Monday, November 05, 2012

Unhealed wounds on the Day of the Dead

Friday, November 2, was the Dia de los Difuntos, or the Day of the Dead in El Salvador.  Families traveled to cemeteries across the country, where they cleaned and decorated with flowers the gravesites of deceased family members.  I have written about this colorful commemoration of the departed in prior years.


But what if you don't have a gravesite for a departed loved one?  What if your son was murdered by death squads during the civil war and his body eaten by vultures?   What if your wife was swept away in the current of the Sumpul River after the Sumpul River Massacre in 1980?   For thousands of Salvadoran families, these sorrows are profound on November 2 each year.   There were more than 75,000 civilian victims of the civil war in El Salvador, and the whereabouts of many of the bodies of the victims are unknown.  

On Friday I was in the town of Arcatao, in far northern Chalatenango, El Salvador.   This was an area which saw great conflict during the civil war, and where many civilians were killed by an army determined to exterminate anyone who might sympathize with the guerrillas.   The town and its Catholic parish have a historical memory commission to keep alive the remembrance of what happened during the bloody 1970s and 80s.   One of their projects is to provide a cemetery and a place of remembrance of the war's victims in the region, and they have acquired a piece of land for this purpose.    For those bodies which can be recovered where they had fallen, this land will be a final burial place for martyrs of the civil war.   For those families who have yet to locate, and may never locate the bodies of their relatives, the commission hopes to erect a simple monument with the names of the victims.   It will be a sacred place where families can come on the Day of the Dead, and at other times, to remember the lives which were lost.





On Friday morning a small group gathered at this plot of land in Arcatao to commemorate these memories.   Family member after family member recounted the stories of sons and daughters, mothers and fathers,  murdered or disappeared during the war.   Some had relatives whose bodies had been located and will be reburied in this holy ground    Others wept that they had no idea where to find the body of a dear family member.   It was a deep honor to be present with these families at this time.

The Monument to Memory and Truth, in Cuscatlan Park in San Salvador plays a similar role.  It is a black granite wall listing names of victims of the war.  My friend Cristina send me an essay about the Wall in connection with the Day of the Dead:
This wall tells part of El Salvador’s story. There are 30,000 names here but there were 80,000 people killed and disappeared. For many people, like the young man I met, there was no place for them to go on November 2nd every year, no place to mourn and honor their loved ones. They would watch other families leave to spend the day in a cemetery, but they had nowhere to go. This young man waited 26 years and he never forgot his father. With his daughter and son he placed a strip of clear red plastic just over his father’s name and then sat there beside it for quite a long time.



On Saturday, November 3, I was present at the wall with two mothers of who had lost multiple sons during the war.   The sorrow and the dignity of these mothers was profound.   Twenty years after the end of El Salvador's bloody conflict, some wounds are far from healed.

1 comment:

Senor Pescador said...

cool wall, nice place to visit and think of what happened those years always makes me cry right across from Minsiterio de salud