Archive | September, 2011

Su Versión de los Hechos Contradecía La Mía.

29 Sep

Listening To: “La La Lie” – Jack’s Mannequin, Everything in Transit

A continuation of the last post…

We met with a member of the parliament from the ARENA party first, who had also been the mayor of San Salvador for some time. He gave us some background on how he became involved in the party and then opened the floor for questions, and like a true politician, had a very different way of answering the questions. I have so much to say about this visit (as I am sure you can all imagine I would after visiting with a conservative political party), but I will try to only present you with some of the things that impacted me the most from our visit with ARENA. It is well known that the ARENA party allied with the military and oligarchy in power during the war (although the representative denied it), and also through studies the UN has determined that about 90% of the human rights violations occurred by the hands of the military, while 10% were because of the FMLN/guerillas. When confronted with this issue, the representative assured us that abuses were committed by both sides, but that the civilians were not involved in the conflict and that the “conflict” could not be considered a civil war. An interesting contrast to our morning, as we had seen a monument dedicated to tens of thousands of individuals, citizens, who had been killed or disappeared during the war, and then went to the site where six priests were killed, as well as two women who just happened to be nearby at the time of the homicides. But civilians weren’t affected by the war.

Another personal gem was hearing the representative gush about how “lucky” the ARENA party was that Reagan was in power during the war, and admitting that without the military aid from the United States during the war, ARENA would have lost. This is interesting on many fronts. First, it should be noted that the United States was sending millions of dollars each day to the military of El Salvador in order to “support democracy,” using Cold War sentiments as justification for the slaughter of civilians. Along with the inordinate amount of money, the United States was also training the Salvadoran military in torture techniques and “counter-insurgency” tactics which were designed to destroy any community that may support the guerilla movement, even if there was no actual connection to the FMLN. But of course, as we already heard, there were no civilians involved in this war. Additionally, by admitting that without the aid of the United States the military and government – the groups with the most power and all of the wealth of the country – would have lost the war, the representative was admitting that the guerilla movement had an incredible amount of support and that the guerillas had enough power to take down the opposition without any of the technology, money, or land that the government had. But obviously we shouldn’t pay attention to the idea that perhaps the guerilla movement had so much support because there were actually serious issues to which the government of El Salvador (and the United States, for that matter) should attend.

What about other, more current issues, outside of the war? Well, when addressed with the environmental crisis of his country, the representative determined that environmental issues are “not part of the political agenda” and that they are “global issues, not Salvadoran issues” (although when addressed by the FMLN, it was made clear that environmental issues were only not a part of ARENA’s political agenda). Immigration is a really important issue for El Salvador as more than two million people live outside of the country and the economy is held up by remittances (the money sent back by people who have left the country). To ARENA? It is best to “look the other way,” as “it can’t be stopped.” How to take care of issues of gang violence? Take no prisoners. Death, not jail.

The FMLN, although still politicians, provided a very different experience. They took all of our questions at the beginning so that they could make sure they had time to answer all of the questions that we had, and grouped them together in a way that they could talk fluidly about everything without needing to backtrack. They addressed the issues of crime and violence, women’s rights, health care, foreign policy, the economy, the war, and more, by discussing the programs that the FMLN has put in place in order to take care of issues and bolster improvement. (Very different from the representative from ARENA, who instead of discussing the platform or programs for different issues, merely indicated over and over that “they aren’t currently in power,” and then dismissing the issues). And the FMLN opened our eyes to many actions that were taking place to deal with problems that ARENA neatly ignored. The environment? Wait, it’s actually being addressed? The FMLN told us about new laws, a new commission on climatic change, actions to address clean water, reforestation, toxic waste, etc. And instead of turning a blind eye to immigration, the FMLN recognizes that more jobs, better wages, and less violence within the country would lead to more people staying in the country. And while they work on that, they are also working on family re-unification by creating programs that provide assistance to immigrants and will bring them back to their original towns. Additionally, they are creating sustainable productive projects (such as a farm created for single moms) that will allow people to continue to live in El Salvador or move back and have a place to earn a living.

