A Personal View from the Diaspora

A Photoessay by Caroline Lacey

From the series, "How to Be After..." YouTube video of the civil war streams on a big screen television. Other times it will be fruits or pixelated landscapes.

View the photo gallery: http://revista.drclas.harvard.edu/galleries/personal-view-diaspora

In 1992 the Chapultepec Peace Accords ended El Salvador’s brutal 12-year civil war. The government granted amnesty to all parties, protecting war criminals from even so much as a public confession of their crimes. There was no truth, there was no reconciliation. Attempts at peace and healing manifested as institutionalized amnesia. 

During the wartime a quarter of El Salvador’s population had fled the violence. The majority sought safe harbor in the United States but were denied refugee status because of U.S. policies that supported and fueled the conflict. As unacknowledged casualties of the turmoil, many were forced to live undocumented, the truth of their trauma repressed once again.

The Salvadoran diaspora is a population perched between two countries. They live in the shadows in the United States but are unable to return to their home country now overrun by gang violence. Left in limbo, they look for El Salvador through the  creative acts of ordinary life. Painted volcanoes mimic the landscape they left; food is a means of communicating culture and images are a way of holding close what is far away. Sentimentality is both the lifeboat and its leak. 

 “I miss this color,” Lorena said, holding up a painted wooden mango with the words El Salvador written on its base. She brought it close to her face and contemplated the speckled orange surface—as if it wasn’t right in front of her, as if it wasn’t really the color she missed at all. But through it she could grieve for all things lost, maybe even for the person who used to see those colors.

Caroline Lacey is a lens-based story teller living in Washington, DC. She has a Master’s in New Media Photojournalism from Corcoran College of Art+Design at George Washington University. Lacey recently won the PDNedu competition for photojournalism, the NPPA Bob East Scholarship and her video took first place in team multimedia at the Northern Short Course. Her work has been published in The Washington Post, Smithsonian Magazine Online, NPR, Washington Magazine and PDN.