Indians Remember 1932 Massacre in El Salvador

January 28, 2005

IZALCO – The few in this westernSalvadoran town who remember thewholesale slaughter of Indians by the anti-Communist military regime in 1932 are intheir 90s now, wizened and wrinkled, butstill with that horrible memory seared ontheir minds’ eye.In Izalco, the visitor still encountersunmistakably Indian faces and the distinctivetones of the indigenous Nahuatl language– vestiges of a remote past on theverge of disappearing in this CentralAmerican nation.Unlike neighboring Guatemala,where almost half the population is Mayaand millions of people speak indigenouslanguages and use traditional clothing, ElSalvador has become a thoroughlyMestizo nation over the last 100 years. Afew villages or towns in certain areashave clung tenuously to Nahuatl, Pipil orMaya roots, but those who remember theold ways are few and far between.THE massacre of an estimated 30,000mostly indigenous Salvadorans was carriedout over several days in January 1932on the orders of the country’s militaryruler, Gen. Maximiliano Hernández (1931-1944), who was determined to stamp outthe Communist Party formed by theIndians to press demands for social justice.The slaughter is remembered in lateJanuary each year here.“We’re not like the garrobo (an iguana-like reptile), which grows a new tailwhen you cut it; life left us forever andthen we had to learn how to live,” saidRamon Esquina, a 92-year-old Indian survivorof the bloodletting.Cristina Ramírez, 93, still wears thecustomary multi-colored skirt and loose fittingblouse, her abundant gray hair tiedwith a ribbon. Despite the passing of theyears, Cristina retains vivid memories ofthe aftermath of the bloodbath.“At that time, no one walked thestreets,” she said. “You didn’t see any men:they killed all of them. Others – poor devils- were captured.”When asked about the events of 1932,Hijilio Marciano Ama, the 92-year-oldbrother of slain indigenous leaderFeliciano Ama, is at first confused, butfinally manages to exclaim: “Everyonedied!” His brother Feliciano was killed andhanged from a tree during the massacre.THE Museum of the Word and theImage, one of the organizations behind lastweekend’s commemorative ceremonies,set up in Izalco an exhibit of historical photographsshowing scores of bodies piled upon the cobblestone streets of the town.Dozens of Indians gathered in thecourtyard of what used to be the belltowerof the parish church for a traditionalrite of fire and drums to rememberancestors killed in the massacre. At thecenter of the observance was an altarhonoring Feliciano Ama.Town resident Ricardo ArmandoRodríguez, 64, says that when he was ayoungster, a construction projectunearthed many skeletons near thechurch.His neighbor, 75-year-old AlejandroGonzalez, has only vague recollections ofthe 1932 bloodbath, but decries the failureof Salvadoran schools to educateyoung people about the atrocities.The authorities, he whispers, “aren’tinterested” in that part of history.

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