by Alana Epstein, Portland CISPES
November 2nd was a flurry of camaraderie and political education for the members and friends of Portland CISPES. It was the fourth stop in CISPES’ west coast speaking tour, which featured Cristina Cornejo, a youth leader of the leftist Farabundo Martí Front for National Liberation party (FMLN) and substitute Parliamentarian. Cristina was here to give us the low down on El Salvador’s basics – health, education, and housing. She also provided keen political analysis and urgency around the country’s upcoming municipal and legislative elections (March 2012), which has piqued the interest of a number of Portland people for the corresponding CISPES election observation delegation. It’s clear that the FMLN requires more seats in the legislative assembly to push and pass legislation to fight the socio-political inequalities of the country.
Despite the challenges presented by organizing as an all- volunteer committee, Portland CISPES hosted two events with Cristina: an afternoon talk sponsored by Portland State University’s anti-oppression club, Students for Unity, followed by an evening talk accompanied by Día de los Muertos decorations, potluck-style tacos, and live revolutionary Salvadoran music! The ánimo that Cristina brought us with her events and conversations was a big boost for our committee and a testament to the enduring strength of CISPES solidarity partnerships.
At 8am on Wednesday morning, I met up with Eric, a member of the Portland Central America Solidarity Committee (PCASC – long time CISPES partner), who drove us to meet Cristina at the airport after she arrived from San Francisco. Eric’s Spanish speaking and interpretation skills weren’t the only reasons it was great having him around (my Spanglish can’t always cut it); his upbeat attitude and willingness to take on some essential roles in the tour while being very new to CISPES are only a couple of other reasons. Another perfect connection was Cristina’s hosts – Salvadoran musician and activist Lolo Cutumay and his family. Eric and I brought Cristina over to Lolo’s house, where we chatted over coffee about El Salvador, Portland, people and music. Despite my poor Spanish, I understood pieces of the conversation – such as Cristina’s excitement about Lolo’s band, Cutumay Camones, which was played on Radio Venceremos, the civil war-era FMLN station. It was a treat to hear him perform music at the evening Día de los Muertos event and share words that spoke to the revolutionary spirit of the day.
The CISPES west coast tour and Día de los Muertos weren’t the only exciting things happening on November 2nd. It was also the day of mass general strike in solidarity with Occupy Oakland and Scott Olsen, who was wounded by a police projectile while demonstrating with the occupation. I appreciated seeing people attend the big strike march after and before the CISPES tour events, as opposed to choosing between the two. Our compañer@s recognize that it’s critical to engage in both broad and focused work for our movement to be successful, all the while staying educated. Cristina gave people a much-needed direct account of the positive changes occurring in El Salvador – information that is impossible to find in mainstream U.S. news sources; for example, that the Funes administration granted 17,000 deeds to landless farmers, who had been owed and denied these deeds by past right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) administrations. The realization of Salvadorans’ self-determination through the initial, small but significant changes happening in El Salvador, speaks volumes and helps us to see what our longer-term objectives are for organizing in our local context. For these reasons, CISPistas young, old, new and veteran look forward to the upcoming delegations and medical and literacy brigades.
Although we had many things to worry about to ensure smooth events on and leading to Wednesday, Cristina’s positive energy combined with multi-tiered support from CISPES compañer@s old and new connected me to a feeling, which Cristina used to describe Portland multiple times: tranquilo. We may be chill, but we are collaborating toward some big changes!