Processing All I’ve Found: Information, Confronting Biases, Next Steps

I am officially back in the states from being in El Salvador for three weeks. I must say, coming back and moving straight back down to college hasn’t given me much time to process everything I was able to learn and experience while I was there. This post will be broken into three pieces: a brief overview of the information I gathered, me confronting biases, and what my next steps could potentially be.


As I mentioned in my last post, some of my finds during the archival research time I had in El Salvador were interesting to say the least. On the first day I traveled to San Salvador I visited the General Archives of the Nation located in the National Palace. There I was interested in finding any historical/colonial archives or documents so that I may get a grasp on how life was altered in the region once the Spanish began their colonization efforts. However, I was saddened to find out that in the mid 1800s most of the colonial manuscripts and documents were burned down in a fire that consumed the palace. The small amount of colonial documents they did have, however, were very interesting and could stand as the plot for a tall tale, short story or even novel…here’s just a few:

  1. A notice for a man detained in 1695 for helping British pirates smuggle sugar cane.
  2. A warrant for a woman accused of giving/ receiving (still trying to translate correctly) cursed dust meant to break a relationship between a man and a woman to/from a man in 1723.
  3.  A notice for a man accused of publicly stating that the simple act of fornication was not a sin and performing witchcraft in 1693.
  4. A notice for a “foreign” surgeon accused of abusing slaves and performing experiments on them in 1771.

So while I may not have received exactly what I was expecting, I was gifted this magic.

My next stop was the Museum of Word and Image ( Museo de la Palabra y la Imagen) also in San Salvador. This museum aims to collect and preserve cultural memory and identity and provide a space for people to come learn about the history of their country and people. Here, I was able to do more archival research, specifically centered on the war. I read through international articles in support of the people of El Salvador, international pleas to cease US involvement, and different documents revealing the realities for “disappeared” people and people jailed in the National prisons. This museum provided me with the most information I could gather. They also provided many images from their collection, including photographs of child soldiers. I did research in this museum for the remainder of my time in San Salvador my first week.  Afterwards, I traveled throughout the country for two weeks visiting archaeological sites, museums, and cultural sites. One particular experience that has stuck with me so far is an opportunity I got to partake in a traditional Lenca (Indigenous) ceremony. It was a very intimate, spiritual, beautiful experience getting to see people from this small community perform a ceremony their ancestors passed down to them for generations. I got to hear beautiful creation stories and their after-life story. I also spent time observing and absorbing as much as I could from conversations I had with family, family friends, and even complete strangers. I spent hours listening to old family gossip, memories of the war (and life before the war), and what it was like living in El Salvador now. This leads me to my next section.

Confronting My Own Bias

If anyone knows me, they know my values and politics definitely lean pretty far to the left. I try to be involved in radical movements, ideas, and try my best to search for actions I can be involved in. Going into my project, I had an idea of what side I was on (the leftist party, FMLN’s, side. However, what I came to understand as I traveled around the country and spoke with people was that their perception of the war was dramatically influenced by their location. In places like Morazan, a community deeply and violently impacted by the war at the hands of the national military, the guerilleros continue to be revered as heroes for the people. However, in other parts of the country, people would recall violent memories of both sides. These people claim to have equally feared the military and the guerrillas. While I came into this project thinking I knew exactly what side I would have picked and what I would have done, I realized that for the people who actually lived through the war, it’s not as black and white. I am coming to terms with the fact that their experiences and the way the war influenced their memory or perception of the FMLN is more valid than any effort I have taken to read about the FMLN and the starting principles of the revolution in El Salvador. That is not to say that I sympathize with the military and any death squad driven actions. I think right now I am at a place where I am attempting to cope with the idea that the founding fathers and people who inspired the foundation of the FMLN party had a different view of the future in mind and different ideas for a means to achieve that future. However, as is possible with any movement, it became misconstrued, tainted, and transformed into a movement that fought for a cause at no matter what cost–even if the cost was innocent civilians sometimes. I’m still processing my trip and the recorded conversations I had about this. My perspective may change, but that is where I am right now.

Potential Next Steps

I have an extensive reading list I want to dive into and hit the ground running this semester. My reading list includes poetry, prose, scholarly books and articles, and essays from a list of Salvadoran thinkers, artists, and scholars. These texts will allow me, I think, to process how I feel about a war I have no experience or memory of. I acknowledge the privilege I have in being able to read these texts as an outsider looking into the situation.

Additionally, while I was there, I came to another realization. My research question, in its current form, might not be as relevant to contemporary Salvadoran life. Instead, what often occurred during conversations with people, was a comparison between life during the civil war and life involving gang violence. In which case, most people considered gang violence much more fearsome and impactful to their well being than much of the violence that occurred during the war. Thus, this has made me consider tweaking my research question/ project a little bit more in this direction…

I have been collecting all my journal entries and am in the process of filing all my photographs from my trip. After I have processed my entries and photography… endless poems await.


Thank you for following this project!