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- My Home away from Home
- El Salvador is the tiniest country in Central America, not only the tiniest but it also holds the title of most-densely packed, with a population amounting to around 7 million and a square footage of 8,100 miles. My parents migrated from El Salvador in the 1990’s, they fled as refugees of the bloody civil war that wreaked havoc all throughout the country. I was born here in Fresno, California but when my friends or classmates would ask where my parents came from I would prefer to tell them Mexico, I’d already been through the line of questioning that always proceeded me telling them El Salvador. “Is that somewhere in Mexico? South America? What language do people speak there?” Very early on in my life I began to understand that my parents’ unique homeland drew attention to me, and as the insecure son of two immigrants, that attention embarrassed me. I used to groan at the thought of having to explain where my parents’ come from, but nowadays I’ve found more pride in my parents’ mother country, and the crown-jewel of that pride is the Pupusa.
- Pupusas are a thick flatbread made with cornmeal or rice flour. That’s not the most descriptive way of explaining it, but to be honest, I still have a hard time explaining it myself. I describe Pupusas as almost like a pancake, but instead of it being sweet and made of batter, it’s made of corn-flour, heated with cheese inside and served with Curtido, a cabbage relish served either on the side or on top of the Pupusas. Pupusas are traditionally a homemade meal, although as most other dishes, it can also be found in restaurants called Pupuserias. If Salvadorans are having Pupusas, you can be sure they’re either celebrating something or having a nicer-than usual meal with their families or friends. The reason behind this is that Pupusa making process is somewhat exhaustive, the Masa (corn-dough) has to be prepared from the corn-flour, then the cheese grated and mixed together with the Masa. In my family, cooking Pupusas is a collective effort, my mom prepares the Masa, my brother grates the cheese and I get the Curtido ready, all while my dad watches whatever big soccer game is on from the couch. Not only a collective effort but Pupusas are multi-generational, they’re a dish passed on from generation to generation, with this tradition now spreading even beyond the borders of El Salvador. This multi-generationalism to me is clear, when Pupusas were to be made, it was a common sight to see my father’s mother and my own mother working alongside together, battering and mixing the Masa in front of the burning hot stove. Pupusas are representative of a lot to me, they represent unity in my household, unity in my parents’ former homeland, and unity in the community. On numerous occasions my mother has offered to sell Pupusas as a fundraiser, whether it be for one of the clubs I’m in at school, our local church, or to pool money together so our whole family could go on a trip. The Pupusa is at this point, a national Salvadoran treasure, even having its’ own dedicated national holiday, National Pupusa Day, where cities in all of El Salvador throw festivals to establish Pupusa superiority.
- The Pupusa’s history dates back to pre-columbian civilization, to tribes of the Pipil. The evidence archaeologists offer to support this are cooking instruments, excavated from “El Salvador’s own Pompeii,” Joya de Cerén, the site of a native village which perished due to the volcanic ash of a nearby explosion (History of Pupusas). Although Pupusas have been around since before European colonization, it wasn’t until the 1960’s that Pupusas found their national popularity, and international interest. Around the 50’s Pupusas were mostly found in Quezaltepeque, or other central cities, but as time went on Pupusa stands began to pop up all around the country, and even in the neighboring countries of Guatemala and Honduras. In the 80’s, El Salvador burst into a civil war, the war was not only bloody, as both the ruling military junta and peasant uprising suffered heavy casualties (70,000-80,000 est.), but it lasted 12 years and resulted in the displacement of hundreds of thousands. This displacement wasn’t just internal, thousands of Salvadorans fled their homes to the United States, in hope of a brighter future and a life without political repression. With these refugees came the United States’ first Pupuserias, owned and operated by Salvadoran refugees. Pupuserias can nowadays be found in the more populous American cities, LA especially, and as far away as Spain and Australia.
- As I’ve grown up, I’ve noticed more and more that white people in the United States are poked fun for not having culture, although as a light-skinned middle class suburban kid, I didn’t really have one either, but not for the same reason. The effect of being part of the scattered half-Salvadoran population is that I don’t know a lot about my home country, I can tell you the name, I can tell you the president, and I can tell you some cities but beyond that, El Salvador is as much a foreign location to me as China is. I don’t know El Salvador, I don’t know the traditions of the country, I don’t know the culture of the Salvadoran people, but I do know Pupusas. Pupusas have been there for me since the first grade, the days that my grandmother would come over and help my mom, they’d make dozens, and my brother and I would always be lined up by the stove eagerly waiting with our plates for the fresh ones, the ones with the burning hot cheese that would melt in our mouths as we bit into the Masa. Pupusas aren’t Mexican, they aren’t a common Hispanic dish, they’re Salvadoran. My friends asked what Pupusas were and I couldn’t just dumb it down for them, I was in this way, forced to claim the tedious Salvadoran bloodline I previously ignored, and through this, a pride for my parents’ homeland grew within me ever since.
- Pupuserias hold a special place in my life now, and not only because of their ability to produce those golden-white packages of love, but because they’ve opened my eyes to the entire other half of my bloodline. As I’ve grown and become more conscious of the world around me, this consciousness has seeped into my understanding of my parents’ journey to America, and the hardships that came with that journey. I understand now that the brutal dictatorship which my parents fled, was funded by American dollars. I understand now that the United States is not an olive branch from the developed world to the poor and needy, rather it is a money-tap for global repression to leech from. I understand now that the refugees of El Salvador’s only hope in the world, was not their neighbors, not Europe, but the country which had armed the dictatorship which they were fleeing. After the civil war drew to a stalemate, one might assume conditions in El Salvador improved. They didn’t. The mess that the United States left in El Salvador transitioned the country into a center for wide-spread gang-violence, of which hundreds if not thousands of Salvadorans continue to try to flee to this day (Poston). Even revisiting their country, my parents had to bar themselves from going to some of their favorite childhood destinations, because they were afraid of being mindlessly gunned down by local gangsters trying to prove themselves. My Salvadoran heritage has made me conscious of the hypocrisy of the United States, this country is not all about freedom, this country is not some golden-hero in a world of foes. The United States, by far the richest country in history, sent billions in military aid, to the smallest, perhaps the poorest third-world country in Central America, so the Salvadoran government could continue to repress and slaughter its own people. Not only this, but under our government’s current direction, refugees of that same war, are being considered for deporations, not back to the homeland they once knew, but to an entirely different one, overflowing with violence and carnage.
- Pupusas are an act of resistance, they are wealth-accumulation in the face of imperialism from the world’s greatest superpower. For the working-class of El Salvador to revolt, and to break even with a dictatorship payrolled by The United States of America, and for those same Salvadorans to be run out of their own country, and to find success in the land from which their repression stemmed from, it is obvious to me that the Salvadoran people are a people of resilience. In every Pupuseria you can find the Salvadoran Flag, and whenever I step foot into a Pupuseria, it’s the first thing I do. I know now I am a product of this resilience, and I know that all other Salvadorans in America can tell a different variation of the same story, but that we are all survivors, and that we are all continuing the fight which our ancestors fought.
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