Yesterday, upon the 30th anniversary of the murder of four American women in El Salvador, I was reminded of the way even alleged do-gooders from the navel-gazing Anglo culture steals everything from Hispania: the documentary Roses in December.
In case you missed it, the film is a heart-string-pulling manipulative piece of pseudo-lefty Catholic propaganda about the deaths on Dec. 2, 1982, of three American nuns and one non-vowed "missionary" from Ohio.
What's wrong with that, you ask? After all, the torture, rapes and murders were heinous acts of a dictatorial military regime supported by the United States government.
There's lots wrong: I'll tell you.
First of all, that very same week, as with hundreds of weeks that followed, between 300 to 500 Salvadorans were tortured, murdered and, if female, raped -- without notice or documentaries, anywhere. It had been happening in a crescendo since at least 1980.
Second of all, what was so effing great about four white Americans slumming their way to alleged sainthood? Sure, they we were providing food, shelter and medical care. But have you seen the little palaces with armed guards in which U.S. missionaries live? They have cars (that no one else has), they fly home for rest periods. No Salvadoran lives like they do -- oh, yes, the wealthy and their clergy pets do.
Third, the title of the movie "Roses in December" is a cultural theft of Mexican and Mexican-American popular culture for the purpose of idealizing four Americans in El Salvador. Note to Anglos: Mexico and El Salvador are different countries, have different customs, eat different things ... even if they all look the same to you.
Huh, you say?
"Roses in December" is the key phrase in the story of an Indian named Juan Diego on Dec. 9, 1531, when he said he saw a girl of about 15 or 16 surrounded by light. The young woman in the apparition spoke to him in his native Nahuatl asking that a church be built on that site in her honor. Juan Diego said he recognized her as the long venerated Virgin Mary, or Myriam of Nazareth, mother of Jesus.
When the bishop asked Juan Diego to demand a sign from the Virgin, to prove it was she, the native said the Virgin told her to gather flowers from what was normally a barren hill. He put them in his cloak to protect them and when he unrapped the cloak in front of the bishop and his staff, out came red Castilian roses in full bloom that were not native to Mexico and wouldn't normally blossom in December.
"Roses in December!" was the exclamation of those who saw it. Ever since, Mexicans and Mexican-Americans make a huge deal of this phrase. It was the divine sign the native peoples needed for strength; the Virgin did not appear to the Spanish conquerors, but to a humble Indian and she spoke in his native language.
Whether legend or true, the story is a unique and beloved artifact of Mexican culture. It was not made to be usurped by the next wave of conquerors, the Americans, making themselves into holy people for patching up the unholy mess their own government made in an entirely different country.
As to the four dead women -- especially the allegedly virginal pasty, pudgy business administration student by the name of Jean Donovan -- pity more didn't meet a similar fate.
Maybe if more American "holy" women had been tortured, raped and murdered, the 75,000 ordinary Salvadorans similarly killed until the peace pact of 1992 -- by which time "anti-Communist" military repression had lost the last shred of justification, if it ever had any -- might have continued their obscure, and to American eyes insignificant, little lives.