Last year, at the St. Peter’s Day festival, for the first time in my life, I witnessed Nicaraguan folklore. I don’t remember how I ended up in the church parking lot, but I’m forever grateful that I did. The women I witnessed dancing would soon become some of my dearest friends, and would later teach me how to dance, how to make the perfect hair bun, and most importantly they would open my eyes to the rich culture that runs through my veins.
On April 19, the Nicaraguan people took to the streets to peacefully protest President Daniel Ortega’s Social Security reforms that force people to pay more into Social Security, but receive less in the way of benefits. Those peaceful protests ended abruptly when police and government-backed groups attacked demonstrators. Nicaragua has now lost dozens of young lives and there are more still missing.
The very women who took me under their wing are now organizing the Nicaraguan community, amplifying the voices of youth both locally and in Nicaragua. They are also fundraising to provide humanitarian aid to students and families affected by the violence and bloodshed. Joshua Bermudez and Maria Ruiz are two of these women. These are their stories.
I was born in 1981 in Nicaragua. I grew up listening to my family recounting the history of how the Nicaraguan people for many years tirelessly fought to liberate themselves from Somoza’s dictatorship, and of the immense happiness that the people felt the day that the revolution triumphed. Nicaragua would be free at last.
Unfortunately, the happiness did not last long. Many families had to separate in order to protect their children, especially the boys. That’s how they avoided being forcibly taken to serve in the military, a demand imposed by the Sandinista government.
Thousands of families were separated, mine was one of them. I grew up without my father, without my brothers. During that time, my heart was comforted only with the letters and calls that my father made me whenever he could. It was hard. You can’t recover lost time.
I dare to share a little bit of my story because with the latest news in Nicaragua, that deep pain that I felt when I was separated from [my father and brothers] has resurfaced. My blood boils seeing how the Sandinista Government continues to destroy and separate Nicaraguan families, and in this case, the parents of those who have died will never again be able to hug their children, who were violently taken from them, all because they exercised their right to express themselves
As most Nicaraguans know, July 19 was a commemorative date for the “Nicaraguan Revolution.” We didn’t know then that the very same leaders of that revolution would become the executioners of the people who once cheered them on. But now, a new date has arrived, a new revolution! One where the rights of all Nicaraguans are being defended. On April 19, a struggle began to defend the rights of pensioners and workers who contribute to Social Security (INSS). Nicaraguan students took to the streets to peacefully protest, but those protests were interrupted by the police and government-backed groups sent to silence these voices of struggle. Our right to freedom of expression was violated. And as a result, more than 63 voices have been silenced.
This is not a gendered struggle or a struggle between parties, all are fighting for the same cause, under the same coat of arms on the same blue and white flag. The students initiated this fight and the pueblo followed. Many people ask why the students started this fight? The reason is simple: Our Nicaraguan mothers have taught us to respect our elders. This principle taught to us gave rise to the change we are seeing now take place in Nicaragua. As a woman, and as a Nicaraguan youth, I am proud of each of these chavalos and chavalas, who are fighting for my rights and for the rights of all Nicaraguans. In these days of struggle, we have seen parents cry for their fallen children, and defend their children.
In one of the many interviews I have read, a mother said: “I haven’t broken my back so that my son can have a medical career just so an anti-rioter could come and kill him. I would rather die with him first.” Her words showed me what I already knew. And that’s the internal force that a woman has, a mother to take care of her own. With that same strength, the chavalas of Nicaragua are fighting for their country, for our country. It’s worth mentioning that this is a continued fight, not only for the INSS, but for the fallen, for the incarcerated students and for those who are still missing. We have struggled so hard and for so long to have a voice, and that they want to silence us now in 2018, is an injustice.
Story by: Gabriela Alemán