In 1981, Radio Venceremos hit the airwaves in the hills of rural El Salvador as a means for leftist rebels to deliver a revolutionary message during the country’s civil war that lasted into the early ‘90s. It was a platform for the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), a left-wing political party in the Central American country, to share music and education as well as expose the overwhelming human rights abuses of its opposition juntas. Nearly four decades later, a group of Los Angeles activists with Salvadoran roots are working to keep that revolutionary spirit alive with a podcast that documents the country’s rebel past.
Launched on November 20, the SalviHistory podcast is a site for bilingual political dialogue, education and change-making, conversations the series’ founder Andree Peña says the Salvadoran diaspora is missing.
“I want to normalize revolution.”
“There’s a lot of blogs and a lot of pages that do share things that are Salvadoran culturally, but from a very depoliticized lens. And Salvadoran culture is extremely political,” the Los Angeles-based grassroots organizer tells Remezcla.
For Peña, the podcast is an antidote to the mainstream stereotype of “pupusas and kola champagne” — cultural signifiers, like Mexico’s “Frida and conchas” — that have come to define the Salvadoran people.
“I want to normalize revolution,” he says. “I want it to be a topic of conversation that you have over breakfast with your parents, family, brothers, sisters and friends.”
At the start of the year, Peña created a similar space, also titled SalviHistory, on social media. Using Instagram, the activist began sharing archived photos, graphics and literature about El Salvador’s political and movements history. What started as a site for education turned into a digital hub for analysis, featuring commentary on a range of issues, from the country’s deep Indigenous roots to profiles on women who made an indelible impact in shaping El Salvador’s politics, like activist Prudencia Ayala and political leader Comandante Ana María.
The page has proven to be a hit, garnering more than 6,000 followers in less than a year. However, according to Peña, working on a digital platform like Instagram has opened him up to censorship. Through a podcast, Peña believes he could better discuss historic and contemporary Salvadoran issues more freely.
After raising $855 for equipment through a successful GoFundMe campaign in the fall, Peña kicked the podcast off last month and has already published three episodes.
The first episode, “Ex-Combatientes y La Memoria Historica de El Salvador,” is a casual conversation between two former FMLN combatants, Mario Hercules and Jaime Peñate. During the hour-and-a-half program, both men tell their own versions of the country’s history and recall their experiences during the war. Peñate, a trained nurse, and Hercules, a union electrician, reminisce on how they became involved in the movement that led to the formation of the FMLN in the late ‘70s. With personal anecdotes and historical references, the veterans patch together little-known details, including Nicaragua’s connection to the war and Mexican soldiers who aided leftist fighters.
As with the SalviHistory Instagram page, Peña doesn’t work alone. He has a team of contributors, made up of academics and activists, who curate and produce content alongside him. Among them is Nancy Escalante, a historian in the U.S. who has spent years documenting grassroots activism against El Salvador’s civil war.
“This is trauma that has followed us for generations.”
For anyone linked to the Salvadoran community, it’s no question that the country’s history, especially this violent period, is a sensitive topic for those who lived it. More than a decade of brutality still burns in the people’s collective memory, which is today compounded by ongoing gang wars and a refugee crisis.
Through SalviHistory, Escalante has been using archived materials to produce a narrative of the past that she believes would otherwise be erased.
“It’s something that I think we shouldn’t shy away from talking about because it is something that’s traumatizing,” Escalante tells Remezcla. “I think it’s something that needs to be openly discussed in an intergenerational way, right? Because this is trauma that has followed us for generations.”
According to Escalante, having these difficult and emotional conversations as well as sharing one’s story can be healing for many.
“I’ve noticed that people who don’t like to talk do better when they’re talking in the community,” she says. “It goes to show that there is a need for people to talk about it and there hasn’t really been a space for that, especially for older generations who are not as connected.”
For Jazmin Garcia, an activist who recently began contributing, SalviHistory also allows Salvadorans to work through the plights they are experiencing in their personal and political lives today, outside of the scarring war.
“I’m constantly surrounded by family and neighbors who are having difficult conversations on how the drought, the lack of opportunities and the gangs affect their everyday lives,” Garcia, who often travels to the Central American country, tells Remezcla.
“There is a need for people to talk about it and there hasn’t really been a space for that.”
SalviHistory helps the community process these and other issues, including reproductive and LGBTQ rights in the country, through critical dialogue and story-telling but also through introductions to empowering protest music, traditions and cultural luminaries, such as the late socialist poet Roque Dalton.
Highlighting the nuances of the country’s troubled history, fierce revolution and current battles has helped attract a fan base in both El Salvador and its diaspora. Many tell Peña that it’s refreshing to hear Salvadorans share war stories that are at once tragic and inspiring.
That, Garcia adds, summarizes the energy she feels when she ponders on her ancestral grounds of La Paz, a south central department, and Santa Ana, a western city. She thinks of fiestas patronales, dancing and fireworks shooting out of bull-shaped figures at celebrations in and around the hills — the same grounds where Radio Venceremos first hit the airwaves amid a bloody, life-altering conflict.
“This is my experience and, honestly, it’s one of the most beautiful and complicated places to be,” she says.