Sunday, October 23, 2005

Voces Inocentes

(This photo was found with Google Images on the website of Cine Premiere)

A few days ago I watched this film called Voces Inocentes (Innocent Voices). It was one of the first things I heard about when I came to El Salvador. EVERYONE asked me if I had seen the film, and being the new gringa on the block, I could barely figure out what the heck they were asking me. But, I am proud to say that I purchased a pirated copy of the film the other day and watched it in its entirety in the original Spanish (no subtitles for me, unless I wanted to read the Portuguese, because English wasn’t available).

Let me just begin by saying that Voces Inocentes is one of the best films that I’ve ever seen (and if you know me and my little obsession with film, that’s saying a lot). I don’t know, I have just been thinking about this film all week since I’ve seen it. I want to watch it again, but I’m trying to pace myself. The story is really compelling, but watching it in El Salvador is like having a religious experience. It’s hard to explain (even for me).

Voces Inocentes is the true story of Oscar Torres, the screenwriter of this film. The main character, Chava, is only eleven years old but he has become the "man of the house" as his father abandons the family in the middle of the civil war (typical of a Salvadoran family during the war and today for that matter). At this ripe age, Chava not only watches the violence of the war erupt in his community, in his school and in his life, but he has to face the reality that in one years time, he will turn twelve. During the war, the Salvadoran government forcefully recruited twelve year old boys to fight in the war against the guerilla forces of the FMLN. It’s a reality he dreads and you can certainly see that his tender heart is not meant for the life of a soldier.
Chava’s story is not unique to El Salvador or the world for that matter. TODAY there are more than 300,000 child soldiers fighting in more than 40 countries (statistic found on VI website). As I learn more about the realities of El Salvador, I am always amazed at the individual stories of people here. I have met people just like Chava and his family. And I think for me, that is what made this film all the more real.

I seriously recommend that you see this film. Spend the ten bucks if you can or get yourself a pirated copy like I did!!! It’s a great way to learn about the reality I am finding, as well as entering into Salvadoran culture in a unique way. Plus, I am always a fan of education through film. And when you do see the film, let me know what you think.

Here’s the film website for you

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Wonder Posted by Picasa

Blast from the Past

I just came across this old blog that I wrote in college. I am deciding to keep it only for the purpose of showing that life is a process. If you care to indulge yourself, then by all means, do so.

Homosexual y Cochino

"Homosexual y Cochino"

This past week, I encountered the rather rampant homophobia of the Latin American world. Backed by a culture of machismo, El Salvador seems to take certain social cues from their religion of choice. If it isn’t the legalism of Catholicism, it’s the over emphasis of particular biblical versus emphasized within evangelical Protestant churches. Either way, the horrid displays of homophobia here seem to be a common practice.
This week while I was in the campo doing migration education in small communities, I came across two incidences of direct homophobia that exhibited a certain lack of diversity education.
1. While sitting in the car outside of the local house of culture in Santa Elena, I noticed some graffiti on the next building. The words, "Homosexual y Cochino"were displayed. I certainly could figure out what the homosexual part was all about, but this word, "cochino" was something new, and something told me it wasn’t good. I asked what cochino meant. As it turns out, cochino means dirty, like a pig. So apparently, someone at this place where graffiti is, is considered gay and dirty.
As it turns out, the graffiti was on the wall of the local post office. In that case, I wonder, what exactly does this graffiti imply?
The letter carriers must be gay and dirty, or maybe the woman at the front desk? No, maybe these individuals in question mean to say that anyone who enters the post office or benefits from their services is gay and dirty! Certainly that can’t be it!
I tried to wrap my head around this phrase and what it meant, but I came up empty.
Typically with homophobic individuals, they have this belief that homosexuality is wrong, however, they don’t have any great evidence for their beliefs. They may be able to cite a biblical quote, or give a stunning moral example (those men who have sex together just isn’t "natural".) But most of the time, the actual argument of a homophobic person has no real educational or intellectual backing.
Incidentally, this graffiti on the post office was situated directly across the street from an evangelical church that was blasting religious propaganda. I wonder if there is a connection?

