Reflexion on language & civil war

Trip Start Oct 04, 2009
Trip End Nov 20, 2010

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Where I stayed
Hostal Perquin Real

Flag of El Salvador  ,
Sunday, January 3, 2010

I preface this entry with the reminder that this is just my opinion and this has just been my experience......

I've found myself coming to the defense of the US of A more often on this trip than ever before. I attribute this more to a slightly different, maybe even more informed opinion of my country after working in the corporate world for the past three years, than to the travelers I meet having different opinions than on past trips.

I both blame and praise my country for the way I am, but there's also a level of personal responsibility embedded there. Yes, I only know one language, as do many Americans, but I don't think that makes it okay to pin it on the school system or "culture" instead of yourself, which I was more likely to do in the past and hear many Americans do along the way. I prioritized other information. It was my choice to not learn because it seemed to have a minimal effect on my life. If New York State spoke a different language, I think I would have learned it, but they don't and I didn't. And sometimes I am a little embarrassed that I only speak one language, that I happened to learn English, the world's most wide-spread language as my first language and I can speak that in nearly any country on the globe. So I focused on learning other things instead, until knowing only one language did affect my life and what I wanted to do with it. I am finding Spanish challenging. I can't imagine trying to learn English, especially after teaching it in GUA and seeing my students struggle first-hand, but my point is I know I would have.

It's a blessing and a curse. I hear English on the radio, and see/hear it in the movies & TV, just like everyone else - except your first language might have been Dutch or German...and you are bombarded with English as well. And maybe only your country speaks your particular language. And your country happens to be pretty small. So alas, I know only one language, and even though I'm far from being proud of it, it's absolutely not an intentional snub to the rest of the world. I guess I'm both defending it and trying to explain it.  Language did not limit me from going to the rest of the world. I guess I didn't learn another language because it was easier.

I think I am more aware of why my country is the way it is, why I am the way I am, and I know it's far from perfect, but overall, I'm okay with in. This has brought me to a point in my life where I don't appreciate fact-less, offensive comments about American society, especially when the opinionated traveler has never even been there. No, you can't just go buy guns at the supermarket the same way you pick up milk on the way home (Another serious question). It's not like the biased Michael Moore movies or Jerry Springer or the "reality" TV show Next! (I've seriously been asked these questions). The more I've learned about my country, the more difficult it has become to compare it to others, but I've also come to appreciate and identify a cultural curiosity from an accusation. Yes, our voting percentage may be way lower than your country's, but why not ask why that is and how the electoral vote operates instead of assuming it's only apathy. Healthcare is another hot topic. It's just not always comparable! There are a lot of people in the USA and they don't typically all agree (you should hear me explain red states vs blue states, haha), it's difficult to make decisions that please everyone. Nation-wide change can be very slow. Many of my conversations with travelers lately have boiled down to this: My country is super huge. Sometimes I just want to say "My state is larger than your country." haha. This of course would solve nothing and probably not be true since my state is rather small, but would make me feel better at the time and maybe provide some perspective. Yes, maybe it's currently fashionable to strongly dislike the USA, but at least have a valid reason behind it or hold your tongue. It's always so much easier to criticize than to ask questions or suggest an improvement.  Consider that my venting!

Conversely, visiting Perquin, El Salvador was not a time I felt even remotely proud of my country. Pick-up truck buses and bucket showers greeted us in Perquin, but the Civil war museum, former guerrilla camps, and El Mozote Memorial Site brought us here to the North - former stronghold of the guerrilla/FMLN forces.

Here, I didn't have anything to say. I didn't even know about the US role in El Salvador's civil war until this trip. I guess I just hope that at the time, it seemed like the best thing to do and that the USA is not proud of it. Based on the fact that I don't know of any museum or memorials dedicated to the Central American civil war's we sponsored, I'd like to think that the country is not proud of it instead of ignoring it or downplaying it. It bothers me that we didn't learn about it in school. It's a similar lesson to other tragedies, that to learn about it is the best way to prevent its repetition. It's a weird sensation to wander around a museum of photos, poetry, newspaper articles, war posters, and actual bomb craters dedicated to the Civil War and those lost in the efforts and feel ashamed as a US citizen, when I wasn't even alive at the outset. To think I complain about the fireworks sound, not even thinking about the horrible memories it must bring back to those that survived the 1980's.

Maybe I was alone in my history inadequacies, but the civil war atrocities were horrific. I'd recommend the movie Innocent Voices if you're interested in learning more. What began over inequality and repression, ended in the population becoming 50% children and many fleeing the country for 10+ years. El Mozote was particularly gruesome, where US trained Salvadorian soldiers massacred between 757-1000 men, women and children (some as young as 3 days old) as a population terror tactic in retaliation to FMLN forces success. FMLN had the people's support, but not US financial support. Peace accords were signed 75,000 deaths and 12 years later. I wonder how much better life is for El Salvadorians after the war or if they
just don't want to fight again.

A hostel owner in Santa Ana blamed the US for the guns that were in El Salvador saying if the US didn't make them, Salvadorians wouldn't buy them. An obvious counterargument here is that if there wasn't a demand, the US wouldn't make them, but this mentality in my experience has been rare. I think a civil war is difficult to blame on another country, even if that country is funding its continuance, even if they trained and armed one side (arguably the wrong side) causing the war to continue longer and longer. It's still your own people, your own government. My travels have taught me how good people are at separating a government from its citizens, especially a country who battled its government for 12 bloody years. Instead, the people have been nothing but warm, helpful, and friendly. The bomb craters are even now covered in grass. The country is healing. It's recovered remarkably, despite Hurricane Stan and Volcan Santa Ana's eruptions slowing economic growth. The infrastructure was of noticeably higher quality than Guatemala's, tourism seemed well-organized and brightly colored historical murals are well-maintained.

As much as I wondered what the Salvadorians in the museum thought of American me while wandering through, they probably weren't thinking about me at all. This was their own history.
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Anne on

not that my fact checking has been that good, but my understanding is that the guns came from Russia and the bombs came from the US. oh yeah and my state IS bigger than most peoples countries! but i have signed up for more spanish classes at home. miss you guys!

Joe (Melbourne) on

I've suffered from the same monolingual ridicule myself, and I have to agree with everything that you said - it didn't benefit me in any obvious way to learn another language when I was a kid, though in hindsight I do wish I had. Great blog entry, I didn't know much about that civil war either. When I was about twelve years old I had a good friend named Francesco from El Salvador. I suppose his family must have moved to Australia because of the civil war, but I don't remember him ever talking about it... Anyway, thanks a lot for taking the time to put so much thought and effort into your blog, I'm really enjoying it! Safe travels, take care...

Mike Q on

Great post Lindsey, I really enjoyed reading it. I was talking with some international students at the end of the fall semester about similar issues. They did some traveling out west and were impressed with the vastness of the U.S., it helped them to understand American attitudes and perspectives better. Thanks for doing the blog, I enjoy it.

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