapa also stated that Christianity was not initially a tool of oppression; rather it has been warped and interpreted differently for selfish purposes. Essentially, Christianity is not to blame for the way it has been used and abused. I'm not sure I agree with this statement because I think Christianity and religion in general have the common purpose of influencing thought (i.e. mental oppression). Regardless of my personal opinion, I appreciated the breadth and passion with which Suyapa responded to the queries. 
The next meeting we had was with Anita Ortiz, the sister of martyred Father Octavio Ortiz and a member of a local Christian base community. Though I learned a lot about the functions of base communities the most important take away was completely unrelated. By just listening and observing I was able to gain
Anita Ortiz with Stanford Group
fundamental insight into the minds of Salvadorans who are not necessarily intellectuals. I can now really see and understand the difference between intellectuals and the majority of the population. Catholicism is ingrained. In my opinion (and in not necessarily PC terms), Catholicism is a method of mind control. I came to this conclusion by observing how more educated persons were able to field tough questions about taboo subjects such as abortion, contraception, and LGBTQI rights. It is my opinion that intellectuals who can break from the mind control, even if only temporary, can see that thought surrounding these taboo topics is evolving and they are not taboo anymore. Anita seemed apprehensive when pressed by the delegation about abortion and the sexual and reproductive rights of women. Whether or not she personally agreed with the stances Catholicism takes she recognized that it was hard to discuss these issues with the public and she's even met resistance to thought contrary to Catholicism. This baffled me and left me with the following questions. If sex before marriage is sinful and frowned upon why is not abstinence as ingrained as the opinion on the use of contraceptives? How can some tenets be loosely enforced while others are so strictly enforced that it strangles even me?
The third and final meeting of the day was with Sister Peggy, the most interesting nun in the world, al Centro Arte para la Paz. She was probably the best story teller I've encountered because she was able to recount some of the most terrible experiences and find joy in them. Her dialogue was quite refreshing despite not
Sister Peggy with Prof. Tom Sheehan
evoking the mental confusion of previous discussions. What she did leave me with was a clear and concise definition of "solidaridad". She borrowed the definition from somewhere but essentially she defined it as the tenderness among/between people. I can not personally say I've experienced genuine solidarity in my 19 years...Actually, maybe I have been on the receiving end of solidarity but I don't recall ever interacting tenderly with others. I wonder what a world would be like if everyone understood solidarity in this way and equated it with love.
Cameron (Mateo) Holmes

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Monday Blog: March 25, 2013
 It is only day three of our trip, but the experience seems to grow exponentially with each passing day. Today was intense on so many levels: I had more fun, met more powerful speakers, and feel like we reached a level of real dialogue in our group reflection that will be hard to surpass. First things first: the Casa de Solidaridad meeting this morning.

