Monday, 26 October 2009
El Salvador reclaiming its past - Featured by LA Times
"Collective memory in El Salvador has long been a fragile commodity. An infamous 1932 government massacre of mainly Indian peasants was officially purged from history books for decades afterward.
The country's brutal 12-year civil war of 1980-92 not only claimed tens of thousands of lives and razed entire villages. It also ravaged the country's heritage, fostering widespread amnesia about Salvadoran literature, music, indigenous culture and the performing arts.
Over the next week, an ambitious multimedia happening with the umbrella title "Preservación de la Memoria Histórica Salvadoreña" (Salvadoran Preservation of Historic Memory) at the Los Angeles Theatre Center downtown will try to salvage some of that missing past.
Produced by L.A.-based Olin Theater Presenters, its centerpiece will be a half-dozen performances of a narrative dance-theater production, "De la Locura a la Esperanza: From Madness to Hope." The piece -- incorporating 30 actors and dancers, a children's choir, choreography by Saul Mendez Folkloric Ballet, spoken monologues and recordings -- attempts to address the civil war's haunting legacy while looking toward the future of Salvador's people, both at home and abroad. Its title comes from a report issued by the U.N. Truth Commission on the civil war.
The event, which begins today and wraps up Nov. 1, also will encompass a photo exhibition about the civil war years; a symposium on historic memory; a discussion of two of Salvador's most significant writers, the poet Roque Dalton and the all-around man of letters Salvador Salazar Arrue; and a show of manuscript facsimiles, photos and other artifacts examining the life and legacy of Arrue, known by his pen name Salarrué, whose most famous work, "Cuentos de Barro" (Tales of Mud), published in 1933, is regarded as an exemplar of the modern Central American short story.
Two key supporters of the week's activities are Cal State Northridge, which claims to operate the only college-level Central American Studies Program in the United States, and the General Consulate of El Salvador in Los Angeles. Organizers say that "Preservación" is easily one of the largest cultural events ever staged on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of people of Salvadoran descent living in Greater Los Angeles.
But William Flores, director of Olin Theater Presenters and the festival's prime mover, said the real measure of the event's success would be whether it reaches and speaks to Salvadorans who fled their country and have struggled to stay connected to it while assimilating to a new home. Many of these immigrants' children and grandchildren, born in the United States, know little or nothing of either their homeland's rich traditions or its darkest chapters, he said.
"Memory is something that mustn't be lost," said Flores, who also serves as LATC's program director. "To kill memory is to kill the human being."
The Salvadoran civil war, pitting a U.S.-backed right-wing junta against internationally supported leftist guerrillas, was as divisive as it was catastrophic, and its polarizing effects continue to this day. More than 75,000 died in the conflict, and an additional 10,000 were "disappeared" and almost certainly murdered.
An estimated 1.5 million people fled the country, the majority relocating in Southern California and other U.S. cities. An accord was signed in 1992, ending hostilities but leaving many social and political aspects of the war's aftermath unresolved.
Roger Lindo, an author and reporter for the La Opinión newspaper here, said at a news conference that the dispersal of the Salvadoran population had diffused its collective identity. "It's a nation that's fragmentized, atomized in all parts of the world," he said.
In El Salvador, as in other parts of Latin America, artists and writers not infrequently have performed the work of historians and archaeologists, exhuming the skeletal remains of painful events and placing them in the light for public consideration. Both Dalton and Salarrué, for example, authored influential works dealing with the 1932 massacre, the memory of which the government was trying to ignore if not actively suppress.
Flores said that he had been trying for years to enlist the help of El Salvador's right-of-center ruling party officials to put together an event such as "Preservación." It was only with the recent ascension in El Salvador of a new left-leaning political administration that the consulate here has agreed to participate, he said. A news conference announcing the week's events was held at the Salvadoran consulate on Wilshire Boulevard, with consulate personnel in attendance.
Another Salvadoran institution actively aiding the L.A. event is the Museo de la Palabra y la Imagen (Museum of the Word and Image) in San Salvador, a privately funded nonprofit that holds a large archive of extremely rare manuscripts, photos, films, audio recordings and other materials relating to the war. Its founder, Carlos Henríquez Consalvi (known by his nom de guerre Santiago) (foto al lado), who also helped establish the rebel underground Radio Venceremos broadcasting network, will be a panelist at Saturday's symposium.
Beatriz Cortez, an associate professor and coordinator of CSUN's Central American Studies Program, said that over the years a number of programmed events at the San Fernando Valley college campus and other local venues have dealt with Salvadoran politics. But few have focused on culture, she said.Societies that have experienced prolonged episodes of traumatic violence often have difficulty confronting their ghosts, Cortez said. Many of her students' Salvadoran parents were reluctant to discuss the war, she said. But their children are curious.
Now, she said, that long-delayed dialogue can happen through culture."We have a lot of singers and pop artists coming to Los Angeles, but we don't have many plays," she said. "I think it's important to have these spaces because we never really get rid of those demons. It's important, it's productive and it's healing. "
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