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El Salvador:la imaginación vulnerable. Versión en inglés

El Salvador:la imaginación vulnerable. Versión en inglés

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Published by Miguel HUEZO-MIXCO
Los desastres naturales no están tan presentes en la memoria salvadoreña ni en sus principales representaciones estéticas, pese a ser un país con altos índices de vulnerabilidad y riesgos. Versión en inglésl.
Los desastres naturales no están tan presentes en la memoria salvadoreña ni en sus principales representaciones estéticas, pese a ser un país con altos índices de vulnerabilidad y riesgos. Versión en inglésl.

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Published by: Miguel HUEZO-MIXCO on Feb 23, 2009
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05/10/2014

 
18
THE VULNERABLE IMAGINATION
MIGUEL HUEZO MIXCO
L
DIASPORA AND NATURAL DISASTERS INSALVADOREAN CULTURE
et me begin by telling you a story.Some one thousand seven hundred
This paper was first presented by Miguel Huezo in Spanish and has beentranslated by Marivic Wyndham. Jorge Avalos also made valuablecontributions to the English translation of this text.For Catalina, who made me her guest.
years ago, in a remote region of the worldwhich we now know as Central America,a terrible catastrophe took place. Thevolcano Caldera, at the centre of what isnow the territory of El Salvador, erupted,turning thousands of kilometres of landinto an inferno.
1
We can only imaginewhat happened. The little that we know,however, is enough for us to imagine thatit changed the nature of life in that part ofthe world. The spectacular explosions andthe aftershocks which were heardhundreds of kilometres away wereaccompanied by seismic movements thatchanged the course of rivers and levelledall that was standing.
2
For the unfortunateinhabitants of the area it was like arehearsal of the end of the world. Themagma produced rivers that embracedeverything they found on their path; fromthe crater of the volcano, as from themouth of a crazed giant, leaptinnumerable boulders of igneous stone.The fumes and the ash climbed to heightsof many kilometres, changed the colourof the sky and eclipsed the light of the sun,enveloping everything in darkness. Athick mantle of ash a foot high covered theground for many hundreds of kilometresand contaminated the rivers and theestuaries, killing animal and vegetable life.Nowadays, when excavating severalmetres below the earth in zones of centraland eastern El Salvador, labourers ofpublic works and archaeologists find acoating of white earth superimposed overancient strata of earth sedimented overmany centuries. In that layer not so deepis found inert, the memory of the
 
horror.Our imagination, heir to the horrorsof the twentieth century, can only comparethat catastrophe to a nuclear attack of greatproportions. Thousands of people musthave died and many other thousandswould have been forced to flee, never toreturn. When the fires subsided, some
 
MIGUEL HUEZO MIXCO The Vulnerable Imagination
19
witness, if indeed there were one, wouldhave been in the presence of a chillingpanorama: ten thousand squarekilometres, way beyond what the eyecould see, had been left desolate, withouttrace of life. For a large country, such asurface, though not insignificant,represents only a small piece of its map;but I ask you to imagine, just for amoment, what this signifies in terms ofspace for an inhabitant of my country. Tenthousand square kilometres representshalf of the surface of my country.Despite its severity, the eruption wasonly one of the many frequent anddevastating earthquakes that have takenplace in that land bristling with volcanoes.Wherever one looks, a volcano dominatesthe horizon. For ten years those samevolcanoes, surrounded by highways, werethe sanctuaries of the guerrillas. Theprincipal Spanish cities in the country,baptised with Christian names (SanSalvador, Santa Ana, San Miguel, SanVicente), were always founded alongsidea volcano. They are the representation ofVulcan, the terrible Roman
 
