|Archbishop Oscar Romero|
Today I went to the Salvadoran agricultural cooperative along with three other students from the NICA school. I thought I was gonna faint! It was hot, heavy work. I was planting rows of tomatoes and hoeing little irrigation ditches. I tied a bandana around my head to keep my hair back and it was soaked with sweat within minutes. I got blisters on my hands and fingers from clutching the handle of the hoe. Every now and then, some disgusting bug would poke its head up and I’d clobber it with the hoe. The first time I saw the ugly insects I started to scream but I quickly felt embarrassed by my sissy, city-girl behavior as my co-workers communicated their annoyance with a quick glance. After that, I simply hit the bugs with the edge of my hoe, attempting to slice them in half. I felt mean doing it but they freaked me out.
Our Salvadoran co-workers are refugees from the war in El Salvador. Some of them were part of the FMLN, Farabundo Marti Liberacion Nacional, others were denounced by orejas, informants who accuse people of conspiring to overthrow the government. Those accusations are as good as a death sentence. The FMLN is an armed guerrilla organization trying to do for El Salvador what the FSLN has done here. Our compañeros had to flee their country to avoid death and/or torture but they’re still committed to raising awareness of their cause. Talking to them while we worked helped me take my mind off my aching body. As we listened to their stories of political repression and corruption, our minds were distracted from the physical strain. Some of these compañeros have lost family members to the struggle and all of them have lost loved ones. They talk about Bishop Romero’s assassination and the subsequent massacre of mourners at his funeral by the police. I can tell that the pain is still fresh, it’s generational. Their parents and grandparents have fought against Las Catorce, the fourteen families that made up the oligarchy for as long as they can remember, so even though the heat was terrible and every inch of me ached, I felt like I could push through the work. It seemed worth the pain to help them out, to show solidarity in my own very small way.
In the evening the driver dropped us off at the school again, just in time for a charla with the Mothers of Heroes and Martyrs of the Revolution. It was heartbreaking hearing the mothers tell and probably relive the pain of their loved one’s death and in some cases, their torture. Several of the stories involved gory dismemberment and my stomach turned as I thought of cutting insects in half with my hoe that day. The thought that someone could do that to a person made me sick. They took turns telling their stories until every eye at the charla was teary.
|NICARAGUA. Esteli. 1986. A mother sits in front of her son whose legs were blown off by a Contra landmine. The victim's wife sits on the other side of the bed. Photo by Larry Towell|
At the end, one of the mothers told us that she wanted us to know what our tax dollars are doing here in Nicaragua and that although it was hard for them to talk about the terrible tragedies that had happened to their families, the purpose was for us to understand the cruelty and inhumanity being inflicted on them as a result of our government’s financial and military support of the Contras. They urged us to help them change the situation. I felt so bad. How is it that they don’t hate us?
I want to help but how can I change it?
Archbishop Oscar Romero gained great popularity in El Salvador in the seventies when he began speaking out against poverty, social injustice and the assassination of political dissidents. His Sunday sermons were broadcast on the radio and had a far reaching effect as they provided a rallying point for disenfranchised Salvadorans. In 1980 Romero was fatally shot while celebrating mass. His funeral was attended by over 250,000 people. The ceremony was disrupted by smoke bombs and gun shots directed at the mourners. The attack left dozens dead and hundreds wounded. It was believed that the Salvadoran government was behind the attack.
Shortly after this the country plunged into civil war.