 Casa de Solidaridad is a place where university students from the U.S. live and study side by side with Salvadoran students. The casa itself is very striking. To go inside, it is necessary to walk up a flight of stairs to a second story level, where there is a beautiful garden that one must see to believe. There are huge trees growing up there, like a piece of forest juxtaposed on a city roof. I could not stop wondering about these trees, how they survive in an environment so alien to them, not unlike the many Salvadorans who have emigrated to the U.S. The Casa program provides opportunities to young Salvadorans who have stayed: although a university degree is no guarantee of a career here, it is at least a step in the right direction. These young people also help to educate the U.S. students in Salvadoran life and culture.
 After leaving the Casa, we headed to the IMU, a center for women’s research, education, and activism, to speak with the institute’s director, Deisy Cheney, about the struggle for gender equality in El Salvador. Many of us agreed that she was the most powerful speaker we have heard so far. She spoke with a calm but firm moral conviction about many interconnected topics: gender inequality, sexual violence, incest, contraception, machismo y
marianismo, and the connection between capitalism and patriarchy. The situation for women in El Salvador is terrible. The rate of femicide is very high, sexual violence and incest toward women and girls are rampant, and women are expected to accept these things as their crosses to bear. Luckily, there are women like Deisy, who do not accept this, who are organizing for women’s rights, but there are powerful forces against them. The church continues to support patriarchy, to resist reform, manipulate politics, and tell girls they will go to hell if they use condoms. Even when women get laws passed that are supposed to protect them, men who kill their wives still receive impunity if they are powerful or rich enough.
Deisy delved into the psychology of men who act violently and repress their wives, with such clarity that I was forced to examine my own psychology. In both the U.S. and El Salvador, men are conditioned to feel that they must be in charge, they must be tough, they must be real men. But what is a real man? The feeling of not being man enough drives men to violence. Perhaps if we men speak more to each other about how we do not feel good enough, powerful enough, virile enough to meet society’s expectations of us, these expectations lose their power to twist and manipulate our emotions and actions.
Deisy told us how poor men who are oppressed by neoliberal capitalism are not happy under patriarchy either. She connected capitalism and patriarchy so clearly, I was surprised I had never made the connection before. Together they represent one enemy, which must be fought in a concentrated way, rather than distinct issues that must be addressed separately. We were so entranced by Deisy’s conviction and power in communicating the women’s struggle in El Salvador that we would have spent all day asking questions, but we had more meetings to attend to.
After a quick lunch, we met with several labor organizers to learn about the struggles of unions in El Salvador. Like women, their struggles are many. El Salvador is privatizing fast, and every service or business that privatizes takes away rights and benefits from union workers, if not outright firing them for union
participation. We learned about the Public Private Partnerships Law that the U.S. is pushing for, which would allow private businesses to receive funding from the government, in order to encourage their investment. Once they are in power, these companies can set extremely high prices for services like electricity and water. They remove profit from the country and do not benefit the Salvadoran people. The new projects, like a highway across southern El Salvador connecting various ports, are not evil in and of themselves. Many Salvadorans are willing to see these projects occur, but they want a cut, instead of being cut out of all profits as their people are exploited.
Our next stop was a Christian base community, El Pueblo de Dios en Camino, where pictures of martyrs were prominently displayed on most of the walls. These communities draw so much inspiration from the martyrs of the Salvadoran Civil War, who continue on Jesus’ tradition of standing up for the poor, no matter the cost to themselves. The community has no priest, although they still view themselves as Catholic. They had bad experiences with their last priest. He viewed himself as God’s conduit, while raping boys and oppressing the congregation in every way possible. He
went unpunished for his crimes, because the church hierarchy sent him to Rome, where he may very well have continued to abuse children. Experiences like this caused members of the community to distrust the church, who view them as dangerous Marxists who profane true Catholicism. It seemed obvious to me that their humble religiosity was a thousand times more authentic than the church hierarchy. Not only that, but this community is making a real difference in the world, by creating a cooperative alternative and offering microloans to families in the area. They sell many beautiful crafts to help support this endeavor, some of which our group members will be bringing home.
From the pueblo we headed to dinner at a well-known pupuseria high in the hills above San Salvador. We were serenaded by a mariachi band, who even performed my request: Sabor a Mi. Afterwards we enjoyed the view from a lookout vista, where people were listening to a mixture of banda and merengue music. I danced like a crazy fool, as usual, pulling as many of our group members to join in as were willing (or almost willing). We danced so frenetically that I felt a bit queasy on the ride home, but it was so worth it!
Our last event of the evening was our group reflection. We talked about how to improve the delegation experience, how to put more emphasis on the Salvadorans and less on us. Many of us were concerned about the possible futility of programs like these. We want to get closer to making a real difference, and not just enjoy a Salvadoran vacation while excising liberal guilt. I hope that this trip can light a fire in each of us that will continue to burn as we pursue individual ways to be positive forces in the world.
Just like that, another day was done. We were a day closer to leaving, but I do not know if Salvador will ever leave us. I hope not. I cannot wait to see what happens during the rest of the week. This was only the third day, and things get more intense day by day. Still, no matter how intense they get, I believe we will compassionately support each other as a group. I feel our bonds growing stronger, and it fills me with joy.

