Political Rally in El Refugio

President Mauricio Funes of El Salvador

 I went to a political rally yesterday afternoon.  It was sponsored by the FMLN, Frente “Faribundo Martí” para la Liberación Nacional, the leftist party that won the presidential election in 2009.  A vehicle rode around town on Friday and Saturday morning announcing the time and the location.  I hopped on my bicycle around 3:00 p.m. and rode the four or five blocks to the red painted house with FMLN in white on its front.  I sat on the bike next to the curb while 100 or so folks sat on folding chairs under a street-wide canopy listening to a white-bearded man extolling the battles and victories of the party during the 30 years since the end of our civil war.  He spoke from a temporary stage also covered due to the intermittent rains that prevail this time of year.  The stage was shared by six other men and women in the bright red shirts signifying their party affiliation.  Among them was a young man in a regular shirt.  I didn’t know who he was or why he wasn’t clad in red.  Between the public and the stage along the curbs were other older men, perhaps veterans of the war, holding the party’s banners.  But there also were children whom I knew wearing similar shirts and waving smaller flags.  The usual complement of vendors were present selling ice cream cones and local drinks in plastic bags.

As the speaker concluded his comfortably brief speech, he let on why we were gathered.  Elections will be held next March in which voters will choose their representatives to our unicameral House of Deputies, our legislative body, and mayors for our 262 municipalities.  Other than the president and vice-president, the candidates for which will stand in 2014, we have no other elected officials.  This day, we would meet the party’s candidate for mayor of El Refugio.

His name is Daniel Marroquín.  He is from one of El Refugio’s prominent families and an engineer by training.  He spoke the traditional platform that all candidates use in local elections and which I heard so often in 2009 I could repeat verbatim their pledges.  He will concentrate on the youth to keep them from joining gangs (more recreation facilities), appoint a town council that will have better ideas for improving the lot of the poor, and work more closely with the government in San Salvador, where FMLN clout has been growing.

There was some entertainment.  Two young dance groups performed.  The first was of mixed gender.  The second was all male.  These people sported strange hair styles and clothing that was a mix of “Grease” and “Punk”.  A young girl danced a solo accentuating her flexible and wide-ranging hips.  A middle-age woman sang two songs.  An older man sang as well.  Karaoke style, to be sure.  During the singing, one of the local drunks danced and did somersaults.  Everyone laughed.  The final act was six mariachis from Chalchuapa.  They were not all that good.

By the end of the fiesta, I estimate there were at least 150 adults and children in attendance.  Workers served local treats while the red-shirted participants were served dishes of ayote dulce with a cabbage based garnish, salsa, and bits of hot spice.  I was pleasantly surprised when Hna. Lupita, who helped us get this house, brought me a dish and a baggie of horchata.  Candidate Daniel had been standing near me and came over to shake my hand.  I reminded him that I am not eligible to vote and forbidden to participate in political activity as a non-citizen but that I would support him in any way I can.  I’m sure he’d seen me at rallies during the previous elections.  For some reason, I am popular among the mayors and wanna-be mayors.  The party photographers enjoyed taking pics of the gringo waving little Carolina’s banner and thrusting my left fist skyward during the singing of “La Marcha” and intoning the words I first learned when César Chávez led a long march of farm workers through Oxnard, CA when I taught children of migrant workers there.  “El pueblo unido, jamás será vencido“.  The people united will never be defeated.

I have vague memories of Democratic rallies around Piscataway Township, NJ when I was quite small.  Also some of the stirring orators at various socialist-oriented functions at the Modern School in North Stelton, where I grew up.  So this rally was another example of how El Refugio takes me back to my roots and why I am so happy to finish my life here.  What can be better than to be treated with respect and as an equal?  To be called hermano, brother or compañero, comrade!

Jorge Schafik-Handal (1930-2006) FMLN Leader



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