Thoughts from the Air

First of all, I have not posted in such a long time because I am now working full time as Co-Coordinator of US El Salvador Sister Cities, and I don’t seem to find as much writing time as I did last year as a volunteer. So, for what it’s worth, that’s why.

IMG_5549As I write this, I am sitting in a plane crammed to the brim on its way to El Salvador after spending just over 2 weeks popping all over the US – New Jersey, Philly, Annapolis, and Texas.  People often ask me what I think about the US when I come back to visit, if it seems totally bonkers, if I seethe with judgment at the excesses that abound in my home country.  The truth is yes, it does seem pretty bonkers, but no to the seething part.

I start out by telling people that there are things I find absolutely insane in both countries, and assure them that I am not “anti-American” (a common concern among family members who read my blog).  Have I learned things that make me critical of many US foreign policies and parts of our culture that the more my eyes are opened the more I see that they are killing us a slow death of depersonalization? – Certainly. But I also think that being critical of my nation and its policies, practices, and peculiarities is one of the most American things I can do. I love my country, and I feel a deepening sense of belonging to it (especially to the beautiful state of Texas), but the worst thing I could do as an American is blindly accept and approve of it all.

The first thing that always hits me when I come back is how depersonalized things are – at the Houston and Dallas airports, there is an ongoing effort to reduce all human interaction as much as possible. You step off the plane and follow arrows pointing you to where to go, push buttons on machines to pass through different checkpoints, and even food court restaurant menus are increasingly electronic.  But it doesn’t stop when I finally self-direct my way out of the airport – people get directions and recommendations on their electronic devices, grocery store check-outs are self-service, and we do not know our neighbors.  I have little doubt that this kind of isolation and dehumanization has something to do with the kind of mental health disasters that make the news all-too frequently these days.

Another thing that is always shocking is how much we feel we need to be in control – it makes us feel safe, and by all means we must feel safe. We plan everything down to the last minute, and we like to know what is coming.  We make our living environments as sterile as possible, and we depend on technology to tell us what is coming – with the weather, driving directions, and social events – so that we will never be surprised and we’ll never have to not know what’s going on.  We even control the temperature around us, losing touch with the seasons and the movement of the sun across the sky. I feel disoriented by these things, not perhaps because they are bad or good, but because they are in stark contrast to what I am used to in El Salvador and how I connect to each moment and my surroundings.

It is difficult to see the excesses that people have, but not because I am angry at people for having too much while so many other have so little.  Actually, the excess stuff that fills the lives of so many Americans makes me profoundly sad for them. I see a desperate search for security, belonging, self-value, and acceptance that will never be satisfied by the things people seek to fill them with.  I wish they could experience instead that the practice of generosity and the ways that giving away more than you have can be filling and life-giving.  Studies show over and over again that the more people have, the less they give. I see this in El Salvador where friends, neighbors, and strangers who have very little are so extremely willing to give of themselves and their belongings. But we have been taught that our stuff equates to our security, that we must have a thing for each possible need, want, or whim. Meanwhile we’re talking to machines and rolling around in air conditioned hamster balls and wondering why we still haven’t gotten there yet.
IMG_1020These are the things that being away help me see about my home, about my culture, much like the way that when you’re baking you don’t notice the smell until you step outside and come back in. But just like the baking smells, there are rich, delicious things I notice as well. First of course is family, and the fact that I will never be loved and belong like I do here by my own family. I also love the cultural diversity and open-mindedness that is the result of living in a country of immigrants, a country that has absorbed the rejected, the innovators, the ahead-of-their-timers for over 400 years. I love being able to have tacos for breakfast, curry for lunch, and General Tso’s for dinner. I love that nearly all kids learn art and sports, and that schools are becoming increasingly holistic and work year by year to become more fertile ground for growth, creativity, and imagination. I love that we have public libraries, and I love bike lanes. I love that there are places and people who work to instill a love for nature and dirt and clean skies.

So please, don’t read my blog and believe that I am anti-American.  Read my criticisms and observations as affection for my home and for my people, as the practice of hoping that we can and must make our world a better place each day. And join me in trying to do so.

