War stories


I grew up with stories of the Salvadoran civil war. My parents spoke of the bloodshed they witnessed, the fear that plagued them, and the anger that haunted them for the rest of their lives knowing that several dark chapters of their nation’s bloodiest conflict would never fully close.

When I told my father I would be reporting in El Mozote as part of my IWMF fellowship, he felt conflicted. He was proud to see his only child  reporting out in the field putting her skills to the test. But he grew sad at realizing I would have to listen to more tales of horror, this time from survivors of one of the most tragic massacres in modern Latin American history.

And the interviews were indeed difficult. On more than one occasion my sources broke down crying. The losses they suffered may have happened close to 40 years ago but the wounds still hurt with each recollection. I made sure to give them time to process their thoughts and their emotions, always asking what their comfort level was in recounting their personal histories. I had practice from years of asking my parents, relatives and family friends about their own war stories.

The story of El Mozote, of the hundreds of men, women and children left in mass graves, has been told and re-told several times. It serves as one of the clearest examples of how the civil war has left a legacy of trauma for the country and the generations born out of its shadow.

I grew up in Los Angeles, where gang violence turned my childhood street into its own sort of war zone. I remember the dead men splayed out on the sidewalk. I remember throwing myself to the ground after gunshots rang out, my massive living room window that let in all the beautiful California sunshine suddenly becoming a threat. Growing up surrounded by violence isn’t easy. But sometimes sharing these harsh memories helps you realize it’s just one chapter in a longer story you’re living out day by day.

I’m honored to have participated in the IWMF Adelante reporting fellowship in El Salvador. I’m honored to have gotten the chance to hear from sources that most American readers may not know. I’m honored to be have been entrusted, by my sources and my editors, with the task of adding my own story to the ongoing Salvadoran civil war narrative.

And I’m honored to be the daughter of Salvadorans who recognize the power storytelling has to offer.

-Ileana Najarro