Sunday, July 30, 2017

An Interview with Filmmaker Margaret Ramos - Ser Salvadoreño es ser Medio Muerto - To be Salvadoran is to be Half Dead

 Margaret speaking to students at San Francisco State University. Photo Credit: Javier Moreno-Vega

Author: Diego Mulato Castillo

I recall my father bringing home stone arrowheads. Rubbing his thumb against the carved edge of the stone, he said, “ can even tell that it is a little sharp here.” My father had always told me stories about Native peoples of El Salvador, especially the Pipiles, who built the ancient ruins of El Tazumal and San Andres.

It is sad, that in El Salvador, a large portion of the population prefers to claim Spanish heritage.  

In Margaret Ramos' film, Ser Salvadoreño es ser Medio Muerto, it was shocking for me to see a news clip of a person who occupied a seat in government claim that there are no longer any individuals of direct Indigenous ancestry in the country. He concluded by stating that, perhaps there were a few individuals in the Western provinces of the country, but not enough to be counted as a significant population. I found it disturbing that the man not only failed to address his own Indigenous ancestry, but also claimed that individuals of Indigenous descent are not worth mentioning, or counted as Salvadoreños. 

Margaret illustrated in her film how the massacre of 1932 in El Salvador, crippled the Indigenous population of the country. I had prior knowledge about the event, known as La Matanza, but it was a topic which I had never encountered in a classroom setting. I believe it is important to raise awareness regarding the massacres that occurred in El Salvador, and throughout Central America, so that both Salvadoreños and individuals from different backgrounds may learn about these tragedies.

Growing up, I felt that my experience and history was completely absent from my surroundings. Since middle school I can recall being assigned history books, and always flipping to the index looking for my homeland. To my dismay, if not absent, El Salvador only occupied a few paragraphs at most in the history textbooks. One grows up in a form of limbo, when one’s history and culture are completely erased from their lives. Margaret’s film not only brings attention to the genocidal trauma in El Salvador, but also allows individuals of Salvadoran descent to no longer be invisible—because representation matters. 

She also shared her thoughts on Roque Dalton, an incredible poet and social critic who was assassinated at the start of the civil war. Once again, I already knew and had read poetry by Roque Dalton, but to learn about him in a classroom setting was a warming experience.

Then, I experienced for the first time a side of El Salvador which I had never known. In her film, not only did she touch on the Native influence in El Salvador, but also on the legacy of Africans who were brought as slaves. I was unaware that African slaves had been at one time brought to El Salvador to work in plantations. It was eye opening to me, and it was the first time I had ever heard someone refer to themselves as an Afro-Salvadoreña.

After her film and lecture on the Indigenous and African roots buried deep in El Salvador, I interviewed Margaret regarding this complex legacy and her experience as an Afro-Salvadoreña. 

DM: There is a quote by Junot Diaz that goes, "If you want someone to obsess about a place burn it to the ground in their lives." Would you say that this quote speaks to your experience as an Afro-Salvadoreña and the erasure of places, peoples, and events in El Salvador?

MR: That is a powerful quote. Yes, I can relate to this quote because there is a certain impact that happens when your history is erased. When your history is not made visible or systematically eliminated, this causes a lack of resource, connection, and identity.

DM: El Salvador, despite being a small country possesses a rich cultural legacy. According to you how has an African and Indigenous legacy shaped El Salvador?

MR: It is visible in its music, dancing, its story telling and some of its spirituality. It is hard to provide examples since there are not many documentations. However, we hear it in our music, and dancing. The Indigenous spirituality is important because there is a lot of humility in the culture. 

DM: How do you see public awareness regarding the African and Native legacy in El Salvador changing? And what are your hopes for the future, as well as your message to a younger generation of Salvadoreñas/os growing up either in El Salvador or in the United States?

MR: There is now more of a visibility and empowerment in the Afro Salvadoran and Indigenous identity. Women are claiming their nappy hair and their skin "morena." There is now some documents and interest in the history of these identities. I think my message to the younger generation is to think for yourself, question everything around you and get connected to your ancestry. It is important to know where you came from and to know your story.

Diego Mulato Castillo is currently attending San Francisco State University and is pursuing a degree in Literature with a minor in Latina/o Studies. He resides in Sebastopol, California and enjoys reading and hiking.