Salvadorans, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

There isn’t anybody who doesn’t know a Salvadoran, or at least, someone who knows a salvadoran. At any rate, a wise teacher was once asked “What is a Salvadoran?” His response was the following:

Oh, the Salvadorans! What a difficult question! Salvadorans are among you but are not one of you. Salvadorans drink from the same cup of joy and bitterness. They make music of their cries and laugh when they hear music. Salvadorans take jokes seriously and make jokes about serious matters. They don’t believe in anybody yet they believe in everything. Don’t even think about getting in an argument with them! Salvadorans are born with wisdom. They don’t need to read, because they know everything! They don’t need to travel, they’ve seen it all! Salvadorans are sort of like the chosen people, chosen by themselves. Salvadorans are characterized as individuals for their understanding and intelligence, and as a group for their impassioned shouts.  Each and every one of them has a spark of genius and geniuses don’t get along well with them. Getting Salvadorans together is easy, but unifying them almost impossible. Don’t talk to them about logic, because that implies reason and measure and Salvadorans are hyperbolic and exaggerated. For example, if they invite you to a restaurant, they don’t just take you to the best restaurant in town, they take you to the best restaurant in the world. When they argue, they don’t say “I don’t agree with you,” but rather “You are completely mistaken!” They have anthropographic tendencies, hence “Se la comio — He ate it!” is an expression of admiration, and to eat a beautiful woman indicates an favorable situation. Saying to someone “eat shit” is a lacerating insult. Salvadorans have so much love for contradiction that they call a beautiful woman “culo– ass” and a scholar they call “animal.” If you are afflicted by any health situation they will advise you “Brother, you should have talked to me and I would have taken you to a buddy of mine, he’s a badass doctor!” Salvadorans offer solutions before they know the problem… For them, there is never a problem. They know what must be done to erradicate terrorism, prosecute poor countries of the Carribean, eliminate hunger in Africa, pay the external debt, who should be president and how the United States can become a world power. They don’t understand why others don’t understand their ideas that are so simple and clear, and they’ll never understand why everyone doesn’t want to learn to speak Spanish. Oh, Salvadorans! We can hardly live with them, but it is impossible to live without them!

Dedicated with much affection to the inhabitants of the best country in the world,

Gabriel Garcia Márquez.marquez

Back in El Salvador, and Elections

Alright, I’m overdue for an update.

Visiting a scenic rock formation near the cost in La Libertad with some leaders in local community organizing.

Visiting a scenic rock formation near the cost in La Libertad with some leaders in local community organizing.

My excuse is that I just got hired as the new US El Salvador Sister Cities Coordinator, so for the past month I’ve been training and diving headfirst into all the work that needs to be done. And before that I spent November and December with my family in Texas, eating lots of breakfast tacos and taking hot showers.

I came back to El Salvador on  New Years day, just one month before the Presidential Elections.  It has been a very exciting context to be working in, and as seems to always be the case here in El Salvador — I’m learning a ton.  There is a lot riding on these elections — each of the candidates have very different ideas about how to address gangs, what economic development should look like, how to help poor farmers, and whether or not to let mega transnational companies wreak economic and environmental havoc on this tiny country at the waistline of the Americas. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced an election that feels like it has so much at stake as this one.

There are 3 main candidates, which in and of itself is unique from elections I’ve experienced in the US.  El Salvador does not have a 2 party system, and new parties are being born all the time. Also, they held a presidential debate for the first time ever this year — and all the candidates participated.  Granted, it was severely lacking in organization and direction, but that’s a major step towards a true democracy in which citizens are considered intelligent beings capable of making informed, educated decisions.

It is most impactful for me to think that an election could have such an impact on a country, and how in the US so often we have great high hopes for people who represent our interests, but who in the end somehow manage to all be pretty much the same.  Not to say that El Salavdor has only altruistic, independently thinking candidates — I’m not that naive.  But it does feel like making changes is really possible here.  Maybe it’s because it’s such a small country.