Perhaps one of the more shocking moments of both of these talks was started when the ARENA official told us a story about the man with whom we would be meeting from the FMLN. As the man from ARENA told it, there was a committee created after the war to discuss the aftermath of torture and what should be done to address the atrocities of the conflict. Our representative from the FMLN was also present at the meeting, and during the meeting he stood up and announced that the facilitator of the meeting (a member of the ARENA party) had been his torturer during the war. Obviously, our representative from ARENA assured us, this wasn’t true, and weren’t we glad that he had warned us about the crazy person we would be meeting in ten minutes from the other political party? And sure enough, our representative from the FMLN also told us the story when asked if he could ever forgive the members of the government and military who had caused so much pain to himself and his family during the war. He told us how he addressed his torturer in the meeting and that the torturer made a joke about it in front of the others, but later asked for forgiveness for what he had done. And yet, the United States continues to align itself with the ARENA party, and even now that the FMLN is in power, there are important members of the FMLN party with whom the United States government refuses to talk or address because of their involvement with the guerillas during the conflict. I truly have no words, and yet millions of words, to describe how unbelievable this is to me.

Just some things for us all to think about, I guess. And perhaps we can wonder why I can not remember ever learning about El Salvador in history class during high school, but the United States played a huge role for over a decade in their war.



Tengo Un Peso En Mi Corazón.

27 Sep

Listening To: “On Love, In Sadness” – Jason Mraz, Waiting For My Rocket To Come

And El Salvador continued…

On Wednesday we started the day at the Monument of Truth in San Salvador, a monument that was mandated originally by the UN Peace Accords after the war but was not erected because the government did not put forth the effort to do so. Eventually it gained outside support (mainly from the mothers of victims) and it was created. The monument is a wall that stretches through a park in San Salvador and has the names of the victims of the civil war. The names are divided between homicides and those who disappeared in other ways, and then is separated based on year so that it is easier to find the name of a loved one. The wall also lists the names and dates of all of the massacres that occurred throughout the time of unrest. And yes, I mean massacres, as in multiple. An entire panel of the wall is dedicated to the massacres…it is incredible to think that something like that would need to exist.

After the Monument of Truth we headed to the University of Central America, a Jesuit University, to learn about the murder of two women and six Jesuit Priests. There was a belief within the military that one of the priests was the leader of the guerilla movement (the murders occurred only five days after the FMLN launched a large offensive, but this claim was later deemed false), so there was an order to kill the priest and leave no witnesses, which lead to the death of the five other priests and the women. The military hoped that by doing so they could blame the FMLN (guerillas) for the death and escape backlash, but they had been seen entering the University, and the military had control of the area surrounding the UCA so it would have been nearly impossible for the FMLN to have gained access. At the university there is a museum that displays the clothes that the individuals were wearing when they were murdered, relics of each of the priests, and other pieces relevant to the civil war. We were also shown the rose garden to which the priests were dragged and killed, the room in which the women were found and killed, and were able to visit the church on the property. In the church there are the fourteen images of the Salvadoran Via Crucis, or Stations of the Cross. However, instead of showing the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the images show fourteen different ways in which Salvadoran citizens were tortured during the war. The fifteenth was left unpainted by the artist because he said it was the job of the people to make sure it never happened again.

After lunch we headed to visit the two main political parties in El Salvador. As I described earlier, the two main parties are ARENA (conservatives) and the FMLN (liberals). ARENA was created during the war as a response to the guerillas and was in power until 2009, when the FMLN gained the presidency.

Although all of this happened in one day, I have a lot to say about the meetings with ARENA and the FMLN, so I am going to make that its own blog post so that I can do it justice length-wise.



Esta Chica Va a Llegar Lejos…Como El Salvador.

26 Sep

Listening To: “Go Places” – The New Pornographers, Challengers

So I have been avoiding writing blog(s) for El Salvador because a) we were so busy I can literally never say anywhere close to as many things as I want to, and b) it was so full of emotions and learning and general life-changing that it will be impossible to express appropriately with words. But it was also the 10 best days of my time abroad so far so I feel like it is unfair to skip over it just because I am scared of the commitment of writing about the ten days. So, I will write about it in installments and hopefully I can do the trip justice.