2. While driving to a more remote location, we passed by a house with a "manwoman". In other words, a transgendered person lives at this house. While passing by the house, the person in question, was sitting on the porch and waved and smiled at us. "Cindy"as she is called, was once a man, but had an operation, and now she is a woman.
Certainly, this operation that Cindy had was expensive and rather time consuming. I found it interesting that she actually went through with the whole operation, in light of the economic strain. It’s something I wouldn’t have expected in El Salvador. Certainly I am not implying that there are no transgendered people in El Salvador, but I just assumed that the actual operation would be too costly for Salvadorans.
At any rate, the individuals that were in the car with me, who pointed Cindy out to me, didn’t seem to mind too much about her change. They laughed a little bit about the concept and continued on. I expressed that I had friends that were the same as Cindy (and I wished I had a more politically correct word in my vocabulary to explain "transgendered") and they seemed to be a bit surprised (as if they didn’t know that more of these people existed), but in total, they didn’t seem to care too much about Cindy.
In general, I’m not sure their reactions were as much homophobic as they were a direct result of a lack of diversity education...something pretty typical in the campo of El Salvador.
Nevertheless, I will continue to monitor the situation of homophobia here in El Salvador. It is certainly not easy being gay in this world. Of course some places are more accepting of diversity than others, but El Salvador is certainly not a the top of the list. Incidentally, neither is CRS (just a point of reference).

Monday, October 10, 2005

Gay? What is that all about?

There are times when the search for personal identity can be one of the most painful moments in a persons life. There are realities that one faces, harsh realizations, and tender moments left to reconcile with. It’s all a part of being alive, of being fully human...accepting and loving the depths of who you are. This metamorphosis is a right of passage made of internal growth to build inner beauty and strong character. However, not everyone has such a positive awakening of self. There are those among us who struggle with who they are, simply because there are those who will reject their life and the love they have within them.

Tomorrow is October 11th, National Coming Out Day. In the United States, millions of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered individuals will come together and celebrate who they are. This special day is meant to be a testament to the nation, that the GLBT community is strong in love. It is a day to encourage open hearts, and acceptance within society so that some day we might have the RIGHT to LOVE those in our lives.

The theme for this years National Coming Out Day is “Talk About It”.

Society is only as homophobic as you let it be. If you listen to the gay joke and don’t say that you are offended, you might as well have told the joke yourself (don’t worry, we’ve all been there). If you haven’t come out as a straight ally yet, you should do so, because our real allies are those who are out of the closet too. And if you are gay, you know that coming out is a process, and so on this day, continue your process of loving and living well, by being OUT in your communities.

No one said this was going to be easy, and as any gay person can tell you, some days are better than others.

The following is a short list of things you can do to be a better ally or even combat the homophobia within you. Hey, lets be honest, not everyone is ready to accept gay people for who they are, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t change.

1. Express your love. If you know someone who identifies as GLBT, make sure you tell them how much you appresiate them. Give them a hug and tell them that you love them. Many times, we lose those we love because a lack of acceptance. Families disown us, friends can do the same. We end up building our own families and communities, but it is always important to know that we are loved. So on this day, shower you GLBT family and friends with love. Leave your judgement at the door, and simply let them know that you care.

