Tag Archives: El Salvador

Roque Dalton: Unas Poemas

Acaba de leer  La ventana en el rostro, que no he leído por anos, y en este entonces no sabía nada de las referencias a Nazim Hikmet, no apreciaba tanto Federico García Lorca. Este libro publicado por la UCA e imprimido en El Salvador, traído a Los Ángeles por Don Toñito. Uno de los pocos libros, junto con Poemas Clandestinos, que he guardado conmigo desde este entonces, ya casi veinte años.

Ayer

Junto al dolor del mundo mi pequeño dolor,
junto a mi arresto colegial la verdadera cárcel de los hombres sin voz,
junto a mi sal de lágrimas
la costra secular que sepultó montañas y oropéndolas,
junto a mi mano desarmada el fuego,
junto al fuego el huracán y los fríos derrumbes,
junto a mi sed los niños ahogados
danzando interminablemente sin noches ni estaturas,
junto a mi corazón los duros horizontes
y las flores,
junto a mi miedo el miedo que vencieron los muertos,
junto a mi soledad la vida que recorro,
junto a la diseminada desesperación que me ofrecen,
los ojos de los que amo
diciendo que me aman.

Pero Cantos a Anastasio Aquino? Híjole, son los que mas me encantaban esta vez.

Así comienza:

Anastasio Aquino fue la encarnación del más antiguo
ideal del hombre pacíficamente americano: el ideal de
convivir con la tierra, con la libertad, con el amor
repartiéndose.

En el año de 1832, exactamente un siglo antes de la
dolorosa epopeya de Feliciano Ama y Farabundo Martí,
padres de la patria futura, Anastasio Aquino se rebeló al
frente de la comunidad indígena de San Pedro Nonualco,
contra el sistema opresor de los blancos y ladinos ricos
que comerciaban, como ahora comercian, con el hambre
y el dolor del indio.

Después de muchas batallas victoriosos, fue capturado
por las fuerzas del gobierno salvadoreño y fusilado el
24 de junio de 1833.

Y sigue:

Orígenes

I

Tu pie descalzo ante la dura tierra: barro en el barro.
Tu rostro unánime ante el pueblo: sangre en la sangre.
Tu voz viril de campo enardecido: grito en el grito.
Tu cuerpo, catedral de músculo rebelde: hombre en el hombre.
Tu corazón de pétalos morenos, sin espinas: rosa en la rosa.
Tu paso hacia adelante presuroso: ruta en la ruta.
Tu puño vengador, alzado siempre: piedra en la piedra.
Tu muerte, tu regreso hacia la tierra: lucha en la lucha.

Anastasio Izalco, Lempa Aquino:
desde que tú nacistes se ha hecho necesario apedillar
la lucha y ponerle tu nombre.

(Fuego desde el Jalponga y el Huiscoyolapa,
grito desde el añil, amor desde la hondura de tus puños,
lava desde tu pecho hasta el Chicontepeque,
pueblo desde el ayer hasta la vida.)

Río y volcán: un hombre.

Otra, ultima:

Para la paz

Será cuando la luna se despida del agua
con su corriente oculta de luz inenarrable

Nos robaremos todos los fusiles,
apresuradamente

No hay que matar al centinela, el pobre
sólo es función de un sueño colectivo,
un uniforme repleto de suspiros
recordando el arado.
Dejémosle que beba ensimismado su luna y su granito

Bastará con la sombra lanzándonos sus párpados
para llegar al punto.

Nos robaremos todos los fusiles,
irremisiblemente.

Habrá que transportarlos con cuidado,
pero sin detenerse
y abandonarnos entre detonaciones
en las piedras del patio.

Fuera de ahí, ya sólo el viento.

Tendremos todos los fusiles,
alborozadamente.

No importará la escarcha momentánea
dándose de pedradas con el sudor de nuestro sobresalto,
ni la dudosa relación de nuestro aliento
con la ancha niebla, millonaria en espacios:
caminaremos hasta los sembradíos
y enterraremos esperanzadamente
a todos los fusiles,
para que un raíz de pólvora haga estallar en mariposas
sus tallos minerales
es una primavera futural y altiva
repleta de palomas.

Don Toñito Mendez, Presente

Growing up poor, I was predisposed to believe in revolution. Don Toñito only confirmed me in this.

When I was 21, I moved to LA because I had finally found work fighting the immigration fight, finally gotten a job at CARECEN. I started work the day I flew in, a horrible, brown, smoggy day — we arrived downtown before I could properly see it. My heart hurt.

I missed home. I kept missing it for years, but those first six months were the hardest months of my life I think. Those first six months when I slept on the floor and cooked with only one saucepan. Starting in a city like that, no money, no friends or family, no car, no hard city face to keep men away.