Setting the scene: My entire group went, 7 girls and 1 boy, names as follows: Chloe, Ka (both of whom are my roommates), Lisa, Makela, Marie, Alom, and Michael/Miguel. The director of the program in Mexico, Anita, also traveled with us, and when we got to El Salvador we met up with the director of CEMAL’s program there, César. We spent the first week or so in the city of San Salvador and then spent some time in a rural community and at the beach…to be discussed later.

To begin with, we had a layover in Guatemala that was long enough that we were able to leave the airport and Guatemala City and head to Antigua, probably one of the cutest and quaintest towns I have ever seen. We ate lunch at an Italian restaurant (what?) and then shopped at our first (of very very many) artisan markets of the trip. I was pretty much in love with Antigua the second that I saw it and have already planned my return to this town.

Eventually after many many hours we arrived in El Salvador and met up with César and traveled to the guesthouse at which we were staying. The house is rented out to travelers and is absolutely beautiful – but it was also an FMLN safe house during the civil war that occurred in El Salvador between 1981 and 1992. During the war, the FMLN was the guerilla movement that was fighting against the government/military, and after the UN Peace Accords of ’92, the FMLN transitioned into a political party. The two main political parties in El Salvador currently are ARENA and the FMLN, and their equivalents in the United States would be the Republicans and the Democratics, respectively (although in my opinion, both parties are much more extreme in El Salvador). So pretty much if you know me at all you can guess that I side with the FMLN, so the fact that I stayed in a house that had once functioned as a safe place for the members of the FMLN was one of the coolest things I could have found out (the only way it could have been made cooler would be to learn something along the lines of Neil Patrick Harris being the true owner of the house and that he would be stopping by to make sure that we were all having a comfortable stay).

 So the first full day we had a meeting with a representative of Equipo Maiz (the Corn Team), a group that focuses on popular education by providing materials on lots of important social issues, but instead of selling textbooks with fancy words, they have things like posters and picture books and comic books with common language that make it possible for even those who have not received enough schooling to read textbooks to learn about important issues that affect their lives and in doing so provide the space for organization for or against issues that should be addressed by the people, not just the government or businesses. The representative met with us to talk about Salvadoran history (something that I studied extensively before the trip), but also discussed what had being happening in El Salvador since the signing of the Peace Accords that ended the war. It was the first time that we heard about anything that had happened in El Salvador after the war, and it was great to finally have a current context of the political, social, and economic situations in the country we were visiting. Later that day we met with a theology professor from the Central American University in El Salvador who discussed the different types of independence that are needed today in El Salvador and the effects that neoliberalism has on the country, and this discussion also too helped us to frame the context in which El Salvador is currently functioning.

César then took the group on a tour of San Salvador which left me with much confusion. First, it was the coolest tour of a place I have ever been on because I really feel like I know the history of El Salvador. So seeing the church in which Archbishop Romero gave his second-to-last sermon and is now buried, or walking on the grounds where protests and massacres occurred, meant more to me than other academic field trips usually do. I was able to make connections and understand the significances of places without everything being explained to me, and understood as best as I can as someone who is not Salvadoran the importance of the history and of all the places we saw to the people of the country. However, as much as I loved many moments of the tour, I also absolutely hated the city, or at least many of the parts in which we were walking. I don’t know why, but I felt a sense of discomfort as we walked around the city and I have a lot of trouble imagining ever spending extended time in the city in the future (although this may have been in part because there seems to be lots of meat all over the city – in the markets and on the streets – and I was made very uncomfortable because of the constant smell…definitely not something I am used to or like to see).

That is not to say that I didn’t like El Salvador…because I did. I have never had a greater desire to return to a place than I do for El Salvador.  But before I write about all of the other experiences that made me love it and write a full thesis paper-lengthed blog post, I will stop and return at another time to talk about the other 9 days in El Salvador.



Ella está al límite de la obsesión.

