The International School Network visited the Embassy of El Salvador to Japan to interview the Ambassador, Her Excellency Ms. Martha Lidia Zelayandia.
Environmental Preservation (Madoka)
H.E. Ms. Zelayandia explained to us that El Salvador is a victim to natural disasters and climate change. El Salvador has recently been having a shortage of rain, whereas a few years ago the situation was the opposite. El Salvador has also been historically prone to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, similar to Japan. Yet H.E. Ms. Zelayandia notes that El Salvador is doing well to prepare for natural disasters, with new laws that protect the natural areas and resources. H.E. Ms. Zelayandia believes that the first step towards natural preservation is education; people have to be aware and educated about the environment in order to save it. She mentioned that through education, people can understand not only its importance but also how to contribute, such as by understanding where not to build houses.
H.E. Ms. Zelayandia strongly recommends El Salvador as a tourist destination for people all around the world, including Japan in particular. She noted that only the Pacific Ocean is in between El Salvador and Japan. H.E. Ms. Zelayandia commented that El Salvador is very accessible from Japan because the airports are very international with many direct flights between the United States and El Salvador. H.E. Ms. Zelayandia also mentioned that the US Dollar is the currency used in El Salvador, which allows for tourists to spend easily and understandably.
H.E. Ms. Zelayandia especially recommends Japanese surfers to visit the beaches of El Salvador. She mentioned that the beaches in her country are very well known for the quality of appropriate waves for surfing. She also commented that the beaches are lovely and relaxing not only for surfers, and that the food is very good and reasonable in prices that are relative to Japanese standards.
El Salvador is a small country of only 21 square kilometers. H.E. Ms. Zelayandia expressed that because of the small physical size of the country, tourists are able to visit many places within a short time. She explained that four days is enough to see the main tourist attractions of the country. As one of the top listed countries for having developed road and highway infrastructure, transport within the country can be easily done.
Tourist destinations in El Salvador range from historical sites, beaches, and other natural landscapes, to shopping centers or local markets. There are various archaeological sites in the country, as well as World Heritage sites which Princess Mako of Japan has visited.
H.E. Ms. Zelayandia explained to us that there are many touristic routes that can be taken in El Salvador. She recommends seeing volcanoes, which she notes looks similar to volcanoes in Japan. Although the volcanoes of El Salvador cause natural disasters, H.E. Ms. Zelayandia explained that volcanoes can be greatly appreciated because they make the landscapes of the country very beautiful.
Source of Unity (Kurumi)
The national motto of El Salvador is “God, Unity, Freedom”.When asked what the source of unity of the Salvadoran people was, H.E. Ms. Zelayandia answered “the [national] flag”. The Salvadoran is comprised of mainly two colors: blue and white. The blue symbolizes the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and the white represents ‘peace’. After fighting at the Salvadoran Civil War from 1980 to 1992, the war concluded with “a peace agreement”. H.E. Ms. Zelayandia spoke that the flag represents this “peace agreement” and reminds the Salvadoran people that “both sides” are part of the same country with the same flag representing their nationality.
H.E. Ms. Zelayandia then showed us a poster of Monseñor Óscar Romero hanged on the wall of her office. Monseñor was a Catholic priest and “a victim of the Salvadoran War”. “He worked for peace when he was an archbishop and protected human rights,” H.E. Ms. Zelayandia explained. Though Monseñor had been tragically shot while celebrating Mass in the year 1980, his legacy still continues. Last year, the process of beatification was undergone by Pope Francis, which H.E. Ms. Zelayandia described as “one step before becoming a Saint”. His work during his lifetime have made Salvadorans feel proud of him and the country, which unites the people. “He will [soon] become a Saint,” H.E. Ms. Zelayandia expressed.
In addition, H.E. Ms. Zelayandia stated that the food, particularly pupusa, a Salvadoran tortilla made of corn flour, is what brings the people together. H.E. Ms. Zelayandia mentioned that although there are many Salvadorans who live abroad, there are many Salvadoran restaurants in other countries that serve pupusas. “If you say pupusas, [you think of] El Salvador. You can associate,” she added.
Preservation of Tradition (Kurumi)
When asked the question: “Do you feel that tradition is well-preserved in your country?”, H.E. Ms. Zelayandia answered, “Yes and no”. She expressed that due to colonialism in Africa, El Salvador had “almost disappeared”. The original people of El Salvador were the Mayans. In the present day, according to H.E. Ms. Zelayandia, “about 80%” of the population of El Salvador is “mixed between the original [Mayans] and Spanish” and thus, she stated that original tradition “cannot be preserved”. Yet, she also mentioned that the Salvadoran people are “trying to recover” and making efforts to revive the older traditions that they may have forgotten over the years. For example, the Pipil language or Nawat had been “forbidden for a long time” and “people were afraid to talk [in the language]”. “Now, more people talk in Nawat,” H.E. Ms. Zelayandia revealed. However, simultaneously, she is proud of the Salvadoran culture, which was created as a result of the fusion of “two cultures”. She spoke that the culture of El Salvador is “beautiful” and its stem resides in the people’s “hospitality”.
Cultural Values (Kurumi)
H.E. Ms. Zelayandia elucidated that the cultural values of the people of El Salvador derives from their “houses”. Houses are constructed to accommodate with the climate. For instance, many Salvadoran households do not of air conditioners; instead, they “have gardens in [their] houses”. Moreover, people are very hospitable and friendly to their neighbors. In the old days, H.E. Ms. Zelayandia explained to us that a bakery shop used to deliver bread around the neighborhood at three in the afternoon and relatives would gather at one house for a “coffee break”. This, she stated is “one symbol of hospitality”. “You can go to someone’s house at any time and they will offer you lunch,” H.E. Ms. Zelayandia began, “We prepare a lot of food because we want everyone to have [enough] food”.
Globalization