For the past four weeks we have been here in El Salvador. We have met with many different people, organizations, and communities. We have learned about the tragic history, the United States’ influence, and have seen the current-day situation. This insight into Salvadoran culture, especially religion, has shown us how a country can heal and overcome devastation; how our own country can have so much influence beyond its borders.
Our experience in El Salvador has created much more introspection for me than our experience in Guatemala. Perhaps it was the history, perhaps it was the weekend community visits, perhaps it is because I felt me first sense of homesickness here, either way though, I have looked at my own life quite immensely. For example, we visited the site where six Jesuit priests and a mother and daughter were killed by the Salvadoran military at the University of Central America, here in San Salvador. Some of us, including myself, even looked at the actual pictures of the crime scene when those innocent people were killed. The images were striking, each time we walked back into the room where we looked at the photo books, for other meetings, I felt a quick jolt of anxiety when I saw the books again. Some of the images have still not left my mind; they may never. To learn of the tragic events of that day, to see the belongings of those martyrs on display in the small museum the university has, and then to look at the actual photos of the crime scene, it reminded me of 9/11, and how I have never been to Ground Zero or the new memorial that has opened up. Granted, I’m and upstate boy, and cities aren’t exactly my thing, but I still feel I should take a visit.
Also, just knowing the amount of American presence that exists in El Salvador is crazy to me. The culture is very much American. Like Pizza Hut? They have three within two blocks of each other. Subway? I had that for lunch today. Burger King? They have that too. Coca-Cola? Oh yeah, they’re destroying the environment here and privatizing water sources—which El Salvador has nearly no clean water. 12% of the water in El Salvador is potable. The other 88% has been contaminated by mining or fecal waste. This American presence creates a curious conflict within me. Yes, the American brands make me feel a little at home, which, who doesn’t miss home at one point or another? Even though, I despise fast-food restaurants and choose not to support them as much as possible. But, does this American presence infringe upon the Salvadorans to be able to create their own distinct culture and identity? I think it does in a way. This globalization, and most specifically, neoliberalism, has created a large economic dependence on the United States for the Salvadorans. I mean, they’re even on the USD, which actually screws them over in the end. It’s part of the neoliberalism scheme. Big transnational corporations from the United States don’t have to convert money, so they, in turn, don’t lose money, which puts them ahead right from the get-go. Then, they pay Salvadorans who work for them shitty wages, and just keep the majority of the Salvadoran people in their control. This oppression is disgusting. It doesn’t only happen here, but around the world too. And before even coming here, I didn’t even know El Salvador used the USD, or that there was such an American presence.
Through the many social issues—economic oppression, environmental degradation, gangs, political oppression— the Salvadorans have found strength within themselves to persevere and struggle to overcome these issues. They find strength in their faith and communities, allowing them to be as human as possible with one another. That’s why they’re still so welcoming and kind to us foreigners. That’s why it’s not uncommon to see multiple generations living under one roof. The people know their history, they know their country, and they know where they want to go with their country. It’s just the struggle of getting there.
Tomorrow we present our final projects. My group project is about the environment here in El Salvador. My individual project will consist of a song, as well as an art piece that I’ve made, which both reflect upon my personal experience here in El Salvador, as well as what we learned during our time here. Early Saturday morning (early = 2 a.m.) we head to Nicaragua. Twelve hours on a bus, here we come!! Most of us are headed to a beach house in San Juan del Sur for next week, as it’s our Fall break. The few others are traveling or visiting with family. Then, we head to Managua to take a course on history and a course on political science until the end of the semester. I was also recently accepted into a program in Buenos Aires, Argentina for this coming semester, so I will be heading down there in February for the Spring semester.
Expect pictures from our beach week…Cue Zac Brown Band’s song, Toes…Toes in the water, ass in the sand…
Peace and love from El Salvador!
P.S. Next post: photos from our hike of El Volcán Santa Ana