Delegate Reflection: Perspectives
April 13, 2015
The Northwest School from Seattle sent 22 students and 5 teachers to El Salvador at the end of March to learn about El Salvador and commemorate the life of Oscar Romero. One of the students shares her reflection about day 7, the halfway point of the trip.
This morning, after a breakfast of pancakes and what my table mates thought was syrup but turned out to be honey (and in all the commotion we missed the fact that there actually was syrup and it was just on the other far end of the table) we boarded the bus headed for Los Planes. Driving to what our schedule described as “Truth and Dignity Event with ProMemoria and United Nations” I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I knew that to attend this meeting would be a huge privilege and this made me as equally nervous as I was excited to be a part of such a serious and important topic.
However, never having been to an assembly like this before, I had no idea what to envision. Would there be a sea of people? How would they regard us? Would there be a bathroom close to where I might be sitting? Would there be a formal chance for Lena and I (who were scheduled to introduce today) to speak? I was definitely nervous about that. Upon getting there, however, all of my internal dialogue faded. A sign that read “Asamblea de Víctimas” was hung above a stage decorated with potted plants with pink flowers. Rows of folding chairs facing the stage were already filled with people and the shutters on the windows were wide open, letting the day’s sunshine inside the brightly painted room. Taped to the podium was a poster of Monseñor Romero. As we walked further into the room and I began to look closer at the faces of those already in seats and at the schedule of speakers that was projected on a screen in the front of the room, I realized that here in this space there was no room for every little thought about my own comfort because today my mind would be busy drinking in everything around me. I was there to observe, take notes, and participate when the activities called for it.
We took our seats and the speakers began. The first official speaker, David Morales, said something that set the tone for me for the rest of the day. He asked everyone in the room to examine what is it that is truly motivating us. I asked myself, what am I motivated by? Why exactly am I here? However, before I could really answer these questions, another curious voice in my head wondered how the other people in the room might answer this question. Just as my mind kept switching between the English translation being whispered through a hearing device and the Spanish I was hearing being spoken, throughout the different speakers I kept switching in between my own point-of-view and trying to imagine the different perspectives of others in the room. In short, I soon realized, I quite simply could not imagine the experience and mindset of those who were sitting just beside me. Those whose relatives have been disappeared. I realized I had to come at all of this with my own experience. A perspective, of course, that was open and welcoming to the testimony of others, but that could only truly analyze itself.
All of this was what I was caught up thinking about before we took a break for lunch. Before we could eat, though, we were told to think of a person who has passed away and who inspires us, in order to then share with small groups when we returned. Once again, I grew very nervous about what I was going to say, how I would be received, and got very caught up in the details and logistics of the activity.
Even while we stopped for Ice Cream (Thank you! :)) I was still preoccupied. Yet, when we returned and got sorted into small groups of about six in my group’s case, again, all of my inner dialogue was silenced by the power of the stories in the room.
My own group consisted of five Salvadoran women who pulled me over to gather in a corner of the room in a small circle of folding chairs. I was the only one from the whole Romero delegation and the only one who spoke English. One the women whose name is Sophia took charge. She began to speak to me in Spanish for a while, then realized I might not understand her and asked me if I spoke Spanish. I was so excited and honored to be in such an intimate moment with just the five of them and also to exercise my Spanish skills, I decided to just try to understand what they were saying. I told her I only speak “un poquito” of Spanish, but I understand much more than I can speak and I would try as best I could to understand without the use of a translator. At first I was under the impression that each of us would go around in the circle and share the person we had picked, their name, and a gift they had given us, as the activity had been explained to us, but Sophia had a different plan.
“Look, she is one of the youth,” she said. “We’ll go around and tell her just a little bit about each of our people. It’s important for the youth to know. Go around and say a little about your person and how they fit into the larger struggle,” she told the women.
Each woman nodded and then the woman to the left began. Halfway into her story I realized that I wasn’t translating her words in my head, but most of them were just registering without me even trying to understand them and those that didn’t quite stick didn’t distract from the main idea of what she was saying. Throughout each testimony, not one of the women and I broke eye contact.
They each passionately related their stories to me, digging to the depths of their memory for some and into some very fresh memories for others. I cannot successfully nor thoroughly describe the amount of gratitude and privilege I felt that here I was, an American student who spent the entire morning not knowing any of these women, being trusted with their stories. More than that, they were able to tell it to me in their own language and I was able to understand them. I was never asked for a person of my own and for that I was grateful because I had entirely forgotten about that part while I had been listening to them.
Though I never actually cried I began to feel quite emotional and soon I felt tears gather behind my eyes making them heavier. All of a sudden the room erupted into loud chatter of everyone preparing for the next part to the day. However, throughout the rest of the activity as the night grew darker and throughout our dinner and reflection with our smaller groups, I remained in awe of the courage and trust I had witnessed in my small group and of each person who had shared their memories that day.
To read more reflections by Northwest students, check out their blog: http://www.northwestschool.org/blog/nws-correspondence-2015