8 Sep

Listening To: “Life, in a Nutshell” – Barenaked Ladies, Rock Spectacle (Live)

This week I had/have four tests and one 5-page paper that turned into a 10-page paper. So you know, I’ve been a little busy. But I have also been busy obsessing over three things that have completely overtaken my life since coming to Mexico, so I thought I would take a break from work and tell you all about them. I present to you the three most important things in my Mexican life:

1. Speaking Spanish.

This one is pretty convenient, I like to think, because I am in a predominantly Spanish-speaking country, and almost everyone I work with is a native Spanish speaker and have limited English abilities. But it turns out that I was made to speak Spanish. I have been here less than three weeks days and I am now able to hold extensive conversations with native Spanish speakers, and I have been adopted as the translator in many cases when someone who speaks only Spanish and someone who speaks only English need to communicate. I indicate that I was made to speak Spanish because I have never taken a formal Spanish class before coming to Mexico (although I did have a couple very informal lessons this summer, and I have studied Italian and French pretty extensively and they are very similar grammatically to Spanish). Learning Spanish is the most fun I have ever had learning a foreign language, and I have discovered that I really have an affinity for learning it – probably because I am incredibly motivated to be able to speak and understand the language in order to survive here in Mexico, and also in order to use it for my future career. Anyway, obsessed.

2. Eating bread. And pastries.

For anyone who didn’t already know, the bread and baked goods in Mexico are INCREDIBLE and I spend most of my day thinking of reasons why it would be acceptable for me to have another piece of bread. Sometimes I will eat it with peanut butter or regular butter, and I have seen other people eat it with honey, but I usually just eat it plain…because it really doesn’t need anything to make it better. And every morning a nice man from down the street comes to our house and gives us freshly baked pastries that are still warm. I have been working out at least twice a day every day, but also eating enough pastries and bread that I am probably actually gaining weight. So yeah, obsessed.

3. El Salvador, and more specifically, Archbishop Oscar Romero.

I will be going to El Salvador in five days and I have discovered upon coming to Mexico and spending a very significant amount of my time learning about the political history of Latin America and U.S. foreign policy in Latin America that El Salvador is one of the most important countries to both of those topics, and that it is a country with a history full of absolute devastation and decimation, but it is also a country full of hope.  And that, my friends, is where Monseñor Romero comes in. I could honestly talk about him and El Salvador for hours so I will stop for now. But I am seriously, seriously obsessed. You should research the Monseñor.

And now, back to work.



Medias de Red y Vuelos.

1 Sep

Listening To: “Over the Rainbow” – Ingrid Michaelson, Be OK

My last post focused on my academic ventures over the past week, and I didn’t get to talk at all about all of the social events I was able to attend this past weekend! It was a totally excellent weekend to claim as my first “real” weekend in Mexico (the weekend before didn’t count because I spent all of Friday in the Mexico City airport and the next two days were filled with orientation and sleeping) because this week was Cuernavaca’s Pride Week! There were events all week, although I missed most of them because I was in class or on excursions (although it would have all been in Spanish so there is only so much I would have gotten out of it anyway), but luckily there were some other girls in the program who were interested in attending the events over the weekend and one of the professors at CEMAL was somehow kind of in charge, so we were all pretty excited to participate in the remaining weekend events.

Thursday night my roommate Chloe announced at dinner that she had met a man in town who played a ukulele-like instrument and would be performing at the Jardin Borda, a museum/garden that we had been to before and is totally beautiful, and that he had given her a free ticket to the concert and she wanted to go. So Chloe, another student Lisa, and I took a taxi over to the Jardin Borda to go see what we thought would be similar to an open mic-type deal. Of course we were totally wrong about the nature of the show, and walked into a theatre rather than a casual concert, and I’m still not sure I can totally understand what we saw. To start with, there were about 8 Mexicans onstage wearing traditional African clothing (or at least that is what they told us it was after the show) and singing acappella to rows of older people who were all dressed pretty nicely…something for which we were not prepared. Also, the first song that they sang was “It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t Got That Swing”…one hundred percent not what we were expecting to come out of their mouths. The rest of the performance consisted of song, dance, theatre, piano, flute, soprano saxophone, a crazy man with a cowbell and a drum strapped to his chest, chants, sing-alongs, and a lot of yelling. It was absolutely the wildest thing I have ever seen. The group sang and chanted and clapped their way out of the auditorium and Chloe, Lisa, and I were preparing to leave when we realized that they were still singing, even though they had left the theatre and they were outside. We followed the noise to the center of the entrance of Jardin Borda to find that the entire audience was dancing and singing along with the members of the performing group, who were dancing in a circle around a fountain. So of course we joined in on the dance party, and two seconds later members of the group came over and grabbed our hands and had us join in on the celebration, so we found ourselves clapping and yelling as we danced around the fountain, even though we had absolutely no idea what they were saying or for what we were dancing. The dancing went on forever and ever and ended with people dancing in the fountain and having water fights…it was incredible. And totally not what we thought we were going to be seeing. The man who had met Chloe earlier in the day was really excited to see her and meet the rest of us (lots of handshake/kisses and “mucho gusto”s) and so we all got a chance to practice our Spanish.

