This week while accompanying a delegation from Philadelphia, we had the privilege of having dinner with Maura, a woman in Las Anonas (a community in the same municipality as Guajoyo, about 40 minutes away) who has an incredible story. We sat at a long table in front of her house, lit by a single bulb hanging from a tree and by the lightning bugs that danced in the sugar cane field just beyond her house. And after we ate, she told us her story.
During the war, the tactic of the armed forces was to kill all campesinos, or country people, because they were all considered either potential guerillas or supporters of the guerilla. The guindas were those horrific moments when entire communities of women, children, and the elderly had to flee their homes and seek refuge in the mountains. Maura and herfour children were fleeing in a guinda when they were overtaken by soldiers. Her four month old baby girl was ripped from her arms and two of her older children — both under 4 — were snatched away in the chaos. All around them their friends and family members were running frantically, and many fell at the knife points of bullet impacts of the armed forces. Maura’s three children had been taken from her.
From that moment forward she searched ceaselessly for her children — she searched 30 years and continues to search for them. At the beginning everybody told her she was crazy for looking for them, saying “they’re probably better off” or “forget about them — they’re dead.” Well into her seach she met a man named Father Jon Cortina who became the founder of an organization called Pro Busqueda, which has helped numerous desperate mothers reunite with their children.
Maura was reunited with two of her three children who were taken from her that fateful day. They had been taken by soldiers who exploited their labor, told them they had tortured and killed their family, and abused them in numerous other ways. But 30 years later, then fully adults, they were reunited with their mother and changed their last names back to what they rightly were.
One of her children is still missing, and Maura continues her tireless search. And she is not the only other in the same situation — countless children were “disappeared” during the war and taken in by families of soldiers or adopted out to unsuspecting families around the world. Maura’s plea is thatall families of adopted children register them, in case a desperate birth mother is searching for them.
It is a moving story, but for me as a translator telling the story in the first person with the same inflections that she used. I was impacted, and moved to call my mom after translating her story just to tell her I love her and am glad to know who and where she is.
What is most incredible is the resiliency Maura demonstrates. Despite immense suffering she continues to fight, and she continues to be a important leader in her community. Hers is the first house on the road into Las Anonas, and she is a welcoming smile and a warm hug to visitors. She is the embodiment of the strength of Salvadoran women.