blacksmith.And of Zipacana, the choleric engineer ofthe underworld of the maya-quiché. If webelieve in mythology, sooner or laterthose volcanoes erupted due to thedevastation of the woods, which willawaken once again and their fury will belike a revenge. They seem to be there toremind us of the histories of innumerableshocks that took place long before theirtorrid interior valleys were inhabited.But, in fact, such happenings, such aseruptions, earthquakes, floods, ‘sleep’ ina security zone of the hard disk of ourmemory. Even the most recent seem tohave been forgotten all too soon. (In thelast century, there have been at least fiveearthquakes.) When I speak of suchthings, I am reminded of a personalexperience during the civil war. Thoughit may seem incredible, while the jetplanes and the UH1H army helicoptersshot their interminable rounds ofammunition, we would be momentarilyasleep in the trenches. It has been proventhat the body subjected to the stress ofviolence distils a certain substance whichre-establishes some equilibrium withoutwhich one might become insane. As theysay, pain brings its own anaesthesia. It isonly in this way that I can explain in partthe sleepiness of the Salvadoreans in theface of our history.Let us return to our story. Severalgenerations had to pass before the area ofdisaster could return to a place ofhabitation. It is difficult to imagine thatthe lead-blue sheet of water which is LakeIlopoango, its surface now disturbed byboat builders and motor boats, was oncethe mouth of that cataclysm. Surely formany years that territory was regarded asa cursed land. Little by little, new wavesof migration by groups of Mayan Indiansand Mexicans began arriving at ‘groundzero’. There is evidence that around thesixth century of the Christian era, migrantsfrom the north and the south of thecontinent began to change that awfullandscape.
3
In a strict sense, the culturewas born of the ashes. There were builtthen the clay huts for the masses and themonumental centres with their amazingpyramidical temples destined for thehigher social hierarchy; weddings werecelebrated, and business carried on, andthere were also wars; there were builttrastos (a piece of furniture or junk) forthe kitchen and jewellery; basic grainswere cultivated and paths created. Thatprocess took centuries. The last migratorywaves came just within 300 years of thefirst Spanish expeditions of 1524originating from Guatemala. The brutality
 
Humanities Research 
Vol. 10 No. 3, 2003
20
of that encounter finds a pale reflectionin the stereotypical images of the Lienzode Tlaxcala, which is like the portfoliosof an unimaginative artist.
4
Contrary to the romantic legend,indigenous societies were not gardens ofdelight. The social contrasts must havebeen great. For example, in the placeknown today as San Andrés,
5
sometwenty minutes by car from the capital,which flowered between the years 600–900 of our era, of that splendour only thevestiges of the monumental conglomeratein which the powerful lived remain. Thearea that held the homes of the poor hasnot been sufficiently excavated, butarchaeological researchers estimate that itwas not very different to the area of bayhuts and cane of Joya de Cerén
6
(300–900of our era) which the archaeologists, witha poor sense of scale, have named ‘thePompeii of America’. In fact, that suburbof agriculturalists bears no resemblance atall to that opulent bathing place that is theBay of Naples. Herein lies an unfortunatecomparison.The Spanish conquistadores thereforefound themselves in a highly hierarchicalsociety at whose peak was found acomplex mix of wealthy families of nobletitles, military chiefs and religious leaders;and in the middle and lower classes,soldiers, merchants, hunters, farmers,artisans and prostitutes. I will not enterinto detail about the new disasters thataccompanied the coming of theEuropeans; suffice it for the moment tomention the butcheries of the wars ofconquest, the deaths caused by forcedlabour and — worst of all — the plagues.The first century after the coming of theSpaniards brought about a major drop inthe indigenous population.
7
The countrybecame a death camp. Malaria, yellowfever, measles, smallpox and tuberculosisspread with the speed of lightning andextinguished humans in large areas of theland. The tale of a cleric in 1636 isterrifying: ‘I have seen large indigenouspopulations almost destroyed after theindigo sawmills were installed near them… Several times I have witnessed a greatnumber of Indians with fever and I havebeen there when they have been takenfrom the mills for burial.’
8
The years have passed and in ‘groundzero’ there has developed a culture which,as if in a fatal cycle which defies theimagination, continues to live under thesigns of the diaspora and the disasters. Butit is the imagination itself which seemsstubbornly to resist leaving a freshmemory of such misfortune.We are aware that the fountains ofknowledge symbolic of the past expressthemselves principally in literary andpictorial ways. My argument insists thatcertain origins of today’s Salvadoreansand their identity have been shaped, andare the way they are, partly due to theabsence of elaborate forms ofrepresentation from the arts and literature,capable of spilling themselves over thesocial corpus and of creating imageswhich would grant greater quality to thatkind of traction which is the memory, andwithout which societies seem to lose theirgrip as they step on the ladder.In El Salvador there exists a kind oflethargy of the arts and literature — andit is even worse in the field of scientificresearch — in relation to our history ofnatural calamities.Shouldn’t we, the writers, the painters,the musicians, pause more often in thoseplaces of grief?Perhaps it is not possible for us to offera response to such a question with thetools of psychology or sociology, butrather, as a
zahori
(clairvoyant), through

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