I’m excited to see the outcomes of these elections, and proud to see my friends con animo about practicing their right to vote as part of the process of creating the El Salvador that each of us hopes for.

Immigration and Immigrants

This weekend I went down to Houston to visit my host brother.  The last time I saw him he was riding into the sunset in the back of a pickup truck, leaving El Salvador to try for the American Dream.  I stood beside his mom, who at 33 years old, had just put the title to her home and small piece of land on a loan so her oldest son could go to a place where he might have a future.  She didn’t cry until the next day, her son’s 18th birthday, because he wasn’t with us.

Now he is in Texas, and so is a whole clump of young people from Guajoyo.  He shares an apartment with about 6 of his friends from back home, who when I showed up, talked for hours about how much they miss fishing in the Lempa River, growing corn in the foothills, and living life slowly and deliberately with their families.  Some of them have been here for 9 years, and some just got here less than a month ago, and several of them have children who they left back in Guajoyo, and who motivate them to work construction jobs and live in hiding so they can send back a few hundred dollars — a fortune — to their families each month.

We went to  a sort of Chinese-Central American fusion all-you-can-eat place filled with latinos on a Sunday afternoon in the outskirts of Houston.  People in El Salvador love to talk about the buffets, where you can fill your plate as many times as you care to, one of the many legends from the Land of Possibilities.  Over plates piled high with pupusas and general Tso’s chicken, they asked all about Guajoyo, the weather, the crops, the fiesta, the gangs, the soccer field.  In a way, their lives are not their own.  They have sacrificed ‘home’ so their families can survive, and everything they do  is for those people who stayed behind.

From the buffet, they took me to the place where many of them work making wooden pallets.  On the grounds of the work site is a small trailer home, and when we went inside I was met with another clump of Guajoyans, a few of them young women who I was hanging out with not too long ago back in El Salvador.  They have created this little community and support network that feels just like an arm of Guajoyo in this strange land of unlimited Chinese food and English-speaking employers.  They envy me for the fact that I can go back and forth between these two worlds, and they welcomed me into their world just as their families had done the same for me in Guajoyo.  In a way, I am able to connect the two worlds, bringing tokens of love from one to the other, bringing encouragement and news.

While it is exciting to see these friends in my home state and see that they are doing well and supporting one another, it breaks my heart to know that they have left a gaping hole of youth in Guajoyo.  There are hardly any young people left between the ages of 18 and 30 who haven’t made that northern journey, and I have a hard time imagining anything but the crumbling of the social structure with such a huge hole in the middle of the whole thing.  What a tragedy that so many thousands — even millions — of people have to leave their homes, their families, and their communities to seek any kind of future.

I’ve written a few times about how my perspective on immigration has changed as a result of this experience.  I came at the beginning of this year with the idea of convincing young people in Guajoyo not to immigrate, that it was a better option to stay in their communities and work for a better future in El Salvador.  But I have come to experience what it means to live in a place that does not offer a future, to understand that those young immigrants know they are signing up for hardship and suffering, and yet that is a better option for many than staying where there are no jobs, where climate change jacks up the precariousness of subsistence farming, where being young is a crime, where the innocent pay the price for the corrupt.  And while I wish they weren’t coming here, somehow now I can’t blame them.

Catching Fire

I just saw Catching Fire at the movie theater, and its impact was much more profound than the first movie and reading all three books, and it has everything to do with El Salvador.

katnissThe difference is that this time, watching the second film in the series, I knew that it is all real, and it was shocking to see l reality on a large screen while I reclined in an excessively cushy theater seat.  I know it is real because I have been living in El Salvador, where revolution and repression and uprising are part of regular vocabulary, where the violent incarnation of this is still fresh in the memory.  I was reading a movie review that said:

“Catching Fire makes use of the simply horrific circumstances of this futuristic world and calls us out on the things that could go wrong. This isn’t mere fantasy: Suzanne Collins (the author of the books) makes it feel like this could actually happen, if we let it.”

