A frantic few paragraphs on a morning of terror in Nicaragua.
By Graciela Blandon, contributor
As much as I pride myself in being Nicaraguan, I’ve lived in the U.S. all my life. The irony is not lost on me. Apart from the occasional visits, I've always felt particularly isolated from my nationality. Only recently did I start to pick up bits and pieces of our family history; only recently did I begin to fiercely identify with our past. I had been told that I came from a politically influential family and I knew that my dad had been in some sort of army. I knew that he had met my mother because her parents received refugees and exiled political leaders in their home. I did not know that we proudly claimed the mantle of socialism and anti-imperialism as frontline Sandinistas.
What connects me to Nicaragua is the legacy of collective trauma. It is deeply rooted in my soul and it is passed down to me from my grandparents. I have my Ita’s smile, nose, and pain. The patriotism I feel for a country I have never lived in long-term is a ghost of my family’s past. Ita called me this morning after she had that heard my cousins and aunts had been arrested for political insurrection. In her voice, a very distinct Nicaraguan grief I am no stranger to. She told me that- if I could imagine it- she was an activist too in her time. She would sit in the streets yelling “Fuera Somoza!” until the police forced themselves onto the masses. “They killed two of my friends, did you know? One of them taught me how to dance.” These scenes, she tells me, Nicaraguans keep tucked away in the annals of historical memory. But PTSD is benign until it’s not. The carnage and terror left by the Ortega-Murillo regime is indistinguishable from Somoza’s wars to the lucky few that survived the 70s. Those who did not died with a dream- the idealism of Sandinismo intact.
Can you imagine surviving a revolution, sending your children to fight in the same war, and seeing nothing come of it but terror inflicted on your descendancy? That’s three generations. Three generations of compiled trauma. So I understand why, when I excitedly came to her last semester with news that I was going to the youth convention of the Democratic Socialists of America, my Ita’s face went pale. She told me to stay away from socialists and from people like Bernie Sanders. Didn’t I see what they had done to Nicaragua?! My father defended me, saying that it’s natural- that any person who wasn’t a socialist in their youth didn’t really have compassion. But she didn’t back down. When I spent the 2020 elections fiercely criticizing Joe Biden, my family turned on me for being just as bad as Trump supporters. Were these the same people who took up arms against the Yankee invaders? Who risked everything- their land, their lives- to see socialism rise for the pueblo? This came from a place of protection, not politics, I realized. My Ita could not bear to see another generation suffer the heartbreak of a broken dream.
The trauma of the colonized works in funny ways, I’ve found. Fanon writes of the colonial alienation of the person. The colonized develop a pathology of inferiority wrought from fear and Western cultural domination. It slowly, systemically chips away at a person. Postcolonial scholars use the schema of the colonized psyche to describe how the effects of colonialism manifest themselves transgenerationally. My Ita, for example, having lived in the turmoil of a brutalized country all her life, holds that she cannot blame the United States for intervening in Nicaragua all the times they did. The U.S. Empire in Nicaragua was justified because Nicaraguans were too unorganized and immature to lead themselves.
Empire yields helplessness. I think that feeling betrayed by a movement you gave your whole life to permanently changes your way of seeing things. I imagine that she feels shame in ever supporting the FSLN. Thus, America once again establishes itself as the promised land and absolves itself of blame through promoting a colonized mentality. For a woman so smart, even Ita could not resolve the conflict of her part in her nation’s history. The best she can do for Nicaragua is prevent her grandchildren from making the same mistake of fighting for socialism. Though of course, it was never a mistake- it was a project cut short by Empire.
My Ita would die to hear me say it, but I am still a Sandinista. Because I love her, I am still a Sandinista. Because I love Nicaragua, I am still a Sandinista. I am still a Sandinista in spite of Daniel Ortega; a man does not a movement make. I am still a Sandinista in spite of the U.S. Empire. I am a Sandinista precisely because I have so much ire for the contemporary FSLN. I am a Sandinista because the new generation of Nicaraguan revolutionaries have a responsibility to carry on the fight for a better world - to make sure that the trauma of our parents and grandparents was not inflicted in vain. I am young and I am mad. That is a deadly combination. I wish I was in Nicaragua. I am mourning that I’m not.
Libertad para Ana Margarita! Libertad para Tamara! Libertad para Dora Maria!
Viva Nicaragua Libre!