Indigeneity is mostly a distant collective memory in El Salvador. There is widespread belief that a number of events in the past have been responsible for the gradual disappearance of indigenous people. In any case, if indigenous people have indeed “disappeared,” indigenous symbols are still quite prominent in the daily lives of Salvadorans.
One of these symbols is el Indio Atlacatl. Atlacatl is an important figure in the national identity of Salvadorans. Atlacatl is said to have been the cacique (ruler) of the Pipils (natives) at the time of the conquest. It is also believed that he fought against Pedro de Alvarado and the Spanish invasion.
While research has questionned the accuracy of this story with respect to the existence and heroism of Atlacatl, it has nonetheless been accepted as a being an intrinsic part of Salvadoran identity. Regardless of the veracity of the myth, for Salvadorans it represents the strength of their ancestors and the dawn of the Salvadoran nation. In a way, it is a myth that has held them together as a nation. This is especially relevant for El Salvador, a place where society has been highly fragmented in terms of class and ethnicity. For instance, class difference was the major factor that led to the war, while ethnic differences were at the core of the 1932 massacre of Indians. At first glance, the Salvadoran state seems to have successfully institutionalized unity. Ethnic differences are hardly noticeable – people seem to have accepted a common ancestry and they seem to relate with one another on the issues afecting the everyday life of Salvadorans.
El Salvador is certainly not the only case where myths and stories propagate and foster unity. Surely there are stories in the Canadian experience that have been exhalted and exaggerated, while projecting accurate representations of the nation. Individuals everywhere hold on to myths, figures, and symbols in order to imagine their sense of belonging. In this case, the accuracy of the myth of Atlacatl seems highly irrelevant in light of the unity that has been fostered. In other words, those who have problematized the veracity of the story are in a way implying that nations should always be built on true “myths” and infallible representations of history.
Unlike such individuals, I find it more intriguing and even fascinating when groups develop histories out of their collective understandings and when people and groups adopt beliefs that become truths.