By Gabriel Lopez Kafati (he/him/his), President of ACB’s Affiliate Blind LGBT Pride International
September 15, 1821: A day of jubilee for the 5 sister nations of Central America. 5 nations that make up the heart of the American continent: Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. This was the day in which they gained independence from Spain. After 3 centuries of oppression and slavery; after 3 centuries of helplessly witnessing how their native cultures were trampled and forced to extinction. The Mayans and the Lencans were just a couple of the native tribes that wondered what was so special about those shiny-colored metals that were being extracted from the very center of their beautiful mountains. What was so important about these metals that was causing Spaniards to kill for a handful? What was so special about corn, potatoes, and other gifts from the rich Central American soil that made the Spaniards enslave them to produce more and more of them? What were those artifacts that, with a loud bang could end a person’s life with a mere movement of a finger?
Contrary to common belief, the native tribes of Central America were civilizations that had progressed in advanced areas of knowledge- agriculture, architecture, astronomy, and other areas like arithmetic and the healing properties of plants and trees. They had developed their own division of labor and hierarchies. They were even able to barter goods between tribes. They had figured out an alternative to war by solving conflicts over territory by playing a game using a ball made from the latex of the rubber tree or Castilla elastica. The Central American tribes were welcoming and curious; they thought the gifts from mother Earth were meant to be used for gifts, to indicate hierarchy, or to celebrate special occasions. They were puzzled over the fact that their 1492 “visitors” would nearly become insane over the desire to accumulate these simple gifts from nature.
Under the belief that they had discovered an alternative route to India, the Spaniards called the natives of Central America “Indians.” The 3 centuries of Spaniard colonization gave way to a new race. Spanish blood started to mix with that of natives and Africans who were brought to the area as slaves. The Spaniards who kept their lineage intact were known as Colonizers. The groups that resulted from the mix between Spaniards and natives were known as “Mestizos.” The groups that resulted from the mix between Spaniards and Africans became “Zambos.” Even though their was a new composition in the Central American population, the Spanish Monarchy established that Catholicism would be the official creed of the land. Anyone who opposed indoctrination or who practiced what became known as “pagan practices,” was sentenced to death. Similarly, all of those who opposed adopting other aspects of the Spanish culture were punished using torture. 3 centuries became the time it took for the imprint of colonization to give way to what became the Central American culture.
While September 15, 1821 marked the political liberation of Central America from Spain, the remaining culture was marked by the preceding centuries of oppression. Now, a different kind of struggle began. There was much divisiveness amongst cultural, religious, and political groups. Everyone went into survival mode; different groups starting competing for political power; everyone was fighting for a place in the new system. Many felt that Central America should request to be reinstated as part of the Spanish Monarchy. Others fought for the unification of the 5 countries, but were deemed revolutionaries and sentenced to death. This era marked the future composition of Central American society.
Today, Central America’s socio-economic composition is known for the prevalence of those who are extremely rich and those who are extremely poor. Corruption at the government level is the first, yet not the only cause of this disparity. The clash between the unmaterialistic lifestyle of the natives and the ambitious, power-driven lifestyle of the Spaniards gave way to a society in which the possession of richness became the necessary means of survival. Today, Central American countries do not solve their differences by playing a ball game; they actually go into wars over a disputed soccer match. The constant struggle of these countries stems from the fact that they inherited a sense of shame for their own culture. 3 centuries taught them that imported goods were better, that imported ideas were superior.
During the 1900s, the Central American nations started to live on hope. These 5 countries started looking up North for hope. As was their culture, they grew admiring a nation that, though young had emerged to become the leader of the free world. Everything that came from the United States of America was received with great admiration and respect. We substituted pupusas with burgers. Kids would be ashamed to wear chancletas while their peers wore Nikes. Furniture made out of mimbre was frowned upon when compared to Ashley.
It is not difficult to infer that Central American people evolved from admiring and desiring US foods, ideas, and products, to wishing to import the American lifestyle. It seemed easier to try to emulate a system that had proven extremely successful, than trying to make progress with what we had. Of course, this was bound to fail. The result? A group of people who insisted in conquering the American Dream and a group of people who started an anti-US campaign. Amongst the first group were those who were able to establish the American lifestyle within their own microcosmos; the ones who decided to venture through the Río Grande risking everything to fulfill the American Dream; and those of us who were blessed to migrate legally and become a part of this great nation. Despite the apparent differences between all of us, one sentiment unites us all- the hope of being a part of the opportunities unique to the United States and living in the freedom guaranteed by the most emblematic symbols of the United States of America.
Today, as we celebrate 2 centuries of independence from Spain, and as we start celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month, I would like to highlight a few things. Central American people are, by nature caring, decent, humble, loving, passionate, and respectful. Like everything in life, there are exceptions to the rule. On one side of the isle, I would like to invite my Central American brothers and sisters to recover their sense of Hispanic Pride; to not let the blood of our ancestors disappear. We can celebrate our culture and traditions while respecting this nation and its laws; and while being an active part of the American Dream. To those of you who have adopted us in this great country, please remember that most of us are here to better our lives and the lives of those around us, including yourselves. Take a moment to enjoy a tortilla; take a moment to Google Central American music; send a prayer to the millions who have risked everyone and everything in their lives to live the American Dream. Please remember that the five Central American countries were not taught to be proud of who we are; so please, uplift someone you know by asking them a question about their history. Finally, and most importantly, please remember that so many Central Americans live on just one thing – hope.
Happy 200 Years of Central American Independence!
Felíz 200 Años de Independencia Centroamericana!