YOU / THEY ?
This post is a piece written by long-term Lutheran missionary to El Salvador, Rev. Brian Rude. All Saints had the pleasure of hosting a visit from him on June 29. This poem recounts, among other things, how young men would mark themselves with tattoos, and then be targeted by police for it. It is dated 2004.
YOU / THEY ?
You drove them from your homes, so they grew up in the streets. So why are you troubled that they have chosen the streets as their home, their turf to defend?
You expelled them from your schools. So why do you ostracize them for their lack of formal education, their lack of refinement and culture?
You never showed any interest in their life-stories, so they etched their stories into their bodies. So why do you label such expression a crime, even retroactively?
You refuse to employ anyone with tattoos on their body. So why do you condemn them for scrounging a living on the streets, or in your buses?
You provided no respectable structure or space in which they could grow up. So why are you distressed by the disciplined, regimented and rigid structures they have created to order their lives and neighbourhoods?
You treated their mothers with marginalization and disrespect, even brutality, providing little moral or financial assistance in their upbringing. So why are you shocked by the disrespect and violence suffered by the women in their street-gangs, which even they say is an improvement over what they had suffered at home?
You taught them that to take advantage of the weak – once though military repression, now through economic strangulation and corruption – is clever, even laudable. So, after a lifetime of being the weak and helpless victims, they aspire to display their strength and control by joining together, by intimidating and threatening with bravado, even weapons, sometimes wounding and killing – but, now when it’s them, you declare that reprehensible?
It is not enough that they commit crimes, like so many of their political leaders do – crimes of which you accuse them, but for which your prosecutors and courts and judges can find no evidence. For you, they ARE crimes, punishable just for being. So you throw them behind bars, out of sight, out of mind.
And then what?
When mass murderers and assassins from your ranks terrorized the country for two decades, you responded by passing the Amnesty Law and by giving the criminals cushy diplomatic positions, at home and abroad, ignoring the wisdom of the world.
When street-kids are suspected of the same, why do you respond by imposing the Anti-Gang Law, the “mano dur” (tough hand) (showing the same disrespect for due process, but now by violating basic human rights and international accords ratified by El Salvador, rather than by bestowing unwarranted privilege)?
You taught them that mutilating and killing people, and dumping their disfigured corpses in the streets, was the most effective way to resolve conflicts. Now that your “civil war” is over, why are you consternated to find mutilated corpses once again littering your streets?
You adopt and impose Washington’s foreign and economic policies with great enthusiasm, blindly boasting a great friendship leading to a promising, lucrative future. So why are you indignant when your sons adopt Los Angeles street culture as a measure of self-protection and a way of belonging?
You fill your newscasts with their voiceless, tattooed torsos, as if they were extraterrestrial monsters. Your media microphones, forced into the face of every other culprit and victim, are kept at a careful distance from these expressive youth, and your cameras focus on only the most lurid of their tattoos.
Have you considered that these are your sons, creatively adapting your values to their own realities, the realities you have created for them to confront today?
Please, leaders and fathers of El Salvador, take a closer look into this mirror you see before you, this mirror you revile as frightful and demonic. If you pause to look deeply into this reflection, perhaps you will see yourselves.
With some real and profound soul-searching, perhaps you will learn to love yourselves. And then, perhaps, you will be able to love your sons and daughters – for your own good, for their good, and for the good of this country that you share – a good to be enjoyed and shared well beyond election day.
What they need is what we all need – not primarily a “tough hand” policy, but an open ear policy – and open ear, open arms, an open heart. Imagine what they could give El Salvador in return!