The people of El Salvador have been crucified, they say. But that is the only way to be resurrected.
Laced through the memories of historically oppressed peoples, pain is a defining factor. The stories of those who have suffered, however, often tell more about what a group has overcome and claimed ownership of than about what has been lost.
When the Spanish conquered El Salvador in the early 16th century, the indigenous people of the country—namely, the Pipils, the Nahua, the Lencas and the Chordis—were forced to work for their colonizers growing and harvesting coffee and other exports. As the years went on and insurrection began among the laborers due to exploitation by the landowners, these indigenous people had to conceal their traditional appearance lest they be persecuted for inciting rebellion among the poor. However, while clothing, music and language were hidden for protection, they were not lost. Today in El Salvador, traditional Pipil dress and bits of language are interspersed within Salvadoran culture.
While the people of El Salvador have suffered through a long history of oppression, one of the most challenging periods in the country's history was the civil war of the 1970s and 80s. Scars of this war are scattered all over the country—on people's bodies and on the land. I believe scars are a form of nonconsensual tattoo, but tattoo nonetheless. As Wendt writes in "Afterward: Tatauing the Post-Colonial Body," tattoo presented a readiness to face the demands of life and was proof that one overcame pain.
To be ready for life means to be ready for pain, and to approach a situation with faith and strength. "La lucha," the Salvadoran word for a faith-fueled struggle for justice and equality, was the guidepost for the guerrilla group (FMLN) during the civil war. Though they were the group of poor, indigenous laborers who had been exploited for generations, they were able to survive the war and dream up a better future for El Salvador. Today, the FMLN is one of the top two political parties in the country, and the current president of El Salvador is of the FMLN party. This would have been unimaginable as late as the 1960s, but through their pain, the party has also found strength.
As the boy does in "The Cross of Soot," we learn that tattoos can encourage us to grow up and also mark moments on our journey to maturity. The FMLN party of El Salvador is quite young, and it is marked—forcefully—with the scars and tattoos of war. But like the boy, at the end of this dark journey, who holds up his hand in pride over his tattooed cross, the Salvadoran people who have lost and refound themselves in the struggle for freedom hold their suffering as a source of strength now that they have overcome it.