Margaret Ramos is an Afro Salvadoran from Los Angeles, California, who currently works with English Language learners at a middle school in Santa Monica. To schedule a film showing or speaking engagement she may be contacted at:

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Indigenous Voices of Abya Yala (2011) Contributors

Joseph Ames is of Irish descent and is currently attending the Peralta Colleges in the East Bay.

Joel Kurke is a Blackfeet, Irish and Polish poet and emcee living in Seattle, Washington.

marcie rendon; white earth anishinabe, mother, grandmother, writer and sometimes performance artist.

Jennifer Lisa Vest is a mixedblood (Black/Florida Seminole) gay poet born and raised in Chicago, Illinois.

Mica Valdez is Native and mixed (mexica, swedish, irish, spanish, and african), two spirit artist working on Indigenous global issues to effect social change and protect mother earth.

Rebecca Ruiz-Lichter, xicana, born and raised in the bay area works with Decolonize Oakland.

Gerri L. Williams is from the Pacific Northwest; she is a writer, poet and singer with the Muckleshoot Canoe Family.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Poem by Joel Kurke

I’ve got a medicine bag
  full of poems and songs that treats
  like a natural antidote
 That was once lost but lives on
   with this smoke
   that floats off flames
   from these rhymes that I wrote
Then sprinkle me
 with the ash and remains
 so my pores will absorb
 these quotes to defend and cope
 with the ghosts of past mistakes
These words are like a life boat
  better yet a Red Cedar Dugout
  used to float
Past my old self
   who still crys
   for HELP
Beggin for change
   and cash on the Ave.
   one more hit
   one more brown bag
   with an aluminum can
   to withstand
   my PAIN
That’s why I PRAY
   all day
   to maintain
 Manifest Light Rays
   to blind old ways
   from coming out
   the dark place
   of my MIND STATE
So this day
I choose my fights wisely
  because the right way
  is to pave Red Roads
  Guided by my Ancestors Soul
  where the buffalo still roam
  on Pow-Wow Highways
Where the fresh water Always Flows
   From the Cascade Peaks
  Where Heaven and Earth meet
Towards Rocky Mountain Snow Caps
Melting from the sun
 Rising like yeast
 from the East
 to clear land
Where our Children live and play
   not growing up too fast
   but are able to understand
   what it means to Grass Dance
What it means to bring back
   The Ghost Dance
   our souls chant
Ancient Vibrations from Nations
That have been lost since the INVASION
That are now being Cultivated
 Communicated through
  states of
  Prayer and Meditation
This is the Voice of Creation
To all my Relations
 Spoken Words
 To kindle the Flame
 for the next Seven Generations
To nourish the ROOT
In the youth
With the Water that’s Fresh
It’s the TRUTH
   Happiness cannot be shot
   Through a needle that shoots
  Can’t be measured
  By the size of
  Your platinum necklace
Time cannot be bought back
From the choices we’ve made
   the only choice
   is to choose
To some life is just a game
Playing the high stakes
But who’s really getting played
   have we not had
   enough of getting sprayed
   with mace
   foot and ankle chained
   to Lies-N-Hate
It’s time we Remember
Our Elders Wisdom
   That is slowly fading away
   like other natural resources
   that face Extinction
My Grandmother’s Eyes
Tell a story of Traditional ways
  That existed before culture rape
   and black plagues
A time before
 Gang Violence
A time before
  Crack babies
 And mental Slavery
We used to live in HARMONY
   balance with all living things
   created in unity
Giving Respect
Because the Creator is
A Reflection of All Things
   The source
   The season
   The Life
   The Teachings
The Song is still Breathing
The Drum is still Beating
Connected to mother earth’s heartbeat
   Through Urban Jungles
    And Concrete
We rejoice and Give Thanks
For Good Medicine Willz
  Used to help Heal
  The ill ones
  Still suffering right beside us
A new beginning
All things go in Cycles
  Old souls are being reborn
  In the child
  Look at the Grandfathers Smile
                                                    We Missed You

 A-Ho Mitakuye Oasin
(We are all Related)

Hawk Littlejohn Native American Flute vintage 1996

Monday, May 9, 2011

Short Story by Gerri L. Williams

Winter Nights


Looking back on those years when I was out there on the streets I have come to realize it wasn't everything good. But also it wasn't everything so bad either. I would have rather lived a life of struggle than a life of having everything handed to me. I would have rather experienced the hardships and pain, because, it was a gift of strength to me. Not in the birthday presents or Christmas gift kind of way, but, a gift only hunger, cold winter nights and homelessness can give you.

