After several trips to Latin America and always returning home to the same well meaning and generalized inquiries of "how was your trip?" I’ve come to realize that I don’t really like talking about my travel experiences. I realize that I feel like one can never truly convey the stark differences in realities of life for people living in the first and third world, and you can never fully express the amalgam of thoughts and feelings that such an experience might provoke within you.
More importantly, it feels impossible to express the full magnitude of the struggles and injustice faced by folks in local communities, and simultaneously impossible to express the amazing strength, resiliency, and optimism that these people carry with them on a daily basis- strength and resiliency which most Americans have the luxury of never having to conjure within themselves.
When I returned home from my delegation to El Salvador, I had the same instinct. Not wanting to shallowly oversimplify the complex and incredible narrative of the power, plights, and collective journey of the Salvadoran communities we met and learned about, I resisted opening up about the experience to friends and family. But after realizing that I was surrounded by people who genuinely cared about the information I might have to offer, and remembering the genuine desire of the people we met to have their stories shared and told, I challenged myself to do those folks justice, and share the details that I had learned while away.
The story that I walked away with is one of amazing conviction and endurance on the part of the Salvadoran people and an impressive power for collective organizing and communal strength on the part of the people we met. I was humbled to be taken in and cared for by a community with minimal material resources but an overwhelming reserve of knowledge, wisdom, perseverance, and hope, and was inspired by the feats that the village had overcome together since the beginning of their resettlement.
The issues that affect the quality of life for the people in Guajoyo are on par with the issues that plague communities around the world- climate change, economic exploitation, violence and poverty. It’s easy to feel removed and protected from these realities as an American, and it’s easy to forget what it means to actually survive in this world when you live a life where everything is accessible to you and life is expected to be a comfortable routine. For this reason, getting out of that protective bubble to me is crucial, not only as a necessary reminder and lesson to myself, but as a perspective shift to Americans who have never been exposed to the way the majority of the world lives.
The people of Guajoyo and El Salvador serve as a critical model of the power of collective organizing and autonomy, and what it means to lead a life based on self determination and a fierce will to not only survive, but thrive while going up against all odds. For this I am thankful all the people we met, and I will carry the experience with me as I construct my own life and make big and small decisions about how I carry out my own survival- in a society which prioritizes oneself over all others, but in a world which begs to differ.
By Rosalie Miller