Winter 2017: “Your Sacred Place” High School Winner Imogen Rain Cockrum

Read Imogen's essay, "Half of Who I Am," about her mother's war-torn, crayola-bright hometown in El Salvador.

Imogen Rain Cockrum, a tenth grade student of Haley Campbell at Mount Madonna School in Watsonville, Calif., read and responded to the online YES! Magazine article, “Why the Founder of Standing Rock Sioux Camp Can’t Forget the Whitestone Massacre.”

In this story, founder and director of Sacred Stone Camp, LaDonna Brave Bull Allard describes how her identity, history and survival are intrinsically connected to the land—and water—that is being threatened by the Dakota Access Pipeline. To protect this place, Allard says they have no choice but to stand up.

Writing Prompt: Describe how you would feel if a place that defines you was threatened to be destroyed or taken away. What would you do? Would you fight to save it?

Half of Who I Am

My father is American and was born and raised in California, and my mother comes from the small country of El Salvador, in Central America. I was raised in a multicultural environment where I was taught to speak both English and Spanish. I have been raised between two cultures constantly crashing against one another like waves; sometimes they blend well, other times they don’t. Speaking English, living in a multicultural neighborhood, and celebrating American holidays overshadow the influence that comes from my mother’s El Salvador. But every time I hear my mother speak, eat her home-cooked meals, or get pulled into dancing cumbias, I am reminded that I am from somewhere else. My roots spread far, even if they don’t manifest in obvious ways.

The most I exercise my foreign tongue is whenever I am in my mother’s hometown, a small village named El Carrizal in the province of Chalatenango. It is hot and humid there—so hot and humid that it is hard to breathe. I gaze from my grandmother’s porch, which overlooks the village plaza, cursing the mosquitoes and rocking in my hammock, desperate to create any kind of breeze. Across the plaza, there is a run-down church with fading white walls. It looks a century old, like something from an old movie. In spite of its lack of physical beauty, it serves as the heart of the village.

Everyone stops at our house on their way to and from church. I laugh and play with my sister and cousins while the adults talk and gossip, as only people from a tiny town can do. Exclamations of ¡Puchica!, ¡No me digas! and ¡Dios me guarde! echo from the chattering groups. They are loud, but only because they live from the heart and are unrestrained in their passions. If noise was a color, my mother’s family would command the entire Crayola box. We dance when the town hosts a dance, and we feast when my grandmother hosts a feast.

This small town, barely the size of just two city blocks, holds a tremendous place in my heart. In spite of the influences from where I live, I know that my mother’s country is home. Distance, time, and life’s distractions sometimes cause me to forget this place I love. But when I am there, I know who I am. I know that my mother’s country is home. El Salvador is as much my country as the United States.

However, this wondrous land, which I cherish, has its own haunting past. As LaDonna Brave Bull Allard states in her article “Why the Founder of Standing Rock Sioux Camp Can’t Forget the Whitestone Massacre,” “We cannot forget our stories of survival.” My mother was forced to escape her country in spite of her love for it. She had to struggle through poverty and survive a war. It was the government against the people, and the people against the government.

I was born because my mother survived. In the same place that holds a sacred place in my heart, blood was spilled—my family’s blood. My grandfather was taken and killed by guerilla fighters. Meanwhile, my mother, the youngest daughter of ten children, was forced to escape with her siblings and my grandmother. As a young child, she counted corpses in the road and suffered in refugee homes with strangers. Seventy-five thousand people died in this war. This is the same country that I love.

I fear that if El Salvador were taken from me—in the same way that it was once taken from my mother—I would forget half of who I am, half of what I love. I would be devastated, and I would fight for its survival.

As I grow older and the opportunities to visit become more difficult, I find myself fighting to keep the memories and lessons from this place alive. They allow me to know that what I hold at my core are simple truths about what’s really important in life—that we are always connected to where we come from. When I smile, laugh, or even dance, I am showing the world not just who I am, but where I come from. This is what I am fighting for.

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