As winter slowly arrives. Snow in the mountains. Winter chills outside, I am reminded of those nights that I lived on the park benches at the waterfront when I was 12-years-old. I don't know why I slept there with the Puget Sound underneath me but I did. I only had a backpack then. Jean shorts that showed my knobby-knees. And the blackened sky. The water pounding underneath me. And most of those nights I was wrapped in a winter chill with a pillow of silence. I wasn't scared. Although my stomach was begging and pleading with me for anything edible and threatened me with slight pains; I fell asleep OK.

I was curious waking up each day. Where would the food come from? What would happen today? Who will I meet? It was more of an adventure than anything. I would think of my family at times back home on the Muckleshoot Indian Reservation but slowly tucked those images away, those thoughts. There was a greater purpose for me out there in Seattle. I dont know why, but, it just seemed easier to me being out there in Seattle than being back home. A child knows their environment. The atmosphere. The warmth and coldness of a home. A child knows if the home is fractured or whole. A child knows.

I used to carry around with me many, many blank journals. I used to write down everything that happened each day. I recorded most of those stories in the journals that had family photos on them, mostly pictures of my little cousin Glorianna (who grew up calling me Auntie), but over time I lost every single one of them. Some people stole them at the homeless shelters. Some people stole them from my youth home (La'ba'te'yah) when I got there when I was 15. And the rest I lost in a house fire. Almost five years of my life when I was on the streets of Seattle lost. I remember the most important things though. The people. The love. The family we had. The hardships. The good times. The bad. But most of all I remember the ones who wanted something more for me. Those who wanted something better for me too. The ones who would invite me to Westlake Mall to get something to eat. The ones who would get a motel room for me for the night. The ones who would walk side by side with me and let others know that no one is to harass me, or else. And, the ones who invited me into their lives and stood side by side wtih me out there on 1st and Pike.

Yes. I am a sentimentalist. I was told that is my biggest weakness as a writer. But, this writing here is just for me. Not for a class assignment. Not for a college professor. Not for a publisher or an editor; just me. I have been writing since I was 4-years-old. I have since gone to the Institute of American Indian Arts in 2000 and learned more of the professional art and creativity of letters, lines, space and pacing. Stanzas. And point of view. Writing was always my greatest strength; poetry was always my first greatest love. I had all those journals with me in Seattle full of poetry, memoirs and thoughts. I wish I had them today, but, I believe there is reason and purpose for everything.

Even though I was 12 when I first got to Seattle, there were others who ran away at 8, 9, 10 or 11 years old. Some of them ran away with their baby brother or sister. Some ran away by themselves. But, we were all there just the same. Winter was the worst time for all of us. I think snow is one of the most beautiful of creations, but, to have to live in it, sleep in it and let it fall upon you insn't so beautiful.But, I always respected it and appreciated its beauty.

I am only reminded of those dark nights because of how cold it has been getting lately. Today is something beautiful and warm, but, the night is reminescent of my first days in downtown Seattle. Tears fell like crazy as I walked from my Burndale Home to the bus stop ten blocks away. Whenever I went to Seattle before that night I walked to 7-11 and caught the 150. It was a two hour bus ride between Burndale and the City of Sealth. Seattle was named in honor of Chief Sealth. Seattle was like an old Sepeh (Grandpa) gathering his children in the heart of downtown and uniting them as family; like an old Sepeh who still loved from the other side.

I don't know if you would call it Skid Row? But, my Uncle Jimi told me that he once used to live or hang out in downtown Seattle before, tool? Or, maybe he told me stories about other Natives living there, but, his generation had lived and survived there just the same. I wasn't a drinker. I never did any drugs like most people around me, but, I never thought any less of anyone either. Those were the people who kept me company and told me stories and ate Teriyaki with me on the corner of 2nd and Pike. Those are the ones who would walk through Pike Place Market with me and share a pear, plum or apple with me. They were the ones Chief Sealth placed in my life to uplift and prevent the worst that could have happened to me, because even though he is with our Maker now, Chief Sealth still hasn't abondoned his children.

