2014 Stanford Delegation

2014 Stanford Delegation
Stanford Delegation in the UCA Chapel

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

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 Cuscatlán 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 

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