After spending a couple of days with the Escobars, I thought I should reach out to my father’s side of the family. My cousin Luis picked me up at my Aunt Dalilla’s house. We were going to his brother’s house for dinner. Before we got to dinner, we stopped by his house to wait for my cousins Cecelia and Doris. Luis lives in a small apartment on top of his father’s car parts and accessories store.
Luis’ father Mariano meets us at the doorway and invites us in so we can talk. I make my way up to the second level which is filled with chairs and other supplies. Clearly it’s being used as storage for the shop. We go up another flight of stairs to the apartment. There is one main living room. To the left is a kitchen and study room. The bedroom is to the right. The only bathroom is in the living room and is not entirely closed off. It’s tight quarters with little privacy, but it’s home. We take a seat at a big table in the living room.
I met Mariano once before in 1998. It was an emotional experience for his wife. She remembered bathing me the night before my mother and I fled the county. Mariano looks a lot older now. I don’t remember exactly what he looked like back then, but now he looks old enough to be my grandfather.
He tells me about how they used to listen to the clandestine radios during the war. They would have to turn the radio all the way down so no one could hear it. He explains that people couldn’t sit and talk as we are. He tells me how he and his wife helped my mother during the war. They took care of me and helped her get things she needed.
“Is this where you lived back then?” I ask.
He says “yes”.
I look around as I realize my mother must have stayed here with me. I can almost picture her walking around the apartment with me in her arms.
Talking to him reminds me so much of my father. The way they move is so similar. However, there is something different about Mariano. He is calm and collected. There is a sadness about him but he is not resentful. He has had a hard life and yet, I feel no bitterness or anger from him.
“Do you think things have changed?” He’s not so sure. He says, my parents fought because people were repressed and poor. 30 years later, they are still poor and all that is different is the leadership.
“What do you think about what they did?”
“Your parents were fighting for change. They believed in what they were doing but it didn’t turn out the way they thought it would. The U.S. was helping the government and this is why it didn’t work out”
I explain to him that I am in many ways the product of America. It was American foreign policy that separated me, and American culture that made me who I am. Then he says something I did not expected.
“It wasn’t the people of America that did this, it was a few powerful people who acted in their own self interest that did this.” I’m blown away by his insight and wisdom. Most of the people I have talked to about the war do not have such a clear understanding of the situation.
He talks about the gangs in El Salvador. How people will rob the busses and shoot you if you don’t give them what they want. Sadly he knows all to well how about this. A couple years ago his son was killed during a carjacking. He was sitting next to him when it happened.
“Thank God that you, Ernesto and Eva didn’t have to grow up in this.”
From where he sits we are the lucky ones. In his eyes even though we were separated from each other, we were still better off.
This trip has been difficult because it showed me what life here might have been like and it made me question the decisions my parents made. It made me wish for a simpler life, where my family is not separated. But what if we had never been separated? Would it have worked out like I imagine, or would life have been just as hard as it has been for Marino.
Would I have been happy with a life in El Salvador, or would I be searching for more? Searching for the life I have now.