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“If I die, there will be no one to tell this story. There is no one but me.”
Rufina Amaya

My parents chose to live in Central America, El Salvador specifically, during the wars in the 80s. I don’t remember much about the war; the Peace Accords went into effect on my fourth birthday, but what I do remember is being surrounded by activists, soldiers, students and survivors alike and not caring or knowing the differences between them. Another kid who was similarly immersed in my pseudo-oblivious world was a little girl named Martita. While our parents discussed violence and politics, she and I would play hopscotch and jacks and try to out-do each other with handstands and cartwheels. Martita is not so little anymore. She’s in her early twenties now and a medical student studying in San Salvador. I haven’t seen her for about four years and I have to admit that the only times I’ve thought about her since then were when my eyes would occasionally drift to a little plaque that she made for me, as a gift the last time we saw one another. Two days ago, she became an orphan.

My dad, a good friend of Rufina’s, sent me a message earlier this evening to say that he had just gotten word of her death. Martita’s mother is one of the strongest women to have ever lived. Rufina Amaya was the sole survivor of the 1981 massacre of the town of El Mozote in El Salvador. Out of one thousand inhabitants, she alone managed to escape the brutal slaughter. Among the victims were four of her children and her husband. No one would have faulted her for spending her life grieving for the babies she lost, for the husband she saw murdered, for her entire life, ripped away. But instead she took a tragedy unlike any other and she derived strength from it and she not only survived but she thrived. After being nursed back to health following the ordeal, she escaped to Honduras where she lived as a refugee for seven years. She re-married and birthed one last child – Martita. Most importantly though, she never stopped sharing the truth. Over the course of decades and through various cover ups and despite misrepresentations in the media, she refused to be silenced. Even though she put her life at risk to speak the truth, she persevered.

I can’t imagine what it would be like to lose my mother and my heart churns for Martita, who will have to go on without hers. But I know, that if she has even a shred of the strength that her mother had, she will be okay. She will survive.

When I was little, I had no idea that I was continually in the presence of such phenomenal greatness. It wasn’t until recently that I’ve finally been able to really appreciate how truly incredible she is … and continues to be. I can’t think of another woman more deserving of commemoration on International Women’s Day, for Rufina is the epitome of strength, survival and womanhood.

May she rest in peace.

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