Monday, March 30, 2009

Fiestas of joy and memory

I managed to go to two fiestas this weekend, first to Festival Verdad (Truth Festival) at the University of Central America (UCA) with my friend Lorena Cuellar and then to the Fiesta de la Mujer in Suchitoto, where Sister Peggy O'Neill, SC was one of the featured speakers.

At both fiestas, happy crowds heard glorious singing by the Mexican singer Maria Ines Ochoa backed by the group Exceso de Equipaje (Extra Baggage, a grand group of chunky middle-aged musicians led by Guillermo Cuellar, composer of the Misa Salvadoreña and Lorena's brother). Both fiestas had a much more serious side, captured in the image of a nine-year-old girl, Katya Miranda, who was raped and murdered almost ten years ago during Holy Week, with involvement of her politically highly placed father and grandfather. After ten years of failure to investigate and continued calls for "Justicia, ¡Ya!" (justice, now!), the grandfather and several accomplices were arrested last week, just before the 10-year statue of limitations would have prevented prosecution (see Tim's excellent El Salvador blog for more details). Katya's face, the face of the best known of El Salvador's many child victims of violence, floated above the crowd at both events.

But only in Suchitoto did I get to hear Peggy - Hermana Peggy to everyone in Suchitoto - make the stirring proclamation that opened the Fiesta in honor of the International Day of the Woman. Peggy created a call and response with Ana Maria Menjivar, Coordinator of the Concertacion de las Mujeres de Suchitoto (the Suchitoto women's organization founded by Peggy and Sister Pat Farrell). The women of El Salvador, they said, the women of Suchitoto are protagonistas de cambios para transformacion social y artesanos del futuro (protagonists of change for social transformation and artisans of the future); they are the ones who have said and proved that Si, se pudo - Yes, we could - in the testimony of their lives and especially in the recent elections. In following speeches, women's representatives presented demandas on the local and national levels for attention to the needs of women, children and families that will be delivered to the city and national governments. Behind the speakers and musicians flew a banner with the names of some of the Suchitoto women who have been killed and translucent flags with the beautiful, solemn face of Katya Miranda.

As so often here, joy and terrible tragedy, beautiful music and horrifying memories live side by side.

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