Jessica Alegría, age 16, sitting in my abuela’s chair

Jessica Alegría, age 16, sitting in my abuela’s chair

jessica Alegría, part II

The past always returns. 1932, la Gran Matanza happened in El Salvador. Thousands of indigenous people were killed by the Salvadoran government and violence continued. They were targeted for their traditional clothing, language, and ways of life. Many renounced or hid who they were to survive. My father remembers hearing Nawat being spoken as a child but less so as he got older. None of my grandparents spoke it.

My mother’s acknowledgment of ancestry is spoken through a recognition of God: “My prayers protect you wherever you go, my mother prayed for you before you were born.” Her religion is colonial. This is sometimes difficult for me. Her spirituality, however, is distinctly hers and rooted in universal justice and so she has a unique way of expressing her understanding and experience of God. Sometimes she begins by preaching a bible verse and ends with critiquing capitalism. She weaves anecdotal narratives of God, culture, power, and politics beautifully providing a sense of comfort. Her truths have a way of making the essence of intimidating forces familiar like her sopa de pollo. Her way of being gives my life a magical realist touch. Miracles can be counted upon in the most difficult of times.

Papi says it’s okay to be shocked when injustices happen but never to be surprised. Do not be shell-shocked, he says. Keep moving. 

Civil war happened and my parents emigrated to the United States after realizing it was hopeless for them to try to raise my siblings in El Salvador. Having no money meant separating the family so they left my siblings there until my parents had saved some money in Texas. A coyote was paid a second time and my siblings made the journey swimming across el Río Grande. Now they were undocumented. My mom worked overtime and was paid under the table. My dad was detained and deported and made the journey once more. It was after this second time that he met me, a newborn.

Growing up I heard stories about the war. It’s strange to hear them within the confines of a safe place. I felt anxious and fearful, nonetheless. Perceptions get you. The people I loved the most had witnessed deceit, torture, and killings on behalf of peers so my parents raised us to be independent and the concept of community was nonexistent. Community is something I wish I understood better but at the same time I’m grateful for the space I grew up in. That environment taught me self-reliance, who and when to trust, and how to confront psychological and interpersonal violence.

As I got older I realized that not all Spanish-speaking kids’ parents were displaced. Some parents had attended university and came to Canada to be professors or doctors. I realized that some white kids and their families had escaped conflict in their home countries too. I always felt more at ease with them.