In El Salvador, national storytellers are often revered. Salarrué (Cuentos de Barro), Alfredo Espino (Jicaras Tristes), and Miguel Angel Espino (Mitología de Cuscatlán) are examples of national authors that have shaped “the” Salvadoran identity, if we can speak of such a thing. National authors often regarded as embodiments of Salvadoran identity; their narrations, poems, and myths are believed to capture the essence of the mysticism of the land, language, beliefs, and customs. Storytelling traditions evolved into a literary genre that attributes meaning to the Salvadoran experience and contributes to formulations of a unified nation.
Nationalism is a very complex issue and let me assure you, by no means am I attempting to come up with a definite answer regarding the complexity of the nation. In fact, I most likely will never get to even read everything that has ever been written on the nation! However, this does not keep me from drawing attention to some of the issues that I have with what I see as such a fluid concept. More than anything, the points that I raise in this piece will likely lead to more questions. Nevertheless, it is important to look at our social context critically in order to understand ourselves, as a society.
In the Salvadoran case, nationalism is highly built on storytellers’ portrayals of the nation, which is contingent of portrayals of the Indian. In their works, the authors paint a picture of the Indian whose embodiment can still be reflected in the Salvadoran nation. Yet, the Indian that they portray is stuck in time, passive, submissive and irrational.
My point is that holding on to static representations of “the” nation is not very helpful when attempting to be representative of a constituency. It may certainly be that people in El Salvador identified with the Indian that these accounts portray at a given point, but it seems so prescriptive to assume that this is the only representation of the Indian that can be taken into account in the representations of the nation. Let me put it another way: Are the images that Salarrué, Alfredo Espino and Miguel Angel Espino so accurate of all indigenous experiences and so timeless that they deserve to be exalted above any other indigenous experiences? Was Salvadoran society so culturally homogenous that these are the only acceptable representations of the Indian that ought to be represented as being intrinsic to the Salvadoran nation?
In other words, nationalism is a misleading concept in the case of El Salvador, because it is so contingent on sameness. Salvadoran society is so diverse and so rich in culture that it is actually an offense to Salvadoran societies and individuals to propagate the assumption that they are all the same.