occupy fistIt could actually happen?  Futuristic? This is something that is happening, and that has already happened.  It is the history of revolution.  Think of the film as representing the Occupy Movement, with The Capital as the 1% and all the districts as the 99%.  And the game? It’s capitalism and global economics.  Because the thing is that everybody’s playing the game, but the odds will ever be in favor of The Capital, because they created the game.  The game of capitalism is designed in such a way that only the 1% (the mega-rich, the owners of everything) can ever really win, and the rest of the districts will constantly be pitted against each other for meager winnings.  In this game of survival, the genius of the creators of the game is that the other districts turn into one another’s enemy, while The Capital maintains this sort of protector-provider role, even while they are the ones coordinating the carnage.

El Salvador, like most of Latin America, is a country of extremes, and has historically been divided into a numerically tiny upper class that controls nearly all of the economy and property, and a giant lower class that has hardly anything but their numbers.  Similarly with global leadership, there are the leaders of the few wealthy countries that control the economy, then there’s all the leaders of  rest of the world.  In the 1970’s and 1980’s in El Salvador, thousands of people decided that it was no longer ok that the few feast at the expense of the famine of the masses, and so they started demanding changes. (things like possibilities for poor farmers to own land, end to indentured servanthood, fair democratic government…)

The people who held the power were afraid of these ‘deviants’, so they started responding violently.  Leaders of other bigger, more powerful countries were also afraid that this kind of ‘deviant’ behavior could catch on in their own backyards and disrupt the fragile system that was working so well (for those few of them).  So they sent millions of dollars to combat the movement.  But for every movement leader that was killed, a hundred more desperate campesinos came up in their place, much in the way that Rue’s death spurred the bold actions of her fellow District 11-ites, who suffered death for daring a 3 finger salute.  Meanwhile, the powers that be were fighting desperately to distract everybody else from what was going on.  The desperate campesinos were portrayed as uneducated terrorists in the limited media coverage they got, and meanwhile the rest of the world was being urged to consume more and more, for each man to fight his personal battle of achievement and wealth.

The violence and in-humanity of the conflict in El Salvador was far more grotesque than that of The Hunger Games, and like in the books, there is little resolution in the ending.  In  El Salvador, the revolution is still happening.  There is still poverty and hunger and wealth and excess.  I know this because of the brave people I work with there who remember their history, and who work every day to create a world with justice and equality for all.

And I challenge any of you who have seen the movie or who are going to see it, think beyond the scary flesh-eating monkeys or the complicated love triangle (although, I wouldn’t dare deny that those are important and valid parts of the film) and to consider how it might actually reflect our current reality.  In what ways might we, the privileged classes in the U.S., beThe Capital?  In what ways might we be distracting ourselves from what is really going on in the world around us?  Where are the District 12’s?  Who are the Katnisses of our world?

Going Away

Dear, dedicated readers,

I have disappeared for a brief while in the flurry of final days living in Guajoyo and first days being back in Texas.  My time as a Sister Cities volunteer came to an end on November 7th when I flew back to the United States.  The good news? I have officially accepted a position as the new El Salvador Coordinator for US El Salvador Sister Cities, starting at the beginning of January.  So as I loaded my giant lime green suitcase into the truck that took me to the airport, the sweet sorrow of parting was sweetened by knowing that I would be back — very soon.

I could not have asked for a better last couple of weeks as a volunteer.  November 2-5 was the festival in Guajoyo celebrating the anniversary of when the community was started by those 21 brave, displaced families.  There seems to be a direct correlation between hard working and partying hard, and this community that astounds me with their work ethic continued to impress with this festival, which began at 4am each day for 4 days, and cost hours of lost sleep, sliced fingers, and unthanked errand-running for the community leaders who pulled it all together.

