Dear Isabel (Letter/8)
by Mark Chmiel
Sunday 28 June 2015
You can feel free to cal me all the Spanish swear words you know, but I think—get ready to attack—you are way too hard on yourself. I’m referring to your self-criticism re: your former Salvadoran partner:
Why do you say you intruded in a “history not mine”— would Ben Linder in Nicaragua have said that? It WAS yours by virtue of your actual presence, you were there, you weren’t riding horses in the midwest; and you were there, like Ann Manganaro, whom Mev interviewed and this came out of her mouth: “I chose Central America and El Salvador specifically because it is a place where United States foreign policy has done so much damage to people’s lives. My presence here is a way to put one small countervailing force against the real evil and damage that has occurred as a result of U.S. foreign policy. Our active policy throughout Latin America is to support any government that ensures there won’t be left-wing governments in power. Concretely, what that meant in El Salvador was that the U.S. supported a very oligarchic government and a cruelly repressive military that caused the deaths of thousands of civilians even before the war began and thousands more during the twelve-year civil war.”
Would you like to criticize Ann’s colonizing ways? Her intrusion? Her feeling comfortable in the doctor role? If not, then try to see that there really isn’t a substantive difference between her presence and your presence there.
Also, I know just like me you want to be happy, don’t want to be a colonizer, but I doubt very much you walked around San Salvador thinking you are the embodiment of goodness, possibility, and superiority; more likely (if at all) it was that you thought of your Salvadoran partner as embodying those qualities [have you ever had to struggle with being a self-hating American?].
Check-in: How many curse words have come to your mind in the last 3 minutes?
So, about writing an essay about all this. As a start, try to come up with 20 more adjectives to go along with the ones you mentioned: “dangerous, problematic, obsessive, life-giving” and when you have time, pick one adjective to be your writing topic and think of your relationship in terms of that word and write for 30 minutes (3 hours?).
Of course, what begins as an essay may turn into FICTION.
Having written all of the above, I realize I never knew you in El Salvador, I wasn’t there, so it may be easy to dismiss the above. It’s based on my face to face experience of you, over nine years.
Puerta del Diablo outside of San Salvador, El Salvador by Laura Hershberger