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  • Writer's pictureDra. Siu


Updated: Dec 14, 2021

SHE was born behind a rock, atop the Santa Lucía hill in the Pipil region of western El Salvador.

SHE was born behind a rock, atop the Santa Lucía hill in the Pipil region of western El Salvador. Her father was killed soon after, while he labored at one of the coffee plantations in the region destined to keep indigenous workers trapped in the 500 year-old cycle of colonial impoverishment. Her mother suffered a heart attack not too long after. While walking up the hill, they say, on her way back from the market where she'd sell fruits and papas. So SHE became an orphan while still a toddler; and her four older sisters while still children, with nothing more than each other, their shared will to survive, and a maternal grandmother who stepped in to feed them vegetables and fruits she grew on the hill, and eggs from the few chickens she had. Their house was made of mud. And the only school around was in town, below and away from the hill. The oldest of the sisters, Rosita, decided to look for homes for her siblings, managing to place all of them in government and church run orphanages, separately, as no orphanage would take them all in. In the process, various "well-off" couples and rich women from San Salvador offered the oldest sister to adopt HER so that SHE would become their maid, but this oldest sister refused these offerings. More than once.
SHE still remembers the day Rosita dropped her off at the orphanage in San Salvador. Standing under the church bells, tears of hard-felt pain ran down her cheeks as she waved her sister, and life as she knew it, too early of a goodbye. The year was 1954. And SHE was only six years old but one who had already experienced a life-time of losses. No mama. No papa. And no more siblings or family to reach out to, or call home. SHE felt and knew herself alone under those bells, tears falling straight into her vacío.

At the orphanage, SHE started trapping bees and stinging herself with them because each allergic reaction would get her immediately released from whatever activity she had to partake in at the orphanage, and directly taken to the nurse's office. The nurse's office was her one secret happy place, you see -a unique opportunity to silently marvel at nurses in action treating anything orphanage girls would go in for: menstrual cramps, fevers, coughs, and in her recurring case, bee stings. There, SHE'd remain in awe at how the nurse treated each of the maladies, amazed at the science behind the medicine offered or the logic behind the remedy. How do those doctors and nurses know how to cure? How does the medicine work? She wondered always in amazement. And so she faked longer lasting pain every time she made it in that nurse's office just to remain there, listening, observing every movement and decision made around her, knowing she'd figure out the way to becoming a doctor one day; knowing she would let absolutely nothing stop her from achieving this goal. And neither the war that was already in the making in El Salvador, nor her condition as an orphan, stopped her from making it out of El Salvador years later, soon after completing her bachelor's degree in 1969. A stellar student, SHE managed to obtain a $100 scholarship from the Guatemalan government for nursing school in Guatemala City. And with a small red backpack containing absolutely all of her material belongings, which weren't much, off this woman went on to the pursuit of her dreams.
The $100 got her the bus fare from El Salvador to Guatemala, housing and food for a month, and the initial school fees. $13 were left after these expenses were met, which SHE used for toothpaste and a new pair of shoes. Nothing detained her. As a graduated nurse, SHE then worked night time shifts to pay for her medical school at the Universidad de San Carlos. SHE paid no attention to men nor their multiple expressions of interest, and SHE hardly ever went out to enjoy night or day activities with friends. SHE had no time to play. She slept very little, 4 hours the most, she tells me, for all those years straight. And during the 7.5 earthquake which struck nighttime Guatemala in 1976, she didn't sleep for five straight days. More than 23,000 people lost their life that night, over 70,00 were left injured. She spent those days and nights moving bodies and rescuing lives. She then started traveling outside Guatemala City, treating and researching neonatal tetanus, mostly among Maya marginalized communities without access to healthcare, children born outside of hospitals. She wrote all her findings down, in a book, and left it all documented, contributing to the treatment of the disease. The war in Guatemala was well underway. And throughout her journey as a medical student SHE remained committed to treating the wounds of war and impoverishment. Once SHE graduated in 1978, SHE continued her commitment to treating marginalized communities in Central America, reason for which I grew up surrounded by hundreds of chickens, rabbits, and doves. Because people always show their gratitude in the ways they can. This SHE is my Mama. And I honor her strengths and journey every single day. SHE is my fire and connection to a long line of Pipil women who despite the odds and colonial impositions plaguing the Central American region for centuries, have continued, firmly, despite time and colonial patriarchies, insisting on our right to live in the expression of our full potentials while securing the fire to destine our own bodies and paths.

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