Exif_JPEG_PICTUREWe started on Saturday, November 2nd with a 4am serenade and fireworks, in which musicians made their way up the main road of the community, stopping in front of houses to sing romantic songs and shoot off fireworks to wake everybody up.  By 6am, the musicians had made their grand traverse and ended up at the school, where sleepy-eyed children and young men stand in line waiting for the hot coffee and sweet bread that is given to everyone who wants some.  The women who prepare this early morning refreshment had been there since 4, when the singing and fireworks told them it was time to start the day.  This was how each day began.

equipoSaturday was also the day of the men’s soccer tournament, which lasted  the entire day and included a dozen or so teams from all over the area.  I was the “madrina” for one of Guajoyo’s teams, which is something between a mascot and a sponsor.  I was given a glitter-encrusted banner to wear, and was escorted out on the field before their first game to present a new soccer ball to the players.  It felt very old-world, like I was the young maiden for whom the strong, valiant players would fight and win.  But despite their undying devotion to me, our team came in 4th place.  The winning team took home a cash prize, but my team will keep the soccer ball I gave them, and it will be one of the few they have to use in practice every week.

Exif_JPEG_PICTURESunday the 3rd was another day of tournaments, this time the kids and women.  The boys’ teams went first, some of them playing barefoot in mix-matched shorts and t-shirts, and others with well-kept cleats and matching uniforms.  The teams were mixed with boys from 9 to 13 years old, and the difference in size is amazing just in that 4 year range.  But the little boys and the young men played together with their all, and the winning team took home their cash prize.  The women’s tournament was the same way, and only some teams sported coordinating uniforms.  There were significantly fewer teams than for the men, but these young women made up for their numbers in hutzba; the soccer field was their battlefield and they were all in.

Exif_JPEG_PICTUREAfter the tournaments wrapped up came the greased pig competition, which isn’t unfamiliar to any of you who grew up in a rural area.  The idea is to cover a young pig in lard and set it loose in the middle of a ring of young men who throw themselves without abandon on the slippery swine, and whoever manages to grab hold of it gets to take the pig home as their prize.  This year, either the pig wasn’t sufficiently greased, or the number of chasers was too great, but once the pig was released the whole spectacle didn’t last more than 10 seconds.  The true entertainment, however, was watching the pig being carried away by the 5 beaming men who managed to wrap hands around it first, and before an hour had passed, the animal was slaughtered, sliced, and distributed into 5 more-or-less even portions.

Exif_JPEG_PICTUREMonday was a frenzy of work and play, as the men and women responsible for the next day’s lunch slaughtered, cleaned, and cut up the two cows that would soon be turned into soup.  Amid that excitement was the presentation of the 2 candidates for Queen of the Fiestas.  Dressed in evening gowns and standing in the back of a rusty pick-up truck decorated with balloons and streamers, they paraded up through the community accompanied by a crowd of children begging them to throw a Exif_JPEG_PICTUREpiece of candy their way.  The school band and twirlers led the parade up the dirt road to the end of the community, and the two young candidates got to feel like princess for the day.   Later that evening, the community’s young performers — the clowns, theater group, and break dancers — put on a show lit by the moon and a single dangling light bulb for the 200-or-so community members who showed up.  At the end of the night, the winner of the pageant was announced and presented to the audience with gracious curtsies and waves.

Exif_JPEG_PICTURETuesday, November 5th was the big day, the actual anniversary of Guajoyo’s birth.  The women are the true heroes of this day of festivities, as in many ways they are the true heroes of this community, where they not only nourish and care, they are the stable foundation and intertwined roots of the families that inhabit Guajoyo.  The day started, as usual, with the 4am wake up call and handing out coffee and bread, after which the same women stuck around to start preparing the soup that would feed the 800 attendees of the afternoon’s event.  We sliced vegetables, cut meat, and stirred the 9 giant pots that sat steaming over small fires scattered across the schoolyard.  Meanwhile, the men began setting up chairs for the ceremony that took place at 11.

