Love, War, and Revolution, Central American-Style

Michelle and I moved to Central America in the mid eighties (that pic is of us in our first glory days of living in a Nicaraguan war zone). We were part of a small population of liberals who were protesting U.S. policy in the region. We moved to Nicaragua, to gather reports on atrocities that the civilians suffered under the hands of the U.S.-backed Contra forces. We held deep beliefs about fighting injustice. And I was hungry to find something that I had thought I had lost.

We graduated from college then moved to Nicaragua. Idealists, romantics, existentialists, young—we were all that. And we believed, deeply, in what was happening there—a revolution that had broken the yoke of a dictatorship, and a people ready to lift themselves out of poverty. Neither of us has grown out of those naïve notions.

When we moved there, my Spanish was torpid, half-lost in the years after my family had moved from San Francisco to Tennessee. But my mother had raised me in enough Salvadoran-ness to keep the pulse going.

Wherever we went, I carried a journal and a Spanish grammar book with me. I Centralamerica2jotted down words I’d heard during the day and memorized vocabulary each night—thirty words a night, that was my goal. I studied the past perfect subjunctive until it pranced in my skull like a show horse. The accent in Nicaragua had resonances of my mother’s lilt. It felt familiar. I was getting closer to my roots.

And we were getting closer to the history of violence that had plagued the region throughout the twentieth century. The Nicaragua revolution of 1979 began in the 1920’s, when a dictator named Somoza got in bed with President Roosevelt and terrorized his own people for fifty years. Later we moved to Guatemala and worked in a Mayan Q’eqchi’ community in the country’s northern jungle. We made trips into El Salvador to visit my family. All during those years, I studied everything from the Mayan cosmos to the coffee plantations of my blood-country, coffee that made a few Salvadorans rich and the majority poor.

I was learning my culture. I was learning how much that culture had suffered under the hands of others. I wonder, did I know then that my need to live in Central America had everything to do with surviving my own past of childhood trauma? Because now, looking back at the young Marcos, it’s so obvious. But back then, I thought only in terms of The Cause, Justice, not knowing that those same words would inevitably play a role in my own fight for freedom, my own need for a personal revolution.

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