Posts Tagged ‘civil war

03
Apr
10

Saint or Commie?

As I’ve written before, I dropped out of the Catholic Church when I was a teenager. I haven’t become an atheist, although I see nothing wrong with that philosophy. It’s just that I prefer to keep my distance from religion. However, I’ve also been upfront about my belief that one reason Latinos don’t make bigger social and economic gains is our overreliance on the Church.

So perhaps I should excuse myself from a debate taking place across the Hispanic community, Latin America, and the Catholic Church. The cause of this debate is that old rabblerouser himself, Archbishop Oscar Romero.

For those of you who don’t know, Romero was the head of the Church in El Salvador from 1977 to 1980. During this time, he spoke out against the brutality of the government and the oppression of the poor. For having such crazy ideas, he was assassinated, presumably by members of a right-wing death squad. Following his death, a civil war ripped the country apart and killed tens of thousands of civilians, including members of my mother’s family.

In the thirty years since his death, Romero has been lionized as a martyr for the cause of social justice, or criticized as a dupe for communist agitators, depending on whom you talk to. The Catholic Church has been considering him for sainthood for years, but weirdly enough, they can’t seem to go ahead and canonize the guy.

The debate over Romero goes to the heart of the Church’s standing in Latin America. Is it an institution that upholds the traditions of the culture, even if those traditions include exploitation and enforced poverty? Or is it a force for peace and compassion, which is what that famous hippie Jesus espoused?

The perception of the Church in Latin America has a direct impact upon U.S. Hispanics. Many of us who are first-generation, for example, saw an organization that gave lip service to helping the poor, but supported corrupt regimes in our parents’ home countries. Priests like Romero, far from being supported, often earned Rome’s disdain. The dichotomy (some would say hypocrisy) was not endearing.

But Romero’s legacy may finally be thwarting the establishment culture that shunned him during his life. In a truly surprising moment, my mother’s home country of El Salvador has finally gotten around to acknowledging its most famous citizen.

The LA Times reports that “For the first time, the Salvadoran state is publicly commemorating Romero. Through most of this month, marches, concerts and debates have honored the priest.”

Furthermore, the country’s president, Mauricio Funes, recently asked forgiveness on behalf of the state for Romero’s assassination. Funes said, “This is something that should have been done a long time ago” and added that his government would “end the decades of silence” that have been Romero’s official legacy.

If El Salvador can finally acknowledge that Romero was killed because of his strong drive for justice, maybe the Vatican can get around to saying that he was a pretty good guy.

By the way, and at the risk of taking a cheap shot, it seems like the Catholic Church’s current issues prove that it’s not the best judge of morality and saint-like behavior. But then again, what do I know? I’m just an ex-Catholic.

07
Jan
09

Aunt #2

I know little about my other aunt, except that she died in a hail of gunfire. I never met her, and I’ve only seen two or three pictures of the woman in my life. She was killed with her husband in 1981, when the civil war ravaging El Salvador was in full, game-on effect.

Aunt #2 was not targeted for death, as opposed to her brother (Uncle #1), and had tried her best to stay out the homicidal mess that had engulfed that country. But logic tells us that a war that killed tens of thousands of people could not have been confined to soldiers and guerrillas. My aunt was among those civilians who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The details of her murder are sparse, vague, even contradictory. News that comes out of El Salvador is often like this.

But the story I heard was that Aunt #2 and her husband were driving down the road near their village. The couple’s destination or errand remains unknown. They came upon a government roadblock that had simply not been there the day before. Whether they failed to slow down quickly enough, tried to run it for some unfathomable reason, or just made inappropriate eye contact has never been determined.

The soldiers opened fire, and the truck skidded off the road. The couple, shot multiple times, died in each other’s arms. When my family claimed the bodies, the soldiers admitted that they had made a mistake, and they offered a curt “lo siento” for gunning them down.

The murder left their only child, Cousin #7, a two-year-old orphan. He soon came to America, where my mother adopted him. In an ironic twist, he now lives in El Salvador (more on this in a future post).

And that’s basically all I know about Aunt #2. To be sure, I’ve heard bits and pieces about her over the years. I’ve heard that she was a bit of a wild child and a gifted fabulist. I also heard that she loved fire ants (of all things) and could sew well. But I could be wrong about all of these things.

My grandmother rarely speaks about either of her murdered children. They are not even ghosts to her. They are reference points to a long-ago life – one that has a tenuous connection to the old woman living in the cold American Midwest today. In my presence, my abuela has acknowledged her dead son and daughter only when pressed, and she refuses to clarify or elaborate or instigate any discussion of them.

Similarly, my mother can offer only scattered information. When Aunt #2 died, my mother had not seen her in years – such are the gaps incurred within immigrant families. So she can offer only scant insight into her little sister’s life.

As such, my conjectures about her personality or the strength of her character would be misplaced. And after my experience writing about Uncle #1, I’ve learned that even well-honed family stories can buckle and alter over the years. The facts get smudged when the principles are gone, and honest attempts to portray people accurately (which is what I’ve attempted) sometimes lead to mistakes or disputes.

In truth, for most of us, it is only a matter of time before we exist only as a mysterious name and some fleeting snapshots, long-distant ancestors reduced to a jumble of letters in a box on the family tree.

So I stand no chance at capturing the vitality of Aunt #2, about whom, as I’ve said, I know little. Instead, I will offer this most basic of eulogies: rest in peace.




June 2017
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