Sowing Survivance in Izalco, El Salvador

Authors: Jorge Cuellar*, Dartmouth College
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Indigenous Peoples, Latin America
Keywords: Indigeneity, Survivance, Community Gardening, Poetics, Ecology
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/9/2021
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:20 PM
Room: Virtual 43
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Food scarcity and environmental erosion in Izalco is an everyday lived phenomenon. Today, it is the primary motivator for the re-emergence of ojushte, a starchy seed that is metaphorically, and culturally, linked to the entangled memories of past food struggles and ethnocidal violence. Through the embodied articulation of intergenerational memory by indigenous women, I piece together a politics of life central to indigenous survival strategies in Izalco by examining the cultural and ecological uses of the ojushte seed. Underscoring that ojushte is tied to both the historical memory of past habitation and ongoing survivance, I contend that ojushte is a project of life-making in a prefigurative ecological mode that, through soil remediation, indigenous self-learning, and food production, addresses the traumatic histories of 20th century deracination and racial violence, such as 1932’s La Matanza massacre. Environmentally, in the aftermath of ‘32, Izalco experienced successive waves of insect plagues that led to crop failure and catastrophic food insecurity, prompting indigenous groups to rely on ojushte for dietary needs. Given the uses of ojushte in times of crisis, the edible seed serves both as an index to hardships past and a starting point for its repair in the present. Connecting ojushte efforts in El Salvador with broader initiatives in agroecology in the country and in Central America, I argue that the “culturing” of the seed rehearses an emergent politics of native futurity that stands in conceptual tension with development, identity loss, and the deep crises of insecurity, displacement, and habitability.

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