Letter, August 31, 1975

Hi Jan,

Harry Brokish, a guy I knew from Madison, and who helped get me into my present Peace Corps job, left for the States the 29th. Don’t know when or if I’ll see him again. My year in Peace Corps seems to have been an endless stream of departures and arrivals. In that respect, it’s a lot like college was.

You scooped everybody with the announcement about the baby { My sister Mary and her husband David had a baby boy who they named Bryan. }. Everyone else in the family has been delinquent in responding to my letters lately (or maybe my letters aren’t getting there, always a lingering doubt!). That news made a big hit with people here, they’re really into having babies as the population growth rate indicates. Considering that they’re already the most densely populated country on the American continent, & that the average age of the population is about 17 years, I can’t help but think all hell is going to break loose here when those kids start growing up. One of the Peace Corps secretaries (a Salvadoran) surprised me though. When I told her that my sister had had her first child, she immediately asked how old she was & I thought, “Here it comes, 28 and only having her first?” But she said she thought that was the right time to have children, & that she was only going to have one or maybe two herself, and that was that!

I’m glad to hear that Joyce is taking the “plunge”, and trying to get into a field more in line with her major interests. Hope things go well for her; greenhouse work can be really interesting if you put a little effort & imagination into it. The supervisor I worked under in the Horticulture greenhouses {at the University of Wisconsin} in Madison was very inventive & into his work.

Don’t let your reactionary superintendent get you down too bad. Living under this government is a little like what one might have imagined in the States if Joe McCarthy {Wisconsin Senator in the 1950s} or General Douglas McArthur had been elected president. Any opposition to the government is labeled Communist & the newspapers are so afraid of the military, who run the government, that they only print what they’re sure is safe. July 30th the university students {at the University of El Salvador} & some supporters held a “manifestation” {demonstration} in which they marched down one of the main avenues in San Salvador (It goes by the U.S. Embassy and Peace Corps office among other things.). When they got to a certain crossroads the National Police blocked their path, & when they turned onto another street the police opened fire on them. Estimates of the number killed range from 7 to 40, except in the newspapers where it is reported that 2 were killed. The newspapers also carried a lot of B.S. about how the students had opened fire first, & how they had caches of arms placed all over the city. No one I’ve talked to buys either of those “ideas”. One of the confirmed dead used to work at the school & farm near Metalío where I work. He was a university student, but devoted his spare time to organizing pre-coops {groups preparing to apply to the government to be recognized as cooperatives} & community self-help groups through CREDHO, the organization formed by the Episcopal Church for this purpose. He was well-liked by all the local people I work with. Kind of bums you out because he doesn’t sound like a violent radical, just a very concerned & involved person.

So anyway, the shooting of the students lowered {Salvadoran} President Molina’s popularity to low tide & he’s reacted by calling it all a Communist plot to steal the elections from his PCN {National Conciliation Party} party in 1977! You might call that a slight overreaction considering that the only other legal party, the Christian Democrats, have only 3 representatives in the national Congress. Veteran PCVs {Peace Corps Volunteers} & staff expect “something to happen” in the next few months. That could mean a coup d'état by other army people, increased action by radical & revolutionary groups, or who knows what. The government is in a real repressive mood for the time being.

Remember that girl who goes to the University I mentioned some letters back (#261, B)? We’ve had some real lively phone conversations about the political situation here, & what should be done about it. She vacillates between putting the blame on the military & the big hacienda {farm} owners & industrialists, and blaming U.S. corporations & foreigners in general who exploit the Salvadoran people. I argue with her, mainly over the all-inclusiveness of her condemnations, but it sure is refreshing to talk with a concerned & thinking person – especially here where so many women are only concerned with finding their breadwinner, and getting started on those 6 or 8 kids! Even so, she’s from a very tradition-minded family. I got her to go to the show {a movie} with me on Sunday afternoon, and not only did she bring her sister as chaperone (standard procedure), but she had told her parents they were going to church. I found that out when I insisted on escorting her home, & she was forced to explain why that was a no-no! Knowing that 20 year old women really are chaperoned on dates makes it easier to understand why going whoring is so common among Salvadoran men over 15 years old. It would be a real bummer to be forced to play that game for a lifetime, but I’m having fun right now (with the dating part, I’m just not the type to get too heavily into whoring), sort of like being in 7th or 8th grade again, but having the advantage of being able to see how ridiculous it all is, & laugh at yourself!

Well, so much for the local report. Hope you have a good semester. Bouncing back and forth between the liberal university & a conservative highschool on a daily basis, should give you some good perspectives on the relative realism of the two worlds, & their relevance to what you’re seeking in life. A lot of games are played in both places [OPINION], so a person has to find a place where he or she can seek goals that are real & important, and go.

Leaving you with that piece of very questionable wisdom, I remain,


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