As you read this you might be wondering how in the world did I end up in Seattle as a 12-year-old girl. Without blame and self pity I will tell you this: It happened because it was meant to happen. It was something that couldn't have been prevented or altered. It wasn't something so good, but also, it wasn't something so bad either. I had the right people in my life who helped me through it all: Demetrius, Playboy, & Tears. Others came and gone, but, those were the ones who solely remained. Omar, NS1 was there as well.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine's Day: Remembering the Missing & Murdered Native Women in Canada

Article by Joseph Ames

          The film Finding Dawn is about the unsolved cases of missing and murdered Native women in Canada. It starts by covering the story of a missing Native woman who lived on the East Side of Vancouver, whose name is Dawn. She lived a troubled life growing up Native in white foster homes. She was abused sexually at a young age while living in a foster home. When Dawn grew older, she followed a difficult path in life leading her straight into prostitution and drugs. On the days of her last known appearance, she was living in East Vancouver, a neighborhood known for prostitution and drugs. Several other Native women were also living in that neighborhood. Dawn's last point of contact was her sister. Her sister knew that something had happened to Dawn when she could not get a hold of her. The family reported Dawn missing to the police department and awaited any news. The police did not find anything leading to Dawn.
The director of Finding Dawn, Christine Welsh, brings attention to the unsolved cases of missing Native women occurring in Canada. The film develops many questions regarding the issue at hand. Why are these Native women being targeted and kidnapped? Why haven't the police caught any suspects involved in these kidnappings? Why is the response time for investigating the kidnappings taking so long? This film creates a public awareness in order to stop these outrageous crimes from continuing to happen. The film has brought the Native communities together to fight what is taking place amongst their people.
Many Native women have been kidnapped off of Highway 16 across Canada and their stories remain a mystery. Highway 16 runs from east to west across some of the most beautiful mountainous terrain in the world. There are so many firebreak roads leading off of the highway and heading deep into the mountains; they can be hard to locate anyone traveling on them. Some family members believe that because of the race of the women missing, that they do not have priority for the police department to look into. The families state that if the victims missing were white, the investigation done by the police department would be more thorough and evidence could be found.
The Native community has set up an awareness day on February 14 in Vancouver, Canada for the missing women. On February 14, which is Valentine's Day, the Native communities gather and walk the streets of East Vancouver. The walk represents an awareness that the missing Native women will never be forgotten, or become a closed case. There is still hope in finding them.
The film Finding Dawn was a rude awakening for me. I had no idea that this was going on in Canada. With the large amount of women that have gone missing, it is hard to comprehend that no one has been caught. Hardly any evidence remains in regards to the missing women. The question still remains, why hasn't anyone been caught yet for the kidnappings of these Native women? It is a huge controversy and the families of the victims are looking for answers. It seems that Canada just leaves the investigations up to their local law enforcement of the area the kidnappings took place. I would like to further investigate into the missing Native women of Canada in the future, and hope to see some important evidence leading to the findings of the person(s) of these cruel acts. I would also like to see the missing Native women's bodies be accounted for with a proper burial.


Missing or murdered native women list grows to 582

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Rainbows, Teddy bears, and drugs - Poem by Osita


I had a good childhood

Rainbows, Fun, and love

Rainbows at Santa Rita on Bright rainy visiting days

I remember the heaviness in my pockets,

The change I would put on my mom's books, thinking it would make a difference.

Walking around Oakland with the cops following us,

Being just a little girl and knowing what it was all about.

We always had it all

My mama took good care of us

Even though she was addicted

To that white powdery stuff

She was like a goddess to us.

I remember playing with drugs, cold guns, sharp knives, and cute little baby dolls.

I didn't even know my dad's name, yet the names of drugs slurred out my mouth.

Till this day I remember clearly the day they took my mommy away

The pigs pulling her away, I cried my little heart out trying to make her stay.

But they did not let her go, not even so she could explain

That day I met hate

I was a little girl who felt pain in her heart and hate in her veins

While other little kids were at home talking with their mom

A tear dropped on the letter I was writing to mine

I loved my childhood with big smiles, emptiness, love, and pain,

I don't want to live in shame when there's things I just can't change.