EMBRACING THE SALVADORAN SPIRIT
Someone on the last trip to El Salvador observed that going on a mission trip is like a gift waiting to be opened. You don’t know what you will find until you pry into it.
After returning from my initial trip to El Salvador, I allowed time to assimilate the Salvadoran experience and let my meandering thoughts that were percolating deep within me begin to take hold and gel into a plan. The feeling that kept haunting me was to create an oral history project of some of the intriguing life stories people had shared with me in order to 1) preserve them for posterity and 2) raise the awareness within readers who would otherwise know nothing of these people. I wanted these stories to be told in first person.
This required designing subsequent trips to El Salvador for the express purpose of re-interviewing persons I had already met, but this time taping them with a digital recorder and writing a condensed version of it from the taped interview. My original thinking was to limit the interview questions to stories of faith. I also originally planned to interview only the everyday Salvadoran whose stories had not yet been told. I did hope to get a cross section of occupations within this group to add interest for the reader.
Various people have offered me names of candidates they felt were worthy of being interviewed and whose lives would be interesting to read. Some are famous Salvadorans; others are not. I expanded the interview questions beyond faith allowing the storytellers to be freed up to tell which parts of their lives they were comfortable sharing.
To a person, these storytellers eagerly repeat the details of their lives which sometimes include events that may be excruciatingly painful for them to articulate because of the distressful experiences they are forced to re-live. Yet they share them because they want their stories to serve a greater purpose. In El Salvador they call this kind of project “historical memory,” a preservation of their heritage in an effort for all generations to know their identity, learn from it, and be able to move forward. All Salvadorans interviewed have heartily endorsed this project.
These stories will raise your consciousness. These are stories of liberation, of forgiveness for impunities suffered, ones of injustice and oppression. They are stories of human dignity and hope.
Caroline J. Sheaffer