During the years of 1979 until 1992, there was an armed conflict between the military government of El Salvador and the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), five leftist guerrilla groups, which brought the country amidst a bloody civil war. Throughout the twelve years of the war death squads, forced and voluntary recruitments (even of child soldiers), as well as the terrorizing of mass civilians marked some of the atrocities experienced many Salvadorans were subject to at the time.
My dad was one of those civilians that were a witness to the hostile and violent times created by the war. “Fue una época muy triste aunque donde vivía solo se oía pasar los bandos de la güerilla y el ejercito (It was a sad time where one only saw the groups of the army and the guerilla pass by).” The town my dad lived in was subject to the targeting and terrorizing of civilians done by both sides of the armed conflict. On many occasions he talks about seeing “paros de transporte o enfrentamientos de fuegos cruzados donde morían soldados, guerrilleros y civiles (Transportation and crossfires where soldiers died along with guerilla fighters and civilians).” Not only that but my father was subject to toques de queda. These meant that civilians were prohibited from spending time out in the streets during certain hours of the night because of the inner turmoil plaguing the country. If you were caught you were sanctioned by law enforcement at the time. You were also subject to involvement in crossfire and possibly losing your life.
Apart from all of this, my father would say that what he remembers the most are the forced recruitments by both sides, “Yo lo que mas recuerdo son los reclutamientos donde agarraban a los niños para que entrenaran con la güerilla.” (I mostly remember the recruitments where the guerrillas would take children with them to engage in forced training). Not only was he restricted by the toques de queda, but also by possible recruitment from either side.
“Uno a veces tenia que salir corriendo a esconderse porque si lo veían nos reclutaban cualquiera de los dos bandos” (Sometimes one had to set out running, so one could hide because if one was seen by the any of the two groups it would end in recruitment).”
He learned to experience fear from both sides. He had to watch his steps carefully because at any moment he risked unwanted engagement in conflict. This would have meant traveling with army men or guerrilla fighters around the town intimidating others and relocating to the sites where they had headquarters. You were subject to any risk or danger. It was not a pleasant feeling, fearing for your life all the time. This became one of the reasons he, later, immigrated to the United States. He wanted to escape those fears and the atrocities that were occurring in his home country. “Yo quería salirme de ése sistema conflictivo” (I wanted to get out of that conflictive environment).
The movie clip shown below conveys to the viewer a particular memory of these times of war in the life of a young child. Growing up, my father liked to play this song, Casas de Cartón (Cardboard Houses), in the car and reminisce upon his upbringing. I remember him telling me about the FMLN’s radio station that was banned by the military. People caught listening to it could risk arrest and death. Yet he said, “siempre había alguien que lo escuchaba especialmente los campesinos” (There was always someone listening to the radio, especially the field workers.)” From those experiences, he grew familiar with the song. The song was “una de las canciones de la güerilla” (the FMLN’s song), which was a banned rebel anthem. The song talks about poverty and the misery that can be found along suburbs of Latin American cities. Stemming from belief that this was a criticism of their government, the military-run Salvadoran authority at the time banned the song from playing. One could only hear the song through this radio station, but it was very risky to do so.
Therefore, this clip below does a terrific job at highlighting the toques de queda at night; the crossfire experiences occur while the song plays in the background. The movie, it belongs to, is called Voces Inocentes (Innocent Voices) and is centered on a man’s war experiences, as a child. While watching the film my parents could not help, but reminisce about these times. It touched them so deeply that once the movie finished, my dad sought out his cassettes and played this song. All I remember is the house quiet and this song playing in the background.