Don Toñito was one of the people who helped me through it. Kindness radiated from him, a huge smile always, one that filled a room. I towered over him, because my own childhood poverty still came with good nutrition, proper protein, vaccinations. I couldn’t understand him very well at first, was still getting attuned to the sounds of El Salvador so different from Mexico, but it didn’t really matter.

He took the pictures that people needed to renew their work permits, apply for residency and citizenship. He sold beautiful crafts — downstairs I still hang my keys from the enameled wood of a Salvadoran village and a Dios Protege Este Lugar. But best of all, he sold books. Spanish books, radical books, with cheap covers and thin paper. Marta Harnecker, Radio Venceremos, Liberation Theology, Roque Dalton, Manlio Argueta. I saved up for them.

It is all foggy now, too distant. He told me stories of San Salvador streets from when he was a kid, and best of all, the FMLN, the struggle. Mostly stories about close shaves, like the time the soldiers were searching for him and Violeta Menjívar, some of them walking down the streets, others along the roof. He loaned me an old cassette of songs about Che Guevara, told me about Victor Jara, showed me footage on battered old VHS  of the FMLN entering San Salvador after the war was over. Told me jokes I didn’t always understand, but couldn’t help laughing with him.

I would sit and write people’s stories about death and destruction, rape and torture. They still fill me those stories. When it was too much I would go say hello to Don Toñito and he would make me feel better, make me instinctively feel the love and hope for the future that was the foundation for the FMLN’s fight. The need in that place and at that time to fight to change the world. This could not redeem such suffering, such brokenness, but help situate it, help to bear it.

Because I was only holding the reflection of it in my heart after all, not the actual shattering grief.

Don Toñito held this grief, transformed it into a radiating kindness and humour and hope. I was so proud to be his friend, and there is no one I would trust more to help transform this world into a better one. He lives on in the way I see things, the way I struggle for change, and hopefully, in a piece of my smile.

Compañero Don Toñito, presente.

El Salvador and such…

It’s early but feels late…a great dinner with old friends from Carecen days, veggie sausages and Belgian beer and amazing fries and good conversation, everything you could ask for from a Wednesday evening really.

Dan was down in El Salvador for the elections, and I was rather jealous…I was invited and considered it for a hot minute and then just didn’t bother to put it together…I did have a lot of deadlines, and vanquished them all to be fair. Had everything not been crumbling I would have felt on top of the world. El Salvador puts South Central into perspective though, and I know millions before me have loved and lost, tried and failed. Somewhere we are winning, and that’s what matters.

God damn, but it was 10 years ago now I was down there. With Don White, who just died. And I fucking miss him. The crazy thing about the elections this year…Dan was saying that TPS was almost a defining issue…Temporary Protected Status, it’s a temporary work permit that allows Salvadorans to stay in the US legally and work. Americans have no idea what it is of course, but it is everything to the immigrant community. I remember those applications, and the charlas for a hundred people at a time, and the lines of folks waiting at Carecen’s doors. And apparently the night Dan went down a couple of the hard right-wing people in the congress and the house stated that the FMLN were known terrorist collaborators and that if they won, it would put TPS at risk. And something that wasn’t even news here, well, it was front page headlines down there. And Arena milked it for all it was worth, saying that if Funes won, then everyone in the US would lose their status, the remittances would stop. And it closed up the difference and instead of winning in a landslide Funes won by a couple of percent. Arena owns the media of course. And the tragedy that losing TPS would cause…well, it gave a lot of people pause. And many voted against their consciences.

And Arena still didn’t win. I was there in ’99 for the presidential elections, and monitoring the elections in La Libertad. And there was this one guy in Arena colors, I still remember him sitting at a table, staring at me, hating me. I took his picture, my way of refusing fear. It wasn’t very brave of course, I knew he couldn’t touch me.

The thing is, I carry people’s stories inside of me. When people tell me things it lives in me, I know it has none of the crippling strength as it does for those who lived it. But I am still afraid of helicopters. I am still afraid of anyone in a uniform. I hold memories of rape and torture, and they are dear to me now, as were the people I knew who had suffered these things, who survived these things, who taught me what strength really is.  I remembered Raul, who only a few years before had been forced to flee for his life. From Arena. They burned down his house, assassinated someone they believed to be him, threatened his family and anyone who spoke to him. And this was years after the peace accords. I knew fear while he watched me, I can still feel it wriggling in my stomach though as a white American I knew damn well that in that time and place I was perfectly safe.

Arena won that election. We were staying in the local school, and that night we were kept awake by Arena’s supporters who ran in a large crowd around and around the town, setting anything that said FMLN on fire and waving it in the darkness, clapping and yelling.

And I knew fear then too, peering between the crack in the large wooden doors that separated the school’s courtyard from the street.

