Hermanos Lejanos

When I was a child I remember looking out an aeroplane window and seeing a desert. I saw masses of land I had no way of understanding. I was a giant who could see it all. In those landscapes, I saw small dots moving slowly across the desert. I knew they were people. Now as I look back at that memory I recognize that it’s an impossible one. I recognize that even though I didn’t see people walking across the desert that day I knew that they were there.

I’ve always been aware that people illegally cross the border, that they walk deserts, cross rivers and climb border walls to make it across the U.S. border with Mexico. As a child, I felt so clearly how my existence was aquí in El Salvador and felt as if everyone was always thinking of the Allá. The allá was part of an extended landscape for El Salvador the place where many of our relatives live. Nuestros hermanos lejanos. Those who left and will continue to leave. A los salvadoreños nos llama la frontera. We’re always on the lookout for the next opportunity.

As a young child, my mom decided that I was going to pursue a bilingual education and prophesied that one day this language was going to let me into the United States. It was her hope that through education I would gain independence, and wouldn’t need to rely on anyone. English was meant to bring me closer to de allá. It was meant to open doors to millions of opportunities. It was meant to allow for my life to be smoother and easier in comparison to the war-ridden coming of age my parents had to survive.

Una guerra civil que duro mas de una decada y fue en ese contexto en el cual mis padres crecieron. As a child my mother migrated from her hometown of Zacatecoluca, La Paz as it was in control of the FDR (Frente Democratico Revolucionario) and soon became the ground of battles and massacres. Thus, my grandma uprooted the family to the capital where she raised 4 kids in a two-bedroom apartment. My father born and raised in San Salvador and had a complicated family relationship. He grew up in a hard environment trying to protect himself and his sibling from an abusive stepfather. Recently, he told me about how he tried to migrate to the U.S. with a friend when he was 14. A mi papa solo le alcanzo el dinero para llegar a Guatemala, where he worked in a farm until he had enough money to make it back home. In comparison, I was born into a home that was safe, in which I was allowed to grow up slowly and carefully. When the time came my journey of migration has been simpler and safer driven by my own desires to move and change. From Europe to the U.S I’ve moved from institution to institution finding safety and refuge in academia.

My brother jokingly started referring to me as a “Hermana lejana.” First, I felt a bit taken a back even after leaving away from home for five years now. Es dificil pensar que mi casa no es mi casa. La realidad es que muchos miembros de mi familia viven la misma realidad. Somos una familia de migrantes. Most of them in L.A, some in Virginia and a few in Miami. Many of them living close to communities of other Salvadoreños. For example, my aunt has lived in the U.S for decades now yet hasn’t learned any English as the landscape of Los Angeles allows her to exist comfortably in her mother tongue. She found a community of Salvadorans living in Los Angeles as well as the company of many other migrants. Now her Salvadoran accent has become a bit Mexicanized, yet she exists in a space that often merges Latino communities with the U.S. landscape. Even in the distance, they find themselves in the constant company of those like them.

In comparison, in my migration, I have found myself separated from those communities. In high school, I was part of an international community where most of us existed together within the contrast of our homes and our beliefs. I’ve been lucky that even though I haven’t had diasporic communities around me I was able to access safety through academics, language and privilege. My borders look like airports, bus stops and train stations. They’re subtly present when being interrogated about my origins, the reason why I’m trying to reach a destination, a sudden feeling of guilt when I have to have a reason behind my presence in this country. The reality is that I don’t want to have a reason to be here. I exist here because I can — because someone accepted me into this place. Now that I’m here I don’t want to need a reason to exist in this place. I wonder how much does my existent as a migrant trump my existent as a person? I recognize my own privilege in my ability to wonder about these questions. How I’ve had it easy in comparison to many but I also acknowledge the inheritance I have of coming from a country of migrants. The responsibilities I carry from being born in a country were loss and pain are part of the common language we share.

