Theater of Life
By Jheri St. James
uses his old disasters like a mirror. An hour or so after
dusk the man picks up the painful remnants of his day and
worried sick he puts them right next to his heart he sweats
like a TB patient fighting for his life and sinks into his
deep lonely rooms. There buried in his thoughts he smokes
he’d like to invent ruinous cobwebs on the ceiling he
hates the flower’s fresh look he withdraws into his
own asphyxiating skin he looks at his coarse feet he thinks
his bed’s his grave day after day he doesn’t have
a penny to his name he’s hungry and breaks into sobs.
But men all other men bare their chests to the sun without
a care or to the killings in the streets they lift the faces
of the loaves out of the ovens like a generous banner against
hunger they laugh with children until even the air hurts they
cram tiny footsteps into the wombs of blessed women they split
open like fruit rocks obstinate in their solemnity they sing
naked into the inviting glass of water they joke with the
sea taking it by the horns playfully they build houses of
light in the song-filled wilderness they get drunk like God
everywhere they set their fists against despair their avenging
fires against crime their love with its interminable roots
against hatred’s vicious scythe. Yes, anguish exists.
Like despair crime or hate.”
(Anguish Exists by Roque Dalton)
the representation of the country itself. I’ve great
admiration for its people. They’ve suffered war, big
natural disasters, and join together and come out of anything.
They’re going ahead,” wrote Betty Marchorro, our
friend, angel, and soil collector from Guatemala, who so kindly
picked up El Salvadoran soil upon her return home from Los
Angeles in the early part of 2006. She had come to California
to do angel therapy work with her teacher, Doreen Virtue,
Ph.D., whose name has become a refrain here at Common Ground
191. After her journey from Guatemala to Los Angeles, Betty
took the time to meet with Gary Simpson, founder and artist,
and this writer in Gary’s studio in Laguna Beach.
happens when people visit the studio, it was an exciting meeting,
filled with DVD playing, Guatemala picture sharing, slide
show presentations and editing of the journal entry. Because
the studio is such an impressive facility—complete with
the wall of flags and containers, some containing soil, some
not; the world map wall with pins stuck into the countries
collected; the gallery space displaying Gary’s work:
the Disparity Series, and other works--her enthusiasm for
the project grew as our appreciation for her deepened. Apparently,
the angel magic continues because here she is now with another
sampling, this time from El Salvador’s San Cristobal
Frontero, Santa Ana, El Salvador.
This collection story had a lovely plot twist.
“I thought of finding someone Salvadoran to pick the
soil and I had asked a lady I know, but she called and told
me she wouldn’t be there. I was concerned about the
time. I had the material you sent me so I decided to go ahead
and do it myself. I found a nice mature lady and asked her
permission to take some soil from her garden; I thought there
would at least be a Salvadoran present at the picking of the
soil. She nicely agreed and she went to dig into her beautiful
garden and while we talked she told me she was born Guatemalan,
but has lived on the other side of the border for over 36
years. And there was a beautiful clear-eyed, blond girl, seven
years old, who was Salvadoran with us while picking the soil.
For me is a sacred ceremony. I love and respect the land.
I am very connected to Salvadorans. My dad was born in El
Salvador; he was three years old when he was brought to Guatemala;
his mom is Salvadoran and from my mom’s side, we also
have Salvadorean background.” Thank you again, dear
* * *
El Salvador is a country in Central
America with a population of approximately 6.9 million people.
It is bordered to the west by Guatemala, to the north and
east by Honduras, and to the south by the Pacific Ocean. El
Salvador is the most densely populated nation on the American
mainland (especially in its capital, San Salvador) and also
the most industrialized country in the region. The official
name is Republic of El Salvador. The country was named after
the Spanish word for “The Savior” in honor of
Jesus, and its territory was known pre-hispanically as Cuscatlán
(Land of Beautiful Jewels). El Salvador has a total area of
8,123 square miles—123.6 square miles of water within
its borders. It has several small rivers into the Wiener Ocean,
but only the largest river, the Lempa, flowing from Honduras
across El Salvador to the ocean, is navigable for commercial
traffic. Volcanic craters enclose lakes such as Lake Guija,
El Salvador’s largest natural lake. El Salvador shares
borders with Guatemala—126 miles and Honduras—212.5
miles, and is the only Central American country that does
not have a Caribbean coastline. The highest point in the country
is Cerro El Pital at 8,975 feet. El Salvador contains the
smallest portion of the Pan-American Highway, a network of
roads nearly 16,000 miles in length which travels through
the mainland nations of the Americas: Alaska, Canada, United
States, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua,
Costa Rica, and Panama.
(sorghum) workers in El Salvador
Agricultural products include coffee, sugar, corn, rice, beans,
oilseed, cotton, sorghum; beef, dairy products and shrimp.