The ceremony represented the reason for the whole celebration: it honored the past and recognized the heroes of the past and present who are part of creating a society of justice and wellbeing for Guajoyans and for Salvadorans.  Julio recalled the events surrounding that historic day on November 5th 1991, and invited the veterans to stand and be applauded.  Speakers from the Table of Honor stood up and made a call to the young people of Guajoyo to chose to be a part of that legacy by making good changes for the community.  For me, it was a very special moment to witness this part of historic memory — the intentional practice of remembering and recognizing that where we came from is part of where we are going.  Although Guajoyo is not alone as a community that faced hardship and regeneration during the armed conflict, there are few that continue to celebrate their anniversaries as Guajoyo does, and that important history becomes farther away and slowly forgotten.  For Guajoyo, however, the dream that those 21 families had back in 1991 is very much still alive today, and is the driving force behind the incredible work that they continue to do today.

Exif_JPEG_PICTUREAfter the ceremony, everybody in attendance was invited to a lunch of beef soup, which was the climax of the organizational frenzy of the whole week.  Making sure everyone only got their fair share, that the elderly were served first, that each bowl had a piece of meat in it, that everyone got the flavor of soda they wanted, that kids didn’t sneak back into line for seconds — was an impressive and exhausting feat.  When all the soup was served and the schoolyard was abandoned by the 800 guests, all who remained were the same women who had been getting up at 4am every day, and who had been working in the outdoor kitchen for 10 hours with hardly any rest.  We cleaned up and went home for a brief rest.

Exif_JPEG_PICTUREFor the young people in the community, the highlight of the fiesta is the night of the 5th, when a huge truck backs onto the soccer field and unloads the speaker stacks, lights, and tarps for the dance.  Under a star-filled sky, a couple hundred people of all ages crowded around the DJ and danced cumbia, salsa, electronic, reggaeton, and rock.  This was my going away party, and I felt the love of this community pulsing through my body just as the vibrations of the music were pulsing through my limbs.  The boys who caused me hell in English class or who irritated me with their cat calls when I walked by the tienda danced with me respectfully, and we lost ourselves in the goofiness of jumping up and down in a crowd up sweaty people.  I’m a dancer, so this is how I connect with people and the world, and the experience of sharing a dancing space and losing all sense of pride and insecurity with the movement of the pulsing beat was perfect.  I will hold on to that memory for the rest of my life.

Exif_JPEG_PICTUREThe next day we were all sort of in recovery, and I was trying to get the spiders out of my suitcase to make room for all my things.  In the afternoon, the youth committee called a “meeting”, and when I showed up they had planned a full-out going away party, complete with a cake, pinata, and each person standing up and saying words of appreciation.  As I looked around the cyber cafe at the faces of my friends, I realized how much this place had become home for me.  It was a sort of bitter-sweet realization, because I know that I have set myself up for a lifetime of broken heartedness, with one foot always in one place and the other foot in another.  It is similar to the plight of immigrants, who do not belong fully to the place they came from nor to the place they have gone to.  I am not Salvadoran, and will never really understand the daily realities of the people in Guajoyo, but I am also changed from the east texan girl who I used to be, and a piece of my heart will always be in this community.

Exif_JPEG_PICTUREI write this post from my old house in Austin, where most things are the same as before I left, as if it were all a stack of Jenga blocks that I pulled myself out of, only to slide back in a few months later.  I’m visiting the people and places that are my other home, here in the United States, before starting my new position as a Sister Cities employee.  And already I can feel the change, that impossibility of wholeness because I straddle two different worlds.  But for people like me, we find wholeness in the decision to pursue that thing that split us in two — for some it is the dream of being able to work and support their families back home, for me it is the dream of fighting injustices anywhere to create justice everywhere.

Watch a video of  Guajoyo’s anniversary festivities here

Piropos

Cat calls happen in most places — in the US, in El Salvador, in Europe — and no matter what they cultural context, it’s just not ok.  Or at least, i’ll just never be ok with it.  And that’s because it’s about silencing a woman, about cornering her, about reminding her that men get to decide what (and who) is and isn’t valuable in this world.

After 10 months living in Guajoyo, I have gained the respect of most people in the community, and even the confidence of some.  And yet there is a handful of boys who continue to catcall me every time they get the chance.  “Hello, mamacita. When are you going to bring your dad again so I can meet my father in law?”  “Uuuy mami look at that skin, how did you get so beautiful?”  “Hola bonita, you’re looking at me because you can’t wait to be my lover.”

