Friday, November 14, 2014

Political Violence: Often there is no justice

Yesterday was the most powerful day for me. Most likely the few people who visit this blog already know my family’s connection to El Salvador. If not, you can read about it in the Family Therapy Magazine (page 22) – Here.  Yesterday we visited a community called Santa Marta, one of the communities most brutally impacted by the war in El Salvador. The most powerful experiences for me is to sit in a circle with a group of other humans and talk and that is what we did with the community yesterday. We heard multiple stories of valor, strength and examples of survival from people who lived through the most ugly and darkest of times.  I don’t know if being here this week has made my feelings about the path my brother’s life has taken less complicated. It has made the hellish context he came from seem more concrete and real such as the violence he was exposed to and likely experienced. There were so many instances of human life being valued so little. On the other hand, so many of the people who have opened their hearts and told us their stories this week have taken such a different path than my brother. When I shift my brain toward our ideas about therapy, I wonder, what is the difference that makes a difference in the path a person’s life takes after exposure to war and violence?

A lot of our most powerful conversations are not on the schedule. The bus driver who drove us to the community was talking with Choco and shared that he had been a soldier in the war. He was recruited when he was 10 years old. He said he didn’t understand the reason for shooting women and children and would try to shoot into the air. It put him at risk. His leaders would count his bullets at the end of the day and there was always the risk of being seen as not doing your job. You could be killed for it.

To negotiate a peace treaty, they granted amnesty to everyone. No one would be held accountable. I can understand that drastic steps sometimes need to be taken in order to bring about peace, but this week I am thinking about the psychological implications of impunity again (as I do in many contexts, like Cambodia and Mexico and the United States). Does justice need to happen for people to heal? I have to think not, because too often there will be no justice.

Santa Marta was powerful for so many reasons. Part of the group we met with was a women's collective. All over the world I have witnessed the power that women's collectives have on communities. Many of the women here, took up arms to provide security for their communities. Now they are taking up the charge for what their communities need today.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The assassination of six Jesuit priests

Yesterday was a good day. We ate breakfast and then headed to Boqueron where we took a trail up to a giant volcano crater. Tromping through tropical green vegetation and trees where the air feels pure almost makes exercise enjoyable. The view was incredible. The world continues to impress me. In El Salvador it is even kind of showing off.

Afterward we went to the church where Oscar Romero was assassinated. We were with Choco, Chacón and Alan. The collective knowledge of the three of them about El Salvador, history and Romero was remarkable. We talked for a while in front of the church and then we went to visit where he had lived. He lived in a simple little home across the street from the church. We went to the home and a nun in her 70’s, who was from Honduras and maybe 4.5 feet tall, gave us a tour. She told us after his murder, his heart was given to the nuns and buried in the front years of the home. Years later it needed to be dug up and she recounted how a miracle occurred and the heart had not decayed, which was interesting to me because a miracle is one of the requirements for someone to become a saint. I enjoyed talking with the nun. She was sweet and had lived a very interesting and international life. We had interrupted her studying English when we arrived. After visiting with her we briefly visited the church. I was glad I had shown the movie about Romero recently to a group of students in Mexico. It was strange to be, a couple of months later, standing where those events had taken place.

We then headed downtown to the cathedral where Romero’s body was interred. A person working there told us to notice the difference between that location and the cathedral above us. It was sparse. Few decorations, flowers or information signs while upstairs was ornate and decorated. It was explained to us that this was due to the political differences that still remain within the church. Romero remains controversial to many. An odd argument I have heard hear for why he should not be admired is that he went against the police and that rather than focusing on serving the church he focused on serving the people. That seems crazy to me because Jesus said, “In as much as you have done it unto the least of these my breathren, you have done it unto me” and “Love one another, as I have loved thee.” To me, serving the people would seem to be the same as serving God.

We just came back from seeing "La Hora Final" about the assassination of six Jesuit priests (as well as their housekeeper and her 15 year-old daughter). Ignacio martin Baro (the founder of liberation psychology being one of them).

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

After a 6:00am airport run, we had breakfast and then headed to "José Simeón Cañas" Central American University (also known as UCA) for the day. Chacón gave an incredibly creative workshop on Psicología de la liberación where he had an activity for each idea from an Ignacio Martín Baró article he covered.  I was really impressed. In addition to learning so many new concepts, I will be able to use those activities as a teacher in so many situations.

