Harvard Educational Review
  1. Spring 2013 Issue »

    La Despedida

    This morning at MARTE, el Museo de ARTE,
    On the hillside at the edge of central San Salvador,
    While I waited for the family of my friend Francisco
    To get off the bus and meet me in the galleries,
    I scanned the evocative repository
    Of representational landscapes—conical volcanoes,
    Surf-pounded beaches, coffee plantations,
    And papaya, banana, and mango orchards.

    I admired the efforts of artists to foment critical
    Thought about El Salvador’s less-than-civil war
    In graphic poster art and mixed-media collage—
    Commemorations of massacres, celebrations
    Of guerrilla victories, and tributes to Oscar Romero,
    Martyred at the altar at the beginning of a war
    That the United States, as usual, was on the wrong side of.

    And I looked for a long time at a painting that couldn’t help
    But remind me of Francisco himself, back home in Boston,
    And the story he’d told me of leaving, a decade before,
    For economic opportunities not readily available
    To a trained accountant in a country not yet recovered
    From the systemic ruins and ravages of that war.

    I noticed, in the bold and broad folkloric style
    Of Diego Rivera and the Mexican muralists,
    A man in a straw sombrero and a white cotton shirt,
    A knapsack over his shoulder, facing our way against
    A mountain ridge rimmed by the rosy light of dawn,
    Bidding at daybreak a reluctant farewell
    To his long-haired wife and his barefoot children.

    The boy on his left in white shirt and drawstring pants
    And the girl on his right in a white cotton dress,
    He and his wife are at the center of the picture,
    But she keeps her back to us in this intimate moment
    As if to hide her tears from the curious public,
    Looping her ochre arms around his darker neck
    At the edge of the village on the morning of his departure.

    La Despedida, México, read the neat etiqueta, painted
    In oils on canvas, by Noé Canjura, in 1948.

    Tracing the fine serration of the backlit ridge,
    I knew it was a moment that Francisco himself experienced
    Some less bucolic but equally symbolic version of
    At the age of 30, when he and his wife Adelín,
    Admitting that he’d never find a good job in El Salvador
    With the country still in shambles after the ten-year war,
    Agreed that he should go ahead, leave her and the children,
    Tony, Eduardo, and Marle—two, four, and ten at the time—
    And take some accounting job that an old friend had gotten him
    At a business affiliated with a slaughterhouse in Kansas
    Where refugees had been hired to work the killing floor.

    I pictured Francisco boarding a bus at a depot,
    Engines idling, drivers chatting, blue smoke blowing
    From the mufflers of the buses; learning a little English
    In the office on the job; then a couple years later
    Landing a position as tax consultant for a firm
    In a barrio of Boston, moving there with Honduran
    Friends he met in Kansas, and sending home remittances.

    A better job, surely, than the agricultural field-labor
    That the man in the painting was probably headed north for—
    Not landscaping lawns for the glamorous of Los Angeles,
    As so many Latino refugees have been doing since the 80s,
    Working security for high-tech companies, hospitals,
    And bio-med research labs in North Carolina,
    Or cooking in the kitchens of five-star restaurants
    In New York or Chicago, the 40s being the era
    Of Steinbeck and Guthrie, Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans,
    But harvesting lettuces and radishes, olives and artichokes,
    On huge farms in the Central Valley of California,
    Working the rows in the incessant sun by day
    And sleeping in a barn with other laborers by night.

    My mind wandered far from El Salvador to Mexico,
    From Mexico to California, from California to Boston,
    From Boston to Kansas to El Salvador to Mexico and back,
    As I stood there at that painting awaiting Francisco’s family . . .

    And then they arrived, Francisco’s wife and children,
    On a bus from their barrio near the Oriente station,
    And I spent a good hour in that gallery with them
    On the bench near this painting, with ten-year-old Tony,
    Preteen Eduardo, and the twenty-year-old Marle,
    Now a premed student at a public university,
    Comprising one warm form of familial flesh
    Around their mild, relaxed mother in the middle.

    They watched me listen, with my dropped jaw and actual awe,
    To questions I asked Adelín about their own despedida,
    Their own sad farewell, their quiet lives in San Salvador,
    Their nearly nightly Skyping sessions on the computer with Francisco,
    And the experiences of her family during the civil war—
    And they looked on calmly, seemingly proud of the patriotic pride
    With which she described her father and two uncles
    All being killed by the U.S.-funded government soldiers
    For participating in the resistance of the FMLN,
    Her father disappeared and lost to her forever, her uncles
    Rounded up and executed—but given a proper burial.

    One by one I let them catch my eye and hold it there
    For the duration of a sentence of these stories she was telling,
    Ignoring the painting I could see over their shoulders—
    Sentimental, derivative, symmetrical, and beautiful,
    Speaking to the conditions of a mostly voiceless people—
    And hanging on Adelín’s every annunciated word
    Of a Spanish idiom that I finally understood.

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    Scott Ruescher has been coordinator of the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Arts in Education Program for eleven years. For the first nine of those years, he also taught English part-time in the Boston University Prison Education Program. His poetry has appeared in Agni, Boston Phoenix, and Ploughshares, among other publications, as well as in his 2009 chapbook Sidewalk Tectonics (Pudding House Publications). He received a Mack Davis Award from Cambridge School Volunteers in 2009 for his participation in the Reading Buddies/Lectores program at the Amigos School. In 2010 he traveled to El Salvador with a group of HGSE students on a literacy-?development project, and in 2011 he spent a week teaching creative writing in a bilingual school in Honduras.
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    Spring 2013 Issue


    Foreword: Exploding Parameters and an Expanded Embrace
    A Proposal for the Arts in Education in the Twenty-First Century
    Editors’ Introduction
    Expanding Our Vision for the Arts in Education
    Edward P. Clapp and Laura A. Edwards
    Expanding Our “Frames” of Mind for Education and the Arts
    Expanding Our Vision of Museum Education and Perception
    An Analysis of Three Case Studies of Independent Blind Arts Learners
    Universal Design for Learning and the Arts
    Don Glass, Anne Meyer, and David H. Rose
    Comics Arts-Based Educational Research
    Why the Arts Don’t Do Anything
    Toward a New Vision for Cultural Production in Education
    Afterword: The Turning of the Leaves
    Expanding Our Vision for the Arts in Education

    Book Notes

    The Learner-Directed Classroom
    Diane B. Jaquith and Nan E. Hathaway (Editors)

    Critical Aesthetic Pedagogy
    Yolanda Medina

    Hip Hop Genius
    Sam Seidel

    Design and Thinking
    Mu-Ming Tsai (Director)

    Changing Lives
    Tricia Tunstall

    Art Education Beyond the Classroom
    Alice Wexler (Editor)

    Call 1-800-513-0763 to order this issue.