Friday night there was a concert that was specifically for Pride that our professor had gotten us all free tickets to, so after we spent the day at a pool party at the director’s house we headed to the café where the concert was taking place. The concert was a lesbian feminist activist playing guitar (more along the lines of what we had been expecting the night before). The venue was really small and, of course, she spoke and sang only in Spanish the entire time, but I was able to determine that she liked a long of the songs she was performing (she said “me gusta esta cancion” before every song), and that a lot of them were about women and the cycle of violence that they face in domestic violence situations (very Art of Change). She was a great performer and we met a lot of people at the concert who were in charge of various parts of pride week. After the concert, Chloe, Lisa, and my other roommate, Ka, and I, went to El Barecito, an LGBTQ friendly bar/restaurant in Cuernavaca that lived up to its name – it was TINY. But it was so cute and welcoming and we saw a lot of the people who had just been at the concert we had attended, who made sure to remind us many times that the pride walk would be the next day and that we had better be there.

Saturday was the day of the march so Chloe, Lisa, Ka, and I went to the meeting place for the beginning of the walk (which happened to be next to the huge and beautiful Cathedral in Cuernavaca, which I thought was pretty impressive that the parade was able to start there without any issues…side note, the Cathedral has “mariachi mass” at 11:00 AM on Sundays, so I am going to make sure to get there at least once this semester. Yeah, that exists.). The march was CRAZY. It was definitely cool to be in a city that is full of Catholicism everywhere you turn become a place with streets filled with men in drag, same sex couples openly showing their affection, and absolutely no free space anywhere because so many people came out either to march in the parade or show their support from the sides. I was totally in shock at how many people came out to support the cause, and did not see anyone or anything that seemed to be in opposition to the event…although it is possible I just didn’t understand because of the language barrier. But as far as I could tell, it was just an awesome atmosphere for everyone to be themselves and show their love. It’s definitely an awesome experience when you feel out of place because you aren’t wearing fishnets or wings of some fashion (although all of us had shown up in various rainbow gear in the spirit of the event). I always love Pride parades, too, because it is the norm for most people to show up mostly naked…and how often is that allowed? Basically never. During the march there were speeches made at the Congress building that was on the route, and the walk ended at the zocalo (which means the town square, but only in Mexico, no other Spanish-speaking country uses this term). The zocalo was filled with various spectacles such as breakdance circles, an exhibition of traditional Aztec dancing, and then the main stage from which the speeches were presented, as well as a drag show. The event went on the entire night but the girls and I wanted to avoid having to pay for a taxi home so we needed to leave before it got dark (and it was also starting to thunderstorm, something that has happened at least once a day every day since I got here), but it was still going strong as we left.

And thus concludes my first real weekend in Cuernavaca. I made it through unscathed, but donning two new bracelets — one that has the figures of men and women (the kind that are usually on bathroom signs) standing in same sex couples in all the colors of the rainbow, and the other covered in pictures that look like bananas, but are actually friendly waving condoms surrounding the words “¡Cuídate y Protégete!” So all in all, I would say it was a successful weekend, and I am loving the coincidence that I am officially welcomed to Cuernavaca by Pride week. It was definitely meant to be.

Prayers for everyone who was affected by the hurricane on the east coast, I have been blown away by all of the pictures from my hometown and the surrounding areas and I hope that there is enough help to bring everything back to its original state. Peace.