I am definitely leaving here motivated to read more and learn more. I don't like my habit of comparing experiences, because I should appreciate each one. Still, here is what I thought yesterday: I learned more in one morning than I learned at my recent multi-day expensive conferences. Now, there are different learning styles and maybe most people learn by sitting silently watching a person scroll through a powerpoint, but that is not how I learn.

After the workshop, Choco's mom brought us lunch and much more. As we ate she shared her experiences during the war. It wasn't planned and it was incredibly powerful. As I have witnessed numerous times, you often wouldn't know the hell that people have been through. Also, the beginning of the story doesn't give away the ending.

When we finished lunch we went on a tour of the university and the Centro Monsenor Romero where the assassinations of Romero, Ignacio Martin Baro and the others are documented. Martin Baro and seven others were murdered on November 16th, 1989 right where we were on the UCA campus.

“There are truths that can only be discovered through suffering or from the critical vantage point of extreme situations.” -Ignacio Martin-baro, scholar, social psychologist, philosopher and Jesuit priest

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Pupusas and Liberation Psychology

Last night Dr. Leticia and I ate pupusas with our friend Chacón and his girlfriend Jennifer. I have such admiration for Chacón’s passion about Ignacio Martín-Baró’s work and liberation psychology. He has been part of a project aimed at collecting everything Martín-Baró ever wrote, including poems, newspaper editorials and journal articles. He has put together such an impressive collection (and he has clearly read every item). He shared his opinion that many people know and admire that Martín-Baró was a psychologist and writer (and that he was murdered for his ideas), but few people have read enough to know why they murdered him—why his ideas were so powerful and thus threatening to those in power.

We learned during our last visit to El Salvador last June, that as is true in all countries, in El Salvador there is the range of political stances falling between conservative and liberal values. For example, we talked last night how not everyone here is happy that Pope Francis supports a nomination of murdered Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero for Sainthood. I don’t know why it surprised me last time, but also not everyone here is a fan of Martín-Baró. I am being more careful not to assume that this time. Of course there are different factions.

Four of our participants arrive today and the others in the morning. We will spend tomorrow at the Universidad Centroamericana "José Simeón Cañas" (UCA) orienting everyone to Martín-Baró (and Romero's) work and history.

Here is something I haven't experienced before. Today we took a taxi to make some copies for our welcome packet. The driver asked if we wanted him to come back for us. I explained that I wouldn't have a way to call him. He said "no problem" and took out his phone and gave it to me (after entering "yo" into the directory. At first I thought "Free phone! But repented and called him when we were done. 

We’ve only been here a day. This is what I am grateful for so far; learning new things, meeting good people, eating delicious things, thinking new thoughts and being inspired.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

El Salvador: Estoy en Camino

November 8th, 2014

I left my apartment around 3:30am and now I am in the Mexico City Airport awaiting my flight to El Salvador (via Panama). I was thinking about all that lies ahead for me this week and how excited I am to be able to be part of a program about liberation psychology and to be working with colleagues I admire. Selfishly, I am ready for something meaningful and to learn new things. So, I thought, I should do what I required of Intern Shareef and try to document this experience. If a 14 year old can do such a great job, surely I can force myself to keep track of the important events that occur too. Of course, he had an uncle who wouldn't let him go to sleep until he blogged. Still, even though he set the bar pretty high, I am going to try to blog each day this week because I think there will be so much to take in.

The program is part of our first attempts to develop professional relationships with colleagues in El Salvador:

We are already working with passionate liberation psychologists who are helping us create this experience and we were able to meet new colleagues last May when we went to set up the program. This week there will be liberation psychologists from all over Latin America who are gathering to remember the martyrdom of Ignacio Martín-Baró, the founder of liberation psychology. Here is a brief introduction from a class I have taught on liberation psychology:

My hope this week and really this year, is to deepen my understanding of this Latin American originating approach to mental health.

A funny thing happened this month. I will have attended three conferences in a little over a month. All are important and reflect different parts of my identity as a professional: The AAMFT conference, the National Latina/o Psychological Association (NLPA) Conferencia and now I will attend un Congreso de psicología de la liberación. The first two conferences were profoundly different in style, format and content. I assume the difference was in large part due to the fact that the AAMFT conference was primarily planned by white people in Leadership and a Latino leadership planned the second conference. Both were highly influenced by the fact that they were organized by people who, for the most part, live in the United States. I have noticed a big difference in style, format and content in previous liberation psychology conferences and I am am interested to see how this year's conference will be.