I remembered Arcatao in Chalatenango, a center for the FMLN and one of the places hardest hit by right wing forces during the war. The beauty of the church there, it was one of the most beautiful places I have ever been, both for the scenery and the people who lived there, though everyone and everything carried the mark of war.

and they honored those who were murdered thus, a church lined with crosses

There the stations of the cross are represented by the stations of a people in struggle, few things have moved me like that place.

And there is also the memorial of Monsenor Oscar Romero in San Salvador, with drawings on the wall of torture and death, a memorial of all who fought for something better, and whose lives were taken.

I have not believed in organized religion for a very long time, but I could pray in a church like this. And I did. Romero once said that a priest’s place was with his people. And if the people were living in poverty, were fighting for justice, were being killed, then the priests should also be facing death by their sides. And so they killed him. He is one of the people I have been thinking about in my own little crisis of faith. It is tiny. It is a tempest in a tea cup. I am getting over it.

So I cried when Funes won, for someone who doesn’t really believe in elections, I have been doing a lot of crying I must say! But after years of civil war and torture and disappearances and an intense war of the people against the oligarchs, well. For everyone I know who had been raped, tortured, had family murdered…I cried when the FMLN took power. And I am thankful that a few nut jobs in the senate and a media that made them seem far more important than they were weren’t enough to change that. And now I sit with the same feelings I have about Obama, thinking things will get better. But probably not much. But it was a symbolic change and that carries its importance. And god knows we need to celebrate any victory that comes along, we just can’t think that’s anything but the start of a new struggle.

So…I dunno. I dunno where I’m at as I sit crouched in the echoing space that used to be filled with things I believed in. I’m getting used to that. I biked home rather tipsy, my favourite sweater streamed behind me in the darkness and my shadow rode before me in the street lights like a crow, a harbinger of things to come. I looked cloaked and daggered, something from times long past or times to come, I’ve been feeling like that. I’ve been living in the moment and living well and loving every minute of it until I am alone, and then I am outside of time somehow, poised on the edge of something. I’ll find out what it is I suppose.

And my packet arrived today from LSE so it all feels truly official and done and dusted and I’m in and I’m moving to London, and life really feels pretty good. It doesn’t really matter that everything else has crumbled into dust, because where else do amazing beginnings start from? A big packet in the mail gives such happiness.

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Heroes

Season 1, I’ve been watching it, I’m entranced, dvd box sets are such dangerous dangerous things. I like how it makes heroism a complex and a simple thing all at the same time.

Tomorrow I’m going to a memorial for my friend Don White, my own hero. I saw him at the CARECEN reunion only a few days before he died…the first time I had seen him in a year or two at least. The last time. He looked the same as always, with his funny black hair, too black, his bushy eyebrows and big blue eyes wide open to the world, so blue, his vague happy smile. He made people happy just to see him, as always. He wandered through the crowd his eyes opening wider as he greeted each new person, his delighted helllooooo, his ‘hola companeros.’

He looked mild and harmless, somewhat exaggerated, even a silly old man perhaps. Thing is that you can never see what people are capable of from their appearance. Never. Old [email protected] spoke of him fondly, they told stories of him standing on steps in San Salvador protesting and waving a huge flag during wartime, of camping out and eating an iguana roasted over the open fire, stories of him marching, shouting, handcuffing himself to fences, getting arrested, working tirelessly to stop the US involvement in Central America. Everyone I know has a different story, I believe if you added them up you would have enough to fill several lifetimes. And he never stopped. I saw him whenever I marched, in a wide variety of brightly coloured T-shirts. There was nothing he did not care passionately about.

We went to El Salvador together for the presidential elections, official observers with cispes in ’99 I think, almost ten years ago. Only three of us went from LA so we spent quite a lot of time together before we ever left, but my favourite story? I remember it was the day after the elections, we had all returned to San Salvador from wherever we had been sent…I was working with some guys on a report for NPR doing the translations for them and working on the text. It was late, 3 in the morning or so because it had to be done, and we were exhausted and all of a sudden I looked up and there was Don White coming into the little courtyard, his sheet wrapped around him like a toga. Silence fell, I think our mouths dropped open, it was a most unexpected and bewildering sight, we couldn’t tell whether he was wearing anything else. Or whether perhaps we were dreaming…he mumbled something about his roommate snoring, and went to curl up on one of the little wicker sofas in the front lobby where I believe they found him the next morning to great surprise.

There was just such an intense joy of life in Don White, a joy in struggle that you had to respond to, an element of the absurd, an absence of self-consciousness together with a courage that inspired respect, and a single-minded determination to make the world better. And he believed we would win. And it was contagious. And I loved him though I don’t even know his first name. And I’m just one among many who knew of him through struggle, not well but enough to have been impacted by him…since his passing so many different people have brought up the memorial tomorrow, people I never knew even knew him. And I think it shall be a joyful and sad gathering, a bringing together of all sorts of different people working for a more just world, and I can imagine no better celebration of the life of a revolutionary. Hasta la victoria siempre companero.

