As I nestled into my chair — controller in hand — ready for a session of FIFA, I couldn’t help but think about the rumors that floated around school that day. “Chino, did you hear about the toque de queda?”, my friends would ask. Allegedly, the mayor received a letter from the 18th Street gang in which they stated that they would put in place a “toque de queda”, Spanish for curfew, that night. This was not the first time I’d heard such rumors.
Once in awhile, the word spreads around about a gang, whether it be the 18th Street gang or the Salvatrucha gang, declaring a city-wide curfew. Anyone who leaves their homes after the established hour suffers the consequences. The claimed hour that day was 9 p.m. As the digits on the bottom right of my screen showed, half an hour had already passed since nine, when my parents had left the house. They had church service that day and I couldn’t help but worry.
To outsiders, my concerns that day may seem paranoiac and ludicrous. Although a curfew put in place by gangs had never been seen to such a scale — there have been well-recorded cases of them happening on smaller towns or cities — to a local, there was no doubt that it was totally possible. The gangs have the country down to its knees.
It’s a country where we had to either take police officers with us on school trips — because the area we were going to was notorious for gang presence and violence — or not, because we’d get shot as soon as we were seen with the police. Gangs govern over major sectors of the country, taxing all those living or working under their rule in return for protection. The gangs can burn buses full of people alive or throw grenades at hotel parking lots and face little to no consequences. With undisputed territorial control, possession of military grade weapons, and government negligence and inability, the gangs have all the pieces of the puzzle. A curfew wouldn’t be anything close to impossible for them.
As I got to my third match of FIFA, I was startled by a quick succession of noise. I first thought it might be some kids in the neighborhood putting the leftover fireworks from last Christmas to some use. But, the sounds seemed sharper, piercing. Gun shots? In panic, I immediately called my parents. My mom picked up and, in her usual calming voice, told me that they were right around the corner. They were safe.
Maybe the sounds that day were really fireworks, maybe not. What I know for sure is that, when you live in El Salvador, uncertainty and fear seem to always dwell around. It’s a shame to see the happiness and kindness of the Salvadoran people tainted by this haunting terror. It’s been a year since I’ve been living in Korea. But for a country in which people literally call each other “brother” or “sister”, you never really feel entirely welcome. In El Salvador, on the other hand, everywhere was home. No matter how different you look, you’re treated as a friend, family. Life may not be perfect in my little “Sivar”; however, I still have hope that someday the country will have that “peace enjoyed in perfect happiness” it always dreams of in the first verse of its national anthem.