A Personal Reflection on the Radical Roots Delegation

by Mellissa Linton Villafranco

Beneath the blazing sun of San Salvador, we march together as the 2018 Radical Roots delegation. It is July 30, and we are presente at the National University (UES) march to commemorate the 1975 student massacre. Dancing, chanting, singing and laughing: we are over twenty Salvadorans living in the US. To my left, one of our signs reads, “El Agua No Se Vende, Se Cuida y Se Defiende!” (Water is not for sale! We will care for it and defend it!) To my right: “Diáspora Salvadoreña con la Lucha Estudiantil.” (Salvadoran diaspora in solidarity with the student struggle)

The attendees illustrated a colorful breadth of Salvadoran activists, organizers, families and workers. We walked with some of the people and organizations our delegation had been meeting with and learning from, including human rights attorney, Mirna Perla, a sobreviviente from the 1975 massacre. Our physical presence felt like a profound bridge in historical memory, particularly for me, as my mother attended the UES. One of my favorite chants attested to the persistence of the struggle: “Adelante, adelante, qué la lucha es constante!” (Onward! Onward! The struggle is constant!) Punctuated by the infectious rhythm of the UES drumline, we danced as one in the unrelenting sunshine. 

Our delegation represented CISPES’ ongoing commitment to supporting the Salvadoran struggle for liberation. The Radical Roots delegation was an opportunity for Salvadorans living in the United States to reconnect with El Salvador’s political history by learning from an array of grassroots activists and FMLN representatives. Through powerful conversations, meetings, and artistic and cultural enrichment, this delegation provided a healing opportunity for us as Salvadorans living in the diaspora to see ourselves in the lineage of El Salvador’s revolutionary history.

I applied to the delegation because I am passionate about social justice organizing that centers Central American political genealogies and voices. I’m currently working on a dissertation project that links prison building and neoliberal security initiatives in post-civil war El Salvador to the targeting of women who have abortions/miscarriages. One of the many highlights of the trip for me personally was meeting with Sara García, one of the founders of Agrupación Ciudadana Por La Despenalización del Aborto (Citizen Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion), an organization that has been at the forefront of building national and international pressure to reverse the draconian total ban on abortion, under which dozens of women have been imprisoned for decades following miscarriages.

Alongside the Agrupación, we met with a diverse array of groups that are responding to the current neoliberal economic and cultural climate, including the LGBT Collective, the popular education group Equipo Maíz, FMLN legislators and youth groups, economists and gender justice organizations. Neoliberal policies have proliferated in El Salvador since the Peace Accords including the signing of free trade agreements like CAFTA and the privatization of public services like pensions. Neoliberal policies, politicians responsible for their implementation and the criminalization of many new populations has ironically brought together a powerful coalition of people well-versed in each other’s struggles and how they intersect.

One of the most politically pressing meetings we attended was our time to connect and learn from the resilient and gracious people of Tacuba, a majority Pipil indigenous community that has directly taken up the struggle against water privatization. In 1995, in response to the Salvadoran government’s failure to provide clean water to residents, the community organized to fund and build their own well system. As far back as 2007, the right-wing mayor set out to end the community control over the water system they’d worked so hard to make possible. The persecution culminated in 2016 with police raiding the homes of six members of the elected water committee; the men, all elderly, were incarcerated for six days. Karen Ramírez of Pro-VIDA, a rural organization that is accompanying their struggle, was an especially powerful presence to learn from. She explained that when the water defenders were captured, it was with the intention to destroy local leadership. Nevertheless, the women who were not captured continued to uphold their communities.

Our time in El Salvador passed quickly, yet the bonds created and connections made will last for years to come. I intend on sharing the political struggles currently unfolding in El Salvador through presenting a series of reportbacks in California and Tijuana. Through sharing and uplifting the knowledge acquired from Salvadoran political activists, I intend on directly supporting their campaigns. Because I live at the San Diego/Tijuana borderlands, I am committed as well to political organizing around detention centers, while continuing to fortify the strength of Central American organizing in Southern California through organizations like CISPES.

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