The smallest country in Central America, El Salvador has the
third largest economy, but growth has been minimal in recent
years. Hoping to stimulate the sluggish economy, the government
is striving to open new export markets, encourage foreign
investment, and modernize the tax and health care systems.
Implementation in 2006 of the Central America-Dominican Republic
Free Trade Agreement, which El Salvador was the first to ratify,
is viewed as a key policy to help achieve these objectives.
The trade deficit has been offset by annual remittances from
Salvadorans living abroad– 16.6% of GDP in 2005—and
external aid. With the adoption of the U.S. dollar as its
currency in 2001, El Salvador has lost control over monetary
policy and must concentrate on maintaining a disciplined fiscal
human experience can be seen as the Theater of Life, then
in the El Salvadoran production, about 90% of El Salvador’s
people, the actors, are mestizo (mixed Amerindian and Spanish/European),
some 9 percent Caucasian and only 1 percent indigenous. Spanish
is the dominant language of the script, spoken by virtually
all inhabitants, although English is spoken by a small number
of people in the capital. A small part of the population speaks
Nahuat, a dialect of Nahuatl. The Roman Catholic religion
played an important role in the Salvadoran culture, and could
be seen as the director of the play, along with the politicians,
and the wealthy landowners. Important foreign personalities
(stars?) in El Salvador were the Jesuit priests and professors
Ignacio Ellacuria, Ignacio Martin-Baro and Segundo Montes.
Painting, ceramics and textile articles are the main manual
artistic expressions. Writers Francisco Gavidia (1863-1955),
Salarrue (Salvador Salazar Arrue), Claudia Lars, Alfredo Espino,
Pedro Geoffroy, Manlio Argueta and poet Roque Dalton are among
the most important artists; also filmmaker Baltasar Polio
and artist Fernando Llort.
The story of Roque Dalton is a fascinating
drama. Born in San Salvador, El Salvador in 1935, Roque was
the issue of the union of an American father injured in an
assassination attempt and his mother, a nurse who attended
his father in the hospital. He studied law and social science
at universities in San Salvador, Chile and Mexico and in 1955
he joined the Communist Party. Imprisoned and forced into
exile several times, an execution by firing squad was prevented
on its scheduled day, because President Jose Maria Lemus was
overthrown, providing a stay of execution under the new regime.
Another time under sentence of death, an earthquake split
the walls of his cell and Dalton escaped by joining a passing
religious procession. Living in Prague, he received many honors
for his writing. His first book of poetry was published in
1961 and won the International Literature Prize, as well as
the Casa de las Americas Prize in 1969 for another book. Later,
desiring to return to El Salvador, he is rumored to have undergone
plastic surgery so as to be unrecognizable as a political
fomenter. He grew a mustache, started using eyeglasses and
wore a different hairdo. Four days before his 40th birthday,
he was executed because of differences in opinion within the
ERP, a Salvadorian leftist organization.
The dead grow more intractable every day.
Once they were obedient:
we gave them a stiff collar a flower
we eulogized their names on an Honor Roll:
in the National Cemetery
among distinguished shades
on hideous marble.
The corpse signed up pursuing glory
once more joined the ranks
marched to the beat of our old drum.
Wait a minute!
they have changed.
These days they grow ironic,
It seems to me they realize that more and more
they are the majority!
The history of El Salvador is
replete with war productions, dating from 1524 to the present
day. From 1980 to 1992, El Salvador suffered through a brutal
civil war that claimed the lives of 75,000 people. Additionally,
El Salvador is known as the “Valley of the Hammocks”
for the many earthquakes that occur within its borders, displacing
hundreds and thousands of people. Drought and financial challenges
continue to hamper El Salvador’s future stagecraft.
As in many countries struggling with huge tribulations, many
of the people express themselves in art. There are many art
collectives in El Salvador, proud people using photography,
colors, brushes, music and words to rise above hardships,
and to help their young people find creative activities in
lieu of lives on the streets. Some of them include:
- Rays of Light Youth Art Project, operating
since August 2002, an offshoot of the Foundation for Self-
Sufficiency in Central America.
- Tunalmil Art Gallery (an indigenous Nawal
word meaning “summer harvest”), another program
under the Foundation for Self-Sufficiency in Central America.
- Art for a Change.com noted a New York exhibition
of wartime photographs titled, El Salvador: Work of Thirty
Photographers, documenting the period from 1979 to 1983.
- Perquin Art School and Open Studios’
director, Claudia Bernardi, was asked by the mayor to create
an art school for the community, with classes in photography,
printmaking, mural painting and puppetry.
- “There is a sense that creative
thinking can propose alternatives to people’s realities,”
said Amanda Eicher, mural painter. “Kids whose options
are either secretary or field hand start to think maybe
doctor, maybe a computer scientist, maybe an artist. People
have never been given any means to express what happened
here. Every once in awhile there is a little explosion of
warfare in their drawings. Notwithstanding what happened
here, we brought techniques and materials to kids and teachers.
