The day I was inspired to write this I turned 23. I went with a friend to the Photographers Gallery in London, where there was an exhibit on Human rights. Some of the photographs were of Oswaldo Iten, shots he took throughout the 80’s on the Salvadorean Civil war.
It is hard to describe, but as I saw these images, I could only imagine the shattering of lives through unspeakable violence, and only in my imaginary could I see it, but I could nonetheless feel the breaking of my own bones as it was my father, his friends, my family, and my people that suffered at the hands of a regime that knew nothing of the humanity of their own flesh and blood.
There were two images that struck me. The first was of a man lying on the pavement of the University of El Salvador, bloodied notebooks and paper all about him, lifeless. I have not the words to say how I felt, to know that the man before could have been my father, and was in many ways my father, for not only was life taken that day when the military destroyed the University, but life was taken both of soul and mind, for that death was the death of a dream born but never allowed to grow.
The second was of a line of students being searched by men with guns and in uniform. My father could have been one of those men, and he was one of those men, deprived of something so many worked so hard for. I wanted to cry at that moment, wanted to reach out and hold him, and tell him to be proud despite his dream deferred, a dream deferred but not by his lack of will.
Then I thought of myself, and of my failure to be brave. These students were brave. They marched forth against the government, against the closing of the University, and as they marched, they were beaten. Not only that, but as the man with his notebooks walked to his classroom in defiance, they were killed mercilessly.
I have not been brave. I have the opportunity, without the fear of bullets and steel and bombs and death, to fulfill a dream, to mold it into reality, to break and remake knowledge in my own image, an image that has been passed on from the four corners of the earth, the steeps of the Andes, the brown of the rainforests in Central America, and the sleepless concrete walls of New York. But I have lacked bravery, for I have forgotten that what I fear is small compared to the fear those students had, a fear they conquered, a fear they did not allow to devour their spirits.
The connection I saw when I saw those images is yet unclear to me, but I felt it. Perhaps it is the pride my father has in me, more likely the pride I have in him. But it is there.
I move forward, in memory of them and my father, with courage. The academy, a space colonized and recolonized, the intellectual center of empire, will no longer make me quake or make me perceive in the mirror someone small. I will walk the ivory halls and paint them as I see fit, for no bullets exist to scare me from doing so, not like those that shot through dissertations incomplete in El Salvador, through minds unfinished, through hearts too young to stop beating. I do not walk unscathed, but if they could do as they did, so can I.
I move forward, with a bravery inspired by those who were braver than many I know now, especially in the academy, for all of us now are complicit in the production and reproduction of a system of elitism disguised in meritocracy, a colonial illusion that is defended with logic and rationality. I move forward, unafraid of the consequences, for if my father could face bullets, I can face the sharpened words of those who think themselves untouchable. I can pierce the armor of the White Tower and rebuild it with my brothers, sisters, mother, and my father.
Prometo, por el resto de mi vida, ser valiente. Que viva nuestra memoria!