Roberto Diamond 

What would become an exceptionally charged day in El Salvador began with a knock at our hostel door. Professor Sheehan’s wake-up call, punctuated by his deeply bellowed summons to a cheese tamale breakfast, launched the guys’ group into action for a fully-packed day: first stop, the mass at the martyrdom site of Archbishop Romero on this the twenty-third anniversary of his death. Like vendors packed outside the Vatican, El Salvadorans lined along the chapel to sell their wares – Archbishop Romero T-shirts, posters, and have-your-pick paraphernalia. Standing its ground next to the vendors, however, was a sight far removed from the Vatican – the politically engaged activist-worshippers of La Divina Providencia Chapel.
 Signs campaigning for political leaders and slogans calling for freedom from an oppressive government adorned the pathway up to the chapel, foreshadowing a mass unlike any of us had heard before. The first speakers were civilians, who in fervent harangues called for a fair medical system and a lower retirement age. The political focus of the mass continued after the civilian contributions – next, clergymen denounced the silent priests, accusing them of complicity with the economic order of oppression through their silence. They preached about resistance, and, cognizant of the importance and validity of El Salvador’s culture and value system, expressed the necessity of their preservation and respect. Although we had all read about this kind of mass, experiencing it firsthand was different: different even than the masses some of us had observed in other parts of Latin America, like Colombia and Mexico. The mass sparked new avenues of inquiry and challenged old ones, converting our secondary knowledge of historical events into a primary knowledge of something visibly tangible.
Following mass, we melted into parts of the procession heading to San Salvador’s cathedral, the site of Archbishop Romero’s final resting place. After experiencing a mass with such a striking break from tradition, the Cathedral’s traditional, longitudinal crucifix and ground plan supplied its own shock effect of a return to an apparent normalcy. Despite the classic architecture, however, its campesino motif linked the Cathedral to the populist Salvadoran narrative of the day and brought it closer to the liberation theology Romero practiced.
Following a light lunch at the hostel, we loaded the bus once again, this time headed for Cuscatl├ín Park and the Monumento a la Memoria y La Verdad. Similar in both style and meaning to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the black granite provided a sobering backdrop to our war conversation. Danielle explained that although the United Nations recommended the project to the Salvadoran government as a way of beginning to atone for the revolution’s bloodshed, it took the Commission of Truth and NGO backing to make the project come to fruition.
After the visit to the memorial, we met a journalist with over thirty years of in-country experience and the experience to lend even more weight to our conversation. He lectured on the historical underpinnings and his own philosophy of the war. Although the lecture could not have been longer than an hour and a half, student interest could have easily propelled discussion for a much longer time period. In fact, Roddy had to stop our conversation to load us up on the bus.
We regrouped and debriefed on a relaxing note with a well-deserved outing to a local pupuseria. We had the opportunity to try a lot of the local cuisine there: fried plantains, empenadas de leche, pastelitos, and, of course, the pupusas. Catering to a group with very different palates and dietary restrictions can sometimes be a challenge, but we left the pupuseria in full merriment. Finally, with the help of Fredy the musician, the good cheer carried through the end of the night. Fredy expressed many of the same sentiments and calls for social justice in his song and pleasant melodies.
We ended the night with another reflection. Some of us worked hard to hold back tears as we recounted how Fredy’s song triggered a painful family memory. Others of us reddened or grew flush in concern with how even liberation theology reproduced the cycles of machismo and women’s oppression. I concluded from that exercise that we were all touched by the day’s happenings, in one way or another.
I don’t always agree with my classmates. Sometimes, I do engage in healthy debate with even my closest friends. But, as I sit here at two in the morning finishing up this blog post, listening to my roommates’ snores lull me to sleep, I am grateful that they are willing to make themselves vulnerable and share their perspectives with me. After all, is that not the mark of a good education? 