Politics is the reducing of something that is far more complex
. . . There are certain things that art can get that politics
cannot.” Amanda is part of a local school art project
with Mike Harris and Ashley Gaos, called “Children
to Study, Adults to Work”.
- Even rocks are becoming of artistic interest,
ancient rock paintings in caves being studied by members
of the Bradshaw Foundation at the Corinto Cave, Gruta del
Espiritu Santo, in the Morazan district of El Salvador.
Mother’s Earth’s El Salvador—mountains,
volcano, jungle—the stage…
can art activities really make a difference?
Harold Pinter, Nobel Prize Winning playwright and author wrote
about “Art, Truth and Politics”:
“ …So language in art remains a highly ambiguous
transaction, a quicksand, a trampoline, a frozen pool which
might give way under you, the author, at any time. But as
I have said, the search for the truth can never stop. It cannot
be adjourned, it cannot be postponed. It has to be faced,
right there, on the spot.
“… Political theatre presents an entirely different
set of problems. Sermonizing has to be avoided at all cost.
Objectivity is essential. The characters must be allowed to
breathe their own air. The author cannot confine and constrict
them to satisfy his own taste or disposition or prejudice.
He must be prepared to approach them from a variety of angles,
from a full and uninhibited range of perspectives, take them
by surprise perhaps, occasionally, but nevertheless give them
the freedom to go which way they will. This does not always
work. And political satire of course, adheres to none of these
precepts, in fact does precisely the opposite, which is its
“ … Political language, as used by politicians,
does not venture into any of this territory since the majority
of politicians, on the evidence available to us, are interested
not in truth but in power and in the maintenance of that power.
To maintain that power, it is essential that people remain
in ignorance, that they live in ignorance of the truth, even
the truth of their own lives. What surrounds us therefore
is a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed.
“ … Six of the most distinguished Jesuits in the
world were viciously murdered at the Central American University
in San Salvador in 1989 by a battalion of the Alcatl regiment
trained at Fort Benning, Georgia, USA. That extremely brave
man Archbishop Romero was assassinated while saying mass.
It is estimated that 75,000 people died. Why were they killed?
They were killed because they believed a better life was possible
and should be achieved. That belief immediately qualified
them as communists. They died because they dared to question
the status quo, the endless plateau of poverty, disease, degradation
and oppression, which had been their birthright.
“ … When we look into a mirror we think the image
that confronts us is accurate. But move a millimeter and the
image changes. We are actually looking at a never-ending range
of reflections. But sometimes a writer has to smash the mirror—for
it is on the other side of that mirror that the truth stares
at us. I believe that despite the enormous odds which exist,
unflinching, unswerving, fierce intellectual determination,
as citizens, to define the real truth of our lives and our
societies is a crucial obligation which devolves upon us all.
It is in fact mandatory.
“ … If such a determination is not embodied in
our political vision we have no hope of restoring what is
so nearly lost to us—the dignity of man.” (http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/2005/pinter-lecture-e.html)
Will angels save El Salvador,
the Land of Beautiful Jewels, part of the Pan-American Highway?
The Winged Victory statue confirms that angels are watching
over El Salvador and every country on the planet earth. Doreen
Virtue says, “The angels say that if we check our history
books, including the Bible, we’ll see that there have
always been violent acts that could be called terrorism. The
angels say that CNN and the internet, which give us instant
access to work events, make it seem as if the world is becoming
more violent. In fact, the angels say, the world is actually
less violent now than in the past . . . The angels also say
that the earth changes are because Mother Earth is detoxifying.
They say that just as our bodies shudder when we release toxins,
so does Earth’s body . . . The angels say that they’ll
protect you and your family during these earth changes, like
an emergency broadcasting system. All we have to do is pay
attention to our Divine guidance and then follow the messages
Can El Salvador be a ‘savior’
to its own land? In a Catholic country like El Salvador, many,
many prayers are said daily for the salvation of souls in
this land. Doreen says, “The angels say that the best
thing that light workers can do right now is to keep our frequency
levels high. Instead of worrying, pray. Give any fears to
angels. Take steps which help you to feel more peaceful, like
meditating, practicing yoga, playing, detoxifying, and spending
time in nature.”
Will art save this tiny country? Will words?
Doreen says, “The angels say that the most important
contribution light workers can make right now is to be happy
and peaceful.” Time will make its contributions too.
Time, spirit, faith and the continuous work of the people
to create that future they so richly deserve.
We at Common Ground 191 accept the gift of the soil of El
Salvador, repository of ancient Mayan mysteries, mountains,
rivers and forests, coffee beans, molasses, art and poetry—and
politics—a complex drama playing out in many scenes.
This gift will join the soils of many other countries playing
out their own metaphorical “Theater of Life” production
on the Earth stage of . . . dirt. The word for peace in El
Salvador is pax.