By: Spring Intern, Sydney Boyer (XU 2017)
Our first full day in El Salvador, we wake up to the warmth of the day, church bells playing Ave Maria and a man honking what sounded like a bike horn on a child’s bicycle. That morning, we prepare our dresses and nice shirts to go to mass downtown. I am with 11 of my peers from Xavier University on an Alternative Break trip to learn about the realities of a post-war community. I had heard the stories of gangs and I read the travel warning about the violence that was occurring in the country. After stepping off the plane, I heard the story of the four Catholic sisters murdered and I saw the barbed wire that curled over the tops of every pastel wall. I guess you could say that my mind was worried for being downtown because of the fear of the unknown and an unstable environment.
As we walked into mass at Romero’s tomb, I was overwhelmed by the amount of people there, how much I stuck out as a “gringa” and, most of all, the Spanish language that I couldn’t understand. As we left mass, I was overwhelmed by the chaos in the streets. Ebony, our guide/leader from Crispaz, told us that we were visiting another Jesuit church to see what the religious life in the country was like. In the distance I noticed a building that was grey, made of concrete and looked like it could collapse at any moment. My first thought was, “what a awful looking building.” As we approached the building that I thought looked awful, Ebony informed us that this was the church we were stopping in, and we would have about half an hour to look around. As we passed through doors decorated in bullet holes, I was taken aback by the beauty of the church. While still made of concrete, colors given by stained glass danced across the walls like a rainbow. What looked worn from war on the outside possessed incredible beauty within.
Throughout the week, I heard the stories of the struggles of the people within the country. We heard about the challenges of finding a reasonable job within the country, the struggles of rebuilding a community after it had been torched and bombed, and the heartbreak in searching for a son or a daughter who was likely dead from making the journey to the United States. Not only that, but we also heard of the stories of people who tried to help stop the military violence during the war, those like Oscar Romero and Rutilio Grande, and were killed for doing so. Amid the struggle though, we also shared in the small, yet beautiful moments of life. We walked through the streets of a community gather where a young boy chased a balloon and crowds laughed at a clown. We ate fresh mangoes on the side of a cliff with women and children who lived in houses that possessed far less possessions than any middle and upper class home in the United States. We were taught how to throw pottery on a wheel pottery by a man who was deaf. In all the struggles that are portrayed throughout the news, we experienced life in its purest form. It is through community and life that we are healed and our struggles seem bearable.
There are realities of war that can clearly be seen throughout El Salvador’s past and present. Once you walk through the doors decorated in bullet holes, you see the beauty that is forever present amongst the people and amongst the country. By telling the stories of the El Salvadoran people and listening fully to those immigrant and refugees who have come to the United States, we bring to life the realities of a post-war community, and we truly see beyond what the news portrays.