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A story with no beginning and no end

Jessica Alegría

I come from Kuskatan. Today they call it El Salvador. My ancestors were either Pipil or Lenca or maybe even Maya, we’re not sure. I undeniably have Spanish ancestry. In 1524 Pedro de Alvarado, sent by Hernán Cortés, arrived in the area with the intent to colonize it and faced indigenous warriors. Today, most Salvadorans identify as mestizo, at least on paper. This cultural mix complicated things for me growing up: a culture that was out of reach.

My parents held multiple jobs when I was a child. We didn’t often share meals together because my siblings were older and my parents were overworked. The times we sat at the dinner table have remained in my memory as the most cherished childhood experiences. It was a sacred space.

These were the times papi would tell us stories; some of them were scary like when he saw la Siguanaba or when he had to sleep in the cemetery back home. Sometimes they were funny, like the one about him getting himself trapped in the bull pen. Some were about the war—who was killed, how, and what for. The ones about la guerra never quite seemed to have real endings. Luckily for me and my siblings, my mami and papi were skilled in guiding us out of war and our safe space was never broken, instead we would be laughing again before we knew it. I learned that laughter ties trauma and healing. I also learned sitting at the table about who I am, how to listen, and what my role in the family is. “Remember how good jocotes are?” my parents would ask with certain nostalgia to each other. “I love jocotes!”, I’d say not knowing what they were or pitayas, nances or marañones. “You weren’t there, you’re lucky,” my older sister would tell me. I wasn’t sure if that was true. I only knew I wasn’t part of their story.