By Maly Thao
Maly received the Mary Witt Scholarship to help support her short-term travel to El Salvador in January 2015. The below is excerpted from a a reflective paper she wrote about the seminar.
As I sit here reflecting back upon my study abroad short term winter break journey in El Salvador, I keep going back to the time the group departed to Copapayo Viejo and was taken across the lake into the forest where we got a chance to listen to two testimony from the massacre survivors: Rogelio Miranda and Mercedes Menjivar. Both of these stories made a huge impact on me that I felt like I was there with them the whole time on their tragic journey. Most especially, Rogelio’s story because he went through and seen so much at such a young age. This man is so strong. If I were to imagine myself in his shoe, I would not know how to continue on living life being a massacre survivor.
I felt many emotions going through me as I was standing and listening to Rogelio and Mercedes. It was long listening to their heartbreaking stories in the heat and my legs started hurting but, I could not give up letting myself sit down. The reason why I choose to stay standing was because I wanted to feel what Rogelio and Mercedes was feeling as they stood and shared their story. Also, I thought about the long hours of walking the soldiers made all the survivors at the time traveled and some may have walk barefooted. My mind and emotions was all over the place.
Again, Rogelio’s story hit me the most. He watched his sister, aunt, and many loved ones from behind a line they were all standing in get shot at the age of nine years old. He was a smart boy who dodged death; his life flashed right in front of his eyes so many times and yet, he managed to survive. With this, he stated that he knew somehow God was protecting him every step of the way. I do believe in this too and that there is a place and a time for everything.
Listening to Rogelio’s story, I was drifting in and out of my mind. The experience that they went through, I can also relate it on to a personal level because my parents, great grandparents, and cousins went through a similar experience: their journey from the war that is known as the Secret War or Silent War. I know a little about my parents’ journey because they would talk about it when I was younger growing up. It was always tied into some kind of lecturing about how they struggled migrating to the United States of America and was not able to get all the opportunities here and we (their children) should go in all our ways to obtain the most of it for them. I knew my role as a Hmong American daughter and know well what my parents wants for us but, was rebellious because I have some things against my culture and still do. I struggle daily to see why the gender role is what it is today in my culture and is something hard to explain, but I realized that I never took my culture and its history in that serious. It was always like you don’t want to believe the horrible things a human being can do to another human being. I came to realizing that one’s culture is important because somehow, in some way, you will always come back to your own roots.
Again and again, the experience in El Salvador left me with a huge impact that I am processing all my thoughts down. After listening to both the stories, the group did a prayer together around a tree, and ended with giving each other hugs. We then got back onto the boat and I turned to glance one last time to the place we were at, and saw the sun shining onto the tree we prayed around on. At that very moment, it hit me that there in the deepest darkness tragedy one goes through, they can find the light (happiness) again. I am thankful for this powerful short moment of my life that impacted me in so many ways unimaginable.