Official Blog of the Latin American, Caribbean and Iberian Studies Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

Interview with Jessica Diaz-Hurtado – McNair Scholarship Recipient

As a McNair Scholarship recipient, you will work on a research project in your area of study. Can you tell me a little bit about your research topic?

My research project topic is the role of women in the Salvadoran civil war. I am half Salvadoran, half Colombian. This research interested me because the war affected my family as citizens and as refugees. I have already started some basic research and there are tons of archives at the historical society. I also plan to do many interviews and gather information from an oral history perspective.

What is your current major?  What year are you in school?

I am a 3rd year student with a LACIS major and a CLS certificate.

What are your professional aspirations?

I would like to go to graduate school and study International Studies or International Development. With this, I would either like to become a professor, or use my knowledge in the community where our histories are repetitively denied.

Did your parents move to the United States as a result of the conflict in El Salvador? In what ways did the Salvadoran Civil War affect your family? 

My parents did not directly move to the US as a result in El Salvador, but it was an indirect reason. The conflict during that time did not provide much of a future for my mother, so she decided to join my grandmother in Columbia Heights in Washington DC in 1979, the brink of the civil war.

Mostly my aunts and uncles back in El Salvador were affected a bit more directly. They all lived in San Salvador. One of my aunts did experience the tension all the students had at the national university with its constant closings due to the war and they even experienced occasional violence. They all had to deal with curfews and the anxiety the city felt throughout its hyper militant era.

What has your experience been living or traveling in El Salvador? 

I’ve been back home more than 10 times. My whole family is there so I’ve always had a positive experience. I love it there. My cousins, aunts, uncles, grandmother, and some childhood friends are there. I miss it everyday.

Where do you plan to do interviews?  Who do you plan on interviewing?  What
types of questions will you ask the people you interview?

If I could, I would go back to El Salvador and do the interviews there. If everything goes right, I will go back in December during winter break to visit my family. If possible, I would conduct the interviews of the women in my family and how they experienced the war as a civilian or refugee. If not, then I can conduct them over the phone. I also plan to go to CISPES (Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador) office in DC during spring break. I am originally from Silver Spring, MD, which is very close to Washington DC. CISPES is a grassroots organization dedicated to supporting the Salvadoran’s people struggle for self-determination and social and economic justice. Their national office is in DC and plan to go through their archives and interview a representative.

What is the ultimate goal of your project?

The ultimate goal of my project is to take advantage of the oral histories I have heard and go through their histories with an analytical eye. The stories the women in my family are very powerful. Stories like these are often overlooked by academia due to the fact that oral histories are commonly invalidated forms of history in western culture. I would like to share these stories as forms as real histories in the form of first-hand accounts.
With this, as well as archives, I would be able to identify the role of women in the Salvadoran civil war.

How does your own perspective as a half-Salvadoran, half-Colombian woman affect
your work on this project?

I think it affects it a lot. My mother is Salvadoran, so naturally I am drawn to this subject. I spent most of my summers in El Salvador growing up and have seen how history has played out in Salvadoran society. Seeing this and hearing my family’s stories, I feel obligated to share their stories. They are the strongest women I know, so I must share this with the world. My strength is writing, so after writing a theatrical play on my grandmother’s life through a History Independent study last semester, I was drawn to continue my research through an academic and research lens.

Have you found much prior research on this topic?

Yes, I have found some research through my Independent Study with the History department last year.

What is your opinion of how the war affected the way Salvadorian society functions today?

From what I’ve found, I feel like the war has affected the Salvadoran societal functions through safety, gangs, and culture. I would like to say more, but I must do more research to feel confident enough to give an adequate response.