My first response was simply to ignore.  But it did not wane. Then, when I started getting to know (and teaching class to) these same boys, I would respond to them, telling them I found their words offensive and wanted them to leave me alone.  But my responses simply fed their flame.  They did what they wanted to, they had me cornered.

Because if I am silent, I’m asking for more.  And if I respond, it’s because I like it.

I didn’t grow up around catcalls, and I will not accept them.  But for most women, that’s just normal.  The women are the first to laugh at me when I respond with anger or frustration to these unsolicited remarks.  “Es que la Cati…” they say between laughs at the hilarity of a woman who thinks she has the right to tell a man that she does not appreciate his comments about her body or about her future.

I asked a friend, a young man and a member of the youth committee, what I could do about this problem.  He knows all these boys and they respect him.  I explained to him my dilemma, that my silence or my words condemn me.  And I think, perhaps, it was the first time he realized what a truly frustrating and degrading experience that is for a woman.

He shrugged his shoulders and said,

I don’t know.

Youth in Photos

MOVING

Exif_JPEG_PICTURELinda — which means “pretty” — rides along in the back of a truck with the rest of us members and supporters of Guajoyo’s youth theater group to their presentation of a play — written and acted by them — about family violence.  This is how you move around, clumped together with the sun on your shoulders and the wind pulling your hair out of its ponytail.  It makes you want to shout, and to be as high up as possible, and that’s what they do; they sitting on the edges of the truck bed, shouting like heathens, and everybody’s in it together.  This is how you move the youth of El Salvador, letting them feel so alive and so close to the dangers that stride alongside the beauty and shouting, climbing on top of things, and being together.  They’re heathens, they’re rambunctious, and they want to move in this country, in this world.  This is how we move.

SPEAKING

Exif_JPEG_PICTUREThe mayor of Tecoluca — the municipality that claims Guajoyo and dozens of other communities — has invited children from the region to come together and identify their reality and what changes they think need to be made to make their world a better place.  It was a methodical process, picking kids of all ages from schools scattered throughout the region and inviting them to a series of sessions where they played games, made songs, and drew pictures about the good and bad according to the ninos.  Nobody was telling them to be quiet.  Nobody was telling them this was adult business.  They were speaking, and the mayor, the NGOs, the community leaders, and their peers were listening.  These kids created a 27-page document that describes the outcomes and proposes actions to be taken by the alcaldia — mayor’s office.  These actions include encouraging space for artistic development, education for parents about kids’ rights, Kids have the right to play, to study, to not work, and to live without fear.  And today, these kids practiced their right to speak.

PLAYING

Exif_JPEG_PICTUREMiramar is the community up the road from Guajoyo, but to the untrained eye there is no way to know when you have crossed from one community into the other.  This Sunday, the youth committee put on a part for all the kids, celebrating Kids Day — or rather, Kids Month, which is celebrated during the entire month of October.  There were games, prizes, dancing, and most importantly, pinatas.  And at the end, when the floor was covered with torn paper, candy wrappers, and empty juice bottles, we escorted the children out of the casa comunal and closed the doors for the Youth Afterparty.  These young men, usually quietly tending to the fields or swinging in their hammocks, grabbed hold of the mic and started karaoking along with the music, even breaking out with some beep boxing in a moment of inspiration.  I pulled out my camera, thinking they would shy away as soon as they saw it, but their unanimous reaction was this.

Mural!

On Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, our team of 12 youth worked tirelessly to put our drawing on the HUGE wall outside the cyber cafe facing the school.  We had no idea what we were doing, but with the support of Erik — the brother of the CRIPDES youth promoter in the region — we managed a decent job.  Take a look of the photos!

 

Thanks to the Austin Committee (you didn’t know you were supporting this project, but I diverted some of my volunteer funds for it) and to Vox Veniae for making the project possible!  The response in the community has been GREAT and people of all ages have been remarking about how beneficial it is for the community in its appearance and in the participation of the youth.

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