2. Come out as an ally. Nothing says I love you more than standing up to homophobia and oppression. Real commitment in a relationship is demonstrating loyalty in the difficult moments, and sometimes it’s as easy as wearing a T-shirt that people will see, and know that you are accepting of the GLBT community. Here’s one you can check out…
To be a ally, check this out…

3. Educate yourself a bit. If you don’t know a lot of gay people, or haven’t been a part of someone’s “coming out story”, then now is the time to of awareness for you. Many times, coming out is traumatic and painful, but on the flip side, realizing one’s sexuality can be a liberating moment full of love and acceptance. Check out these coming out stories, and learn what it’s like.
But don’t stop the education there, expand your world and start meeting people. Watch a movie that has a gay person in it. Read a book by a gay author, or attend a lecture in your area about homophobia. Every little moment is important for you, and each experience should be processed through dialogue and self reflection. We all have to begin somewhere, and education is always the first step. (Note: If you want to get really educated, find out what it’s like for GLBT individuals in other countries. Depending on cultural differences, things can be a lot more difficult and even violent. And in our sheltered world, the reality can be eye opening.)

4. Host a GLBT friendly event. Maybe you will host a GLBT documentary and speaker at a local community center, or encourage religious dialogue at your own church. Any event that promotes dignity and love of the GLBT community is another step in the right direction .

5. Monitor your words and encourage healthy dialogue. In the spirit of this years theme, freely talking about GLBT issues in every facet of life means one less place we have to be closeted. Learn about the power of words and identify those phrases in the lives of GLBT individuals that are encouraging and those that are offensive. Many times, these words will be different for everyone, but it never hurt to ask. Here is a list of terminology you might want to stay away from.
* Fag or faggot or dyke
* Lifestyle
* Love the sinner, hate the sin.
* Homo
* Fruit

Look, this is the bottom line. It’s damn hard to be gay these days, but it sure is a lot easier than it was in the past. We can use all the help we can get, so that one day we can lead lives with the same rights as everyone else. We are normal people who go to church, have families, jobs, we vote and we have love in our lives. Being gay is not about’s about love...and it’s about identity. We’ve all lost people in our lives because they couldn’t love and accept us for who we are, but now is the time to start accepting new people in our lives who are willing to love AND fight oppression by our side.

A Haiku (or Three)

A Haiku or Three

1. Great heart of depth
transparent visionary
compassion spirit.

2. Connected to one
trusting liberator feels
humble in stillness.

3. Passion, loyal, fee
gracious in mind, body, soul
connected to you.

Thursday, October 06, 2005


We’re in the middle of a national disaster here. There’s a very testy volcano, a hurricane just passed over us, and the rain doesn’t seem to want to let up. There are mud slides everywhere, flooding in the streets and there are thousands of refugees in shelters all around El Salvador. The poor are suffering immensely here, and I can’t help but wonder where God is in all of this.

Today on the news I saw one particular story that has been challenging my heart. In times like this, it can become second nature to turn your heart off when there is such extreme suffering all around. During these moments, may be easier to watch the news and see the devastation and think, “It’s not me!” But I can’t be like that. I can’t just turn my heart off when things get difficult, or when I feel that my breath is being taken away. There is a part of me that naturally enters into the intensity of the moment, even though it is difficult. Today there was a moment while watching the news, that a felt my heart leading in that direction.

The story goes like this...there was a mudslide, and the force of the mud crashed into a cement home that left the building destroyed. There were three children in that home when the slide occurred, but the rest of the family was not in the home at the time. Two of these small children died within the rubble of their home, but one little girl was still holding onto her life. She had been trapped in such a way, that the bottom half of her body was covered with cement blocks and pieces of her house. She rested on her stomach, sometimes crying in agony, as the rescue workers labored to set her free.

The camera crew on this particular news worthy event, made sure to get a closeup of all the action. The collected shots of a rescue worker wiping the blood from the girls head, or another worker lifting pieces of rubble off her tiny body. The reporter also made sure to comments from the crowd.

He asked one rescue worker, “Why didn’t this family leave the house yesterday for the shelter?”

The man replied, “We asked them, but they didn’t want to leave.”

The reporter then found the mother of the child, a woman who already lost two children today, and was facing the possibility of losing this girl too. The reporter asked the mother, “why didn’t you leave yesterday when the red cross asked you?” (You could hear the cries of the girl in the background.)

