This post goes specifically to the East Side Group (ESG), the cluster of friends in Austin who make possible not just my time in El Salvador, but also the various projects that improve the dignity of life here in Guajoyo and the San Vicente region.
I was drawn to this opportunity as much because of ESG as the work of US El Salvador Sister Cities. That there exists a group of friends who have managed to stick together for decades, dedicating themselves to supporting one another and supporting social justice in some of its many forms is an inspiration and source of hope for me. In my 23 short years of life I have seen lots of good and lots of bad, and it seems that most of the bad that plagues society – wherever it may be –stems from isolation and lack of knowing. The ESG is dedicated to knowing each other and to knowing the realities of other people in Austin and around the world, and that is something all at once healing and revolutionary. Austin who make possible not just my time in El Salvador, but also the various projects that improve the dignity of life here in Guajoyo and the San Vicente region.
These first two months have been a struggle for me in trying to figure out what my role is here. I at least knew better than to enter with a superman complex, thinking my presence was going to solve problems and turn life from bad to good. I also know enough about cultural differences to know that what I might see as an issue may not be considered so by others. So where did that leave me? What good is my presence here doing, and why did the Austin committee and the community of Guajoyo think it was such a good idea to send me here?
The best answer I have found goes back to the foundation of the ESG I mentioned earlier: knowing and being known. That is the whole idea behind solidarity in US El Salvador Sister Cities. I am here to know Guajoyo, its story, and the daily triumphs and struggles of people who live here. In Spanish there are two different words for knowing: saber is when you know facts or are aware of something. Conocer is knowing a person, seeing them for who they are. I am getting to conocer Guajoyo and El Salvador. And that knowing is transmitted not just to me, but to the ESG and other family and friends who care about me. Because once we know, those of us with an active conscience have little choice but to live differently.
And ultimately that is the goal of the sistering relationship as well. The Austin committee (that’s the official name that Sister Cities calls the ESG) funds projects, but that is not the goal itself. The goal is to know our brothers and sisters here in Guajoyo, and if that knowing reveals ways that the dignity of life can be improved in the community, the ESG is compelled to participate in that because of the relationship they have.
I’m happy to learn that the ESG has been reading my blog, and even printed out sections to discuss at their most recent gathering. One of the questions that have come up in comments was how youth projects might help persuade young people in the community to stay here and invest in the future of the community rather than risking their lives to pursue the dream of migrating north to the United States. I think the cyber café project they are currently working on is a great example of that idea, because it provides an opportunity for these young people to dream something up and then see it to reality. Often the reality is that dreams stay dreams, and that’s why people tend to look elsewhere to place their hopes.
I think other questions that would be useful for the group include how the relationship can be strengthened. I really encourage anyone who can to come visit Guajoyo this year in June. You will be changed for conociendo, knowing the people of Guajoyo and the story of El Salvador. How can you connect issues in Austin, in Texas, and in the United States with issues here? And in what ways can this sistering relationship be used to encourage people in Guajoyo to have dreams and to pursue them?
The opportunity to study is a huge success for young people in rural El Salvador. Education in its various forms is important for growth on a personal and community level. Things like leadership trainings and community cultural exchanges help connect us to the larger picture of how individual realities fit into the national and international picture.
In closing, thank you again and again and again to the East Side Group for caring about El Salvador, and for giving me the opportunity to be a part of this relationship. I look forward to continuing to be a part of this conversation about what our role is as people who care and who want to conocer.