Salvadoreans are born to be migrants. We’re born into a landscape that has a long history of migration, as well as one of danger. In the constant threat of eruption, earthquakes, hurricanes all under the shadows of war, corruption and poverty. Salvadoreans have always existed in different landscapes as workers. Hidden from their surrounding by their inability to belong anywhere yet always hopeful for the next opportunity. We have a long history of migration filled with the pain of existing in the shadows of society. Salvadorans have always taken positions that aren’t desired. I think about my own family histories and how connected they’ve been to migration, hope and loss. I think it’s incredible to think of where I’m standing. How I’ve been able to find comfort and safety away from home and knowing that my story is also becoming a part of my families migration history. A history that has been a part of our heritage. Roque Dalton writes a love poem in memory of all those Salvadorean migrants who are often ignored and looked down on. Dalton writes in memory of them of the love he feels for the historic memory of the migrant Salvadorean. The poem was written before the civil war that resulted in the exodus of Salvadorean migration. I decided to translate Roque Dalton “XI Poema de amor”, por que es como un espejo a mis sentimientos sobre la migracion y el trauma que es parte de nuestra memoria historica. Dalton migrated many places, studying both in the UNAM in Mexico City, as well as, in Santiago, Chile where he became interested in Socialism. Dalton life’s and belief led him to multiple places. From Cuba to Prague he was exiled and returned multiple times as he believed that his calling was to be in El Salvador and to combat with the ERP (Ejercito Revolucionario del Pueblo). A Dalton lo mataron sus compañeros por que los rumores decian que el era una oreja para la CIA, todo era una mentira. Now Dalton is part of an open wound of the many losses the country lost during the war. Su voz es tan presente en nuestras historias, sus poemas siguen resonando a las realidades de los salvadoreños. His voice filled with love, pain, and disbelief for the roles we must take on for survival, safety and love.

IX Poema de Amor by Roque Dalton (1935 – 1975)

Los que ampliaron el Canal de Panama

(Y fueron clasificados como “silver roll” y no como “gold roll”),

los que repararon la flota del pacifico

en las bases de California,

los que se pudrieron en las carceles de Guatemala,

Mexico, Honduras, Nicaragua

por ladrones, por estafadores,

por hambrientos,

los siempre sospechosos de todo

(“me permito remitirle al interfecto

por esquinero sospecho

y con el agravante de ser salvadoreño”),

las que llenaron los bares y los burdeles

de todos los puertos y las capitales de la zona

(“La gruta azul”, “El Calzoncito”, “Happyland”),

los sembradores de maíz en plena selva extranjera,

los reyes de la página roja,

los que nunca sabe nadie de dónde son,

los mejores artesanos del mundo,

los que fueron cosidos a balazos al cruzar la frontera,

los que murieron de paludismo

o de las picadas del escorpión o la barba amarilla

en el infierno de las bananeras,

en el infierno de las bananeras,

los que lloraran borrachos por el himno nacional

bajo el ciclón del Pacífico o la nieve del norte,

los arrimados, los mendigos, los marihuaneros,

los guanacos hijos de la gran puta,

los que apenitas pudieron regresar,

los que tuvieron un poco más de suerte,

los eternos indocumentados,

los hacelotodo, los vendelotodo, los comelotodo,

los primeros en sacar el cuchillo,

los tristes más tristes del mundo,

mis compatriotas,

mis hermanos.

IX Love Poem by Roque Dalton, translated by Valeria Sibrian Quijada

Those who expanded the Panama Canal

(and were classified as silver roll instead of gold roll)

those who repaired the Pacific fleet

in the base of California

those who rotted inside the prisons of Guatemala,

Mexico, Honduras and Nicaragua

for being burglars, for being scammers,

for being hungry,

the always suspicious of everything

(“allow me to refer you to the murder victim

for being a suspicious idler

with the aggravation of being Salvadoran”)

those who fill the bars and brothels

of every harbour and every capital of the area

(“The Blue Grotto”, “The teeny panties”, “Happyland”)

those who sow corn in fully foreign jungles

the kings of the red page,

those who no one knows where they’re from,

the best artisans in the world,

those who were gunned down when crossing the border,

those who died of malaria

or the sting of a scorpion or a yellow beard

in the hell of the banana plantations

those who drunkenly cry while singing the national anthem

under the pacific cyclone or the northern snow,

the scroungers, the beggars, the stoners,

the motherfucking guanacos,

those who had a tiny bit more luck,

the eternally undocumented,

the all-doers, the all-sellers, the all-eaters,

the first to pull out a knife

The sad who are the saddest in the world,

my countrymen,

my brothers.

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