Marco Medellin 

Sunday, March 24, 2013

 Our Hope for the Week by Elizabeth Patino
From the moment I got in the class, I have been jumping up and down knowing that I would be able to come to El Salvador and learn more about the history of its civil war and liberation theology. I wanted to learn and experience as much as possible and be able to compare it to my experience in Colombia. The past few months we've been discussing theology, liberation movements, history, and what economic, social, and political liberation looks like. However, as excited as I was and as much as we kept hearing about every place we were going to visit, it didn't really click that I was actually coming to El Salvador to see what all of those issues and ideas look like in El Salvador 20+ years after the civil war. However a familiar smell and familiar sites greeted me as soon as we stepped out of the airport and were on our way to the guest house. The beautiful mountains, the huts on the side of the road, the people walking around, and the run-down two- and three-story houses all reminded me of my hometown in Colombia. I kept thinking that we were on our way to my grandmothers house, except we obviously we were not. But it is still hard to believe that we are in fact here. Everything seems familiar, like I am at home. And at the same time I also felt like we were carrying the Stanford bubble with us in this rented buseta as we traveled through the city. And when we got to the site where the Jesuits were killed, everything seemed so much more real, especially when I happened to look inside the church near where they were assassinated and saw the artwork that depicted the torture that many people had to endure during the war. Still there is a disconnect. I couldn't, and still can't, really comprehend what it means to have stood so close to the place where this terrible thing happened. I find it hard to connect the dots from what we learned in class to understanding that this was true... real life history and we were all at that very real place. I guess I thought I would feel like when I am in Colombia, like I am part of the land and the people, but I feel like a turist instead. I am eager to take in this experience and see what I can and cannot connect. 
This is the gate the soldiers entered on their way to assassinate the
priests, their housekeeper, and her daughter.
Today during our reflection we wrote down what we are hoping to gain from this week, this is what I wrote:

I keep thinking about the reading we got during our plane ride, "To Hell with Good Intentions" by Ivan Illich... it says a lot about how not to be... what not to do. But then, what do we do? How do we help? What does it mean to be in solidarity with someone or with a movement or with a people? How can we be most useful? And how do we check our privilege? 


Saturday, March 23, 2013

Today was a difficult day for us because we arrived in San Salvador with only a couple of hours sleep for most of us. I'm jealous of Cameron who can sleep anywhere and slept most of the flight. But for the rest us us, we've been dragging ourselves around the rest of the day.

The most memorable portion of the day for me was visiting the chapel at the Jesuit University of Central America (UCA) where the 6 Jesuits, their housekeeper and daughter were assassinated by government forces and supported by the United States. Prof. Tom Sheehan explained to us the details of how the Atlacatl Battalion (trained at the School of the Americas) came onto campus on 16 November 1989. They walked right past where we were standing in front of the chapel and through the back gate. They dragged the priests out of their beds and into the garden where they assassinated them. They also tried to make it look like the murders were done by the FMLN guerrillas. But everyone knew that was a sham.

We spent some quiet time in reflection and looking at artwork in the chapel which is also where the priests are buried. It was appreciated because the UCA campus is closed because of the Holy Week holidays and the guards allowed us to visit for this short time.

In addition, we attended a wonderful concert on the campus of the UCA in commemoration of the victims of war and violence. The music was great and the call for change and community was celebrated by everyone in attendance there.

Paz & justicia,

Geoff Browning
Stanford in El Salvador 2013
We are waiting in the airport to board our plane to San Salvador. This is the first time that we are flying nonstop and I am very glad that we won't be spending the night on a layover in Houston or Miami or Dallas.

The group of students is wonderful with a lot of laughter and banter taking place. We are looking forward to the trip. One of our students' family is from El Salvador so this will be her first time to see where her parents lived and better understand why they had to leave the country.