Preserving indigenous identity, a way to deal with migration in El Salvador
By Hugo Sanchez
Tacuba, El Salvador, Dec 29 (EFE).- The reasons for migrating among the indigenous peoples of western El Salvador are similar to those for the rest of the country’s population, but they are enveloped in a shroud of discrimination.
Indigenous leaders say that strengthening the identity of their peoples can ameliorate this factor and help to reintegrate migrants who later return to their native lands.
The migration of indigenous people to the Salvadoran capital or to the United States has remained largely obscured, with no clear figures gathered or direct action being taken by the state, but a recent study by international entities sheds light on the phenomenon.
An analysis sponsored by agencies within the United Nations and the European Union found that some 27 percent of the indigenous population in five towns in western El Salvador are planning to migrate in the coming 12 months.
The factors motivating these people to leave their homes include the lack of employment and/or dignified salaries, violence, lack of housing and/or their own land on which to farm and discrimination.
Some 67 percent of those surveyed said that “many people” migrate to other countries, while 33 percent said that they move to other towns and cities, mainly to El Salvador, the capital.
Jose Miguel Gomez, the national project coordinator for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), told EFE that this is the first study in El Salvador to link discrimination against indigenous peoples to migration.
“Yes, it’s possible to confirm that indigenous discrimination is a factor in expulsion … (and) many people consider migration to be the measure by which they see themselves discriminated against because of their indigenous origins,” Gomez said.
The study, he added, also shows that “income sources are influenced by discrimination” and he gave by way of example the fact that the general public prefers to buy in “establishments of people who are not of indigenous origin.”
Enrique Marti, an indigenous leader in the municipality of Tacuba, told EFE that he participated in the study and hopes that it gives rise to a campaign to benefit indigenous peoples.
“In the first place, this allows us to establish the basis for a campaign to raise awareness and counteract the fact that our people continue to leave our municipality. It’s a rather high migration flow,” he said.
He added that he hopes that “it will have an impact on the issue of migration” because “most people who leave this place are indigenous.”
Marti emphasized the importance of one’s roots in the indigenous community, but he lamented the fact that “the needs are great and so our population is opting to migrate.”
The campaign that will result from the study seeks – according to documents shared with EFE – “to create a positive change in behavior in communities of origin, transit and destination” to prevent and reduce “discrimination and the stigma, promote settlement and facilitate integration and reintegration of the migrating indigenous population.”
The indigenous leader hopes that the campaign is taken up by state institutions and that “we really see an impact” from it.
Tacuba is officially a territory of indigenous communities with Maya roots and “pipil” people, and its economy is mainly based on agriculture.
As the campaign gets going and results are awaited, one group trying to get more in touch with their customs, to protect the legacy of the elderly members of the community and to safeguard the memory of the peoples in the area.
Ricardo Guzman was born in 1932. Then, El Salvador experienced its worst massacre of indigenous peoples that almost led to them being wiped out. Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez, the dictator who governed the country from 1931-1944, sent the military against the local indigenous people and the persecution of them did not stop after the massacre as fear led them to abandon their customs and traditional costumes.
At age 30, Guzman began to participate in the traditional dances of his people, and thus he still has some of his traditional apparel – a cape, a jacket and a sword – and he lamented the fact that the old ways are at risk of being forgotten.