SIlvio Rodriguez wrote Quiero Cantarte Un Beso and to me it is something of what Don White has meant to me in all my own despair over the pain of the world, el amor que todavia velaba cuando crei que nadie estaba, que nadie respondia. A love that did more than mourn and remember the dead. The answer to the constant question of whether or not humanity still exists, proof that it does. I did not live through the civil war in El Salvador and US intervention that Don White fought so hard to end, only through three years of recording daily the declarations and testimony of those who had. One cannot compare with the other, yet how heavy it is simply to know and to carry the shadows of memories. It is why most look away. To me, he is someone who managed to hate what should be hated, to fight what must be fought without selfishness, to find joy in living all the same and to love and to be strong enough to never forget. It is something to be aspired to.

Quiero cantarte un beso,
mas todo se confunde
entre un millón de huesos
y derrumbes.
Así que el beso huye
con ojos de reproche,
mientras la sangre fluye
por las noches.

La muerte se ha regado
por toda la pradera.
A aquel que la ha sembrado
¿qué le espera?
Dicen que el responsable
nunca ha gastado cuernos,
sino un traje impecable
en los infiernos.

Y vuelve la necesidad
de repasarme dónde estoy,
si existe o no la humanidad
y si se ha visto hoy.

Creí que nadie estaba,
que nada respondía,
pero el amor velaba
todavía.
Y el viejo centinela,
en medio del desierto,
prendió infinitas velas
por los muertos.

Low Culture and High Culture

About 5 years ago my friend Jeronimo took me to this restaurant in the depths of South Central, you could hardly call it a restaurant, it was like a trip to El Salvador…the way it looked, the way that it smelled…it took me back I must say. It’s all outdoors behind a white building that looks like a hole in the wall and closed to the public, with huge grills where they cook mojarras (grilled fish), and pupusas, and you eat at these long tables under plastic tarps, and on the walls are cheap decorations and towels with pictures of salvadoran scenes. They serve you on paper plates covered with foil, curtido and salsa on the side. I must say, the salsa could use a heavy dose of chile – that’s not the Salvadoran way however, and I can respect that…today I found it again without even looking! Like finding an old friend, Jose took me this time, it’s called Don Lencho’s and it’s on 61st and Normandie, and still delicious! I decided against the fish, for while delicious, its fragrance remains with you for the rest of the day, so had pupusas de frijol y queso, and I ate them with my fingers and they were soooooo good! I should have gotten Jose to take a picture before I ate them, because the remnants of a good meal are never classy, but here is Don Lenchos in all of it’s splendour!


The red towel behind me with the ladies making pupusas is seen everywhere in El Salvador and actually something I own, it was a gift from one of my old clients and therefore one of my prized possessions since it was someone I loved and respected very much…I helped Juan with his asylum case, but when his father died we tried to get a visa so he could return for the funeral. We did not succeed and that I still feel was one of the most unjust things in the entire world, for Juan’s father…imagine – one of his sons was tortured and killed, the other son tortured and fled and he never saw him again…and all they had done was teach cathechism and literacy. Juan just left because his father dying without saying goodbye…it f*&ed him up a little, he came back with a coyote and I was so afraid he wouldn’t make it back…and he still found time to buy me a gift. Anyways, finding this place again was enough to make my day, I love it!

This evening after work I went to the Central Library to see Alain de Botton speak on his new book Architecture of Happiness…it was very highbrow and very nice, and I have to say, I enjoy hearing Oscar Wilde and Stendhal quoted, I enjoy discussions of architecture, and I enjoy wondering why exactly it is that the world is not more beautiful, and how important architecture really is, and how my surroundings affect my thoughts and aspirations…I’m a bit of an architecture enthusiast but politically feel people should come first, so I’m always a bit torn by beautiful, and expensive, buildings. I enjoyed laughing at pictures of aesthetes who wandered the streets with large sunflowers so as not to see the horror, who care more about the colour of the wallpaper than the people who put it up…and still must admit that I have my aesthetic side that cringes at what people decorate their homes with, though I do not allow even those horrible plaster cupids with gilding on their silly wings to affect my love for people. I even enjoyed the older eccentric woman, who twice whispered quite loudly “stop talking” when the other guy was speaking, though technically it was a dialogue between Alain and Christopher ? who writes the architecture column for the Times. I suppose she’s old, time is ticking and she just wanted to get onto the Q&A section…

Speaking of architeture, I bought tickets today for the LA Philharmonic which set me back a bit and though painful, will hopefully be worth every penny. I’m treating my parents to a concert in Gehry’s Disney Hall on Sunday…My first time inside and I’m pretty excited about seeing it and hearing the accoustics, will be a good weekend I think!