The mother, in tears replied, “We didn’t want to go to a shelter. We’ve heard of those places, crowed, full of disease...and there’s no food. We decided to stay here.”

The reporter pressed on and said, “Now you have two dead children, and this other little girl is trapped.”

The mother cried.

The reporter went on to interview others, who commented and blamed the situation on the negligence of the family. The reporter seemed to prove his point, and just as he was wrapping up an interview, the little girl was being lifted out of the rubble.

She was calm, yet shivering. She was very conscious, and had an IV attached to her hand as five men carried her away on a straight board. As she was being taken way, the reporters final comments on the situation were something towards the effect of, “Due to parents negligence, two children paid the price with their life, while this young girl will face pain.”

I watched this whole story unfold for five minutes, and then I saw it repeated on the next newscast. I found myself being more and more angry with that reporter. He was a man of privilege, at least to an extent. He had a steady job. His home probably isn’t in danger. And he will probably not have to spend his evening in a shelter tonight (unless of course, there is a big story there). And he will probably have a shower a good meal when he goes home tonight.

He is in a position of comfort, a place where it is easy to criticize others. But at a time like this, his privileged criticism was graphic and heartless (in my mind at the time).

The fact of the matter is, it doesn’t really matter what choice the parents made in the past. The reality was, there was a mud slide, that no one could control, and there was a girl in pain that needed more support and encouragement than a group of voyeuristic reporters looking for a good story.

The story that the reporter wasn’t telling was this...

There are shelters all over the city and the country, and the list of refugees keeps growing everyday. Despite nation wide collections of clothing, food and medicine, there is still not enough to meet the needs of the people. The shelters are over crowed with people who are already poor, and access to clean water and food is like a roll of the dice. People are sick, and unknowingly spreading diseases to each other, as they are in such cramped quarters, and they have no where else to go.

There reporters aren’t telling that story too often. They prefer the graphic details of people being crushed by buildings, or swept away by a flood. They forget about the dignity of the people, and the real humanity of all of this. The reality is, it is the poor who are suffering here in El Salvador. And if Christians want to talk about the crucified Christ, he is here today in the midst of all this destruction and pain. The cries of a young girl pinned down by cement, is Christ speaking to our hearts, and begging us to give a damn, because his daughter, who he loves, is suffering.

I think if we are honest with ourselves, and the reality around us everyday, we have the ability to see Christ in everything. We have the ability to discern his voice in a difficult situation, and face the challenges that are put in front of us. It is the voice of Christ that encourages us to ask questions, while still leaving room for the dignity of those around us.

I see poverty every day here, and it is hard for me to not engage my heart. I have seen many of these things before, but today this little girl will serve as a reminder for me.

I will remember how she and her family were not treated with dignity.
I will remember the calm demeanor of the little girl, and her cries of pain.
I will remember the choices that were made by the girl’s family, and remind myself that often the poor are trapped between inhumane conditions on both sides.
I will remember that Christ was present, although I couldn’t necessarily identify him.


I come from a culture of consumerism, a place where materialism can be likened to storing treasures in heaven. In this culture, everyone has stuff (Stuff: a technical term for the clutter of possessions that one acquires within a period of time). And like a creature of habit, I too acquire objects to fill space in my life.

There are people in my life who think that I am not materialistic. They think that since I move to these far off places of the world, with two bags and a carry on, that I am not exercising materialism. They think that I am not attached to the stuff in my life, and that I am above the struggle of acculturation within my society.

I am here to tell a different story.

The fact of the matter is, I struggle with materialism. Like an alcoholic that craves a drink, I too crave certain luxuries in life. And at times, I have found myself stretched, when thinking how to do without these things that apparently bring richness to my life.

Lets take an inventory of the things I brought with me to El Salvador.

The Basics:
Clothing... I have some really hot T-shirts for every occasion of life. I have a collection of fun T-shirts that I find for cheap at second hand places, and the great find is half the excitement. And while we’re on the subject of T-shirts, let me just note that I wear half the clothing I brought, and the rest is still packed in a bag.)

Shoes...I did ok in this department. Two pairs of sneakers, two sandals and one pair of dress shoes. I love a good pair of shoes, but the reality is, I don’t wear too many shoe combinations here. So I don’t need them.

Music... Many of you know that my interest in music spans the gamete, and collecting albums over the years, as equaled one really large collection. And to conserve space, I managed to put most of my favorite music on my laptop.

Books... If you have been to my parents house, you will know that the small square of space that I call my room is filled with bookcases of books. I read everything from history books (my favorite is Latin American History), travel books, poetry and books on theology and prayer. I literally have hundreds of books that I have read or partially read. Now, when it comes to El Salvador, I was able to restrict myself quite well (I

Wednesday, October 05, 2005


In the Spanish language the word “Bastante”means “enough”. But the meaning goes further than this simple translation. This one word is used to describe the degree to which something happens. In a common conversation, for instance, you will find a Salvadoran explaining that it rained enough (meaning that it rained an adaquate amount or maybe a little too much).

I happened to learn the more profound meaning of “Bastante”after my first week here, and lately, I’ve just been relishing in the intensity of this simple statement.

Just after my first week in El Salvador, I was invited to a national conference of migrants and migrant organizations. I went with a coworker and I met others associated with the issue once I was there. I was just getting my feel for the country, and the new issues of my life, and so naturally, I was asking a lot of questions and simply watching what was happening around me.

The organization that I work with happens to be one of the leading migrant organizations in the field, and we had helped organize this conference. There seemed to be a lot of people at the conference, and I had noticed a few people that were pointed out as migrants.

At one point, I asked Luiz, my token tour guide at work, what I thought was a simple question.

I asked, “How many migrants are here?”

Being a typical American I guess, I must have been looking for some kind of cumulative answer that would result in a positive or negative reaction. It’s not like I knew what a lot or a little was at this point, but it was a simple Spanish sentence in my world, and chances are, the answer would be simple (in the form of numbers, that are easy to translate).

Instead I received this answer....

Luiz said to me, “the question is not ‘how many migrants are here,’ the answer is bastante.

And he left it at that...for me to figure out.

In the context of Salvadoran culture, his answer explains a lot about the people here. What he was saying was this...

It doesn’t really matter how many migrants were at the conference, the fact that there WERE migrants there, was enough! The fact that migrants were represented there, was enough! The fact that migrants could come back to El Salvador from the US (which is quite the sticky situation, and quite dangerous at times), was enough! Luiz was telling me that there were enough migrants at that conference to offer a voice for those who attended and the larger international community.

Here in El Salvador, the outcome of an even is not measured on the amount of data collected, or the number of people that attended. The real measurement is in relation to the quality of interactions within people. The fact that migrant organizations in the US and those in El Salvador could spend time in one room for a while and share thoughts and ideas, was enough reason to have such a conference. The fact that migrants could come to this place and speak about their experience, and maybe see their family and country again, was enough reason to have such a conference.
Bastante means enough, but it means more in this cultural context, and once I figured this out, I understood a lot more.

For example, I was invited to another migrant conference a week later at a swanky hotel called the Intercontinental. The kind of place that would be hundreds of dollars in the US...a place where the rich go to be wined and dined. (So much for simple living!)

At any rate, there were more people from the public at this conference, people who belonged to other organizations that worked with migrants in some way. At this conference, we were presenting current information for other organizations and the press, on the current state of migrants here and abroad.

A coworker of mine came to the conference late, and asked me how many people actually showed, followed by “bastante?”

I replied, “Si, bastante!”

I haven’t mastered the Spanish language but certain little realizations go a long way.

***For a little treat, check out this link and find a picture of me. I am the one in between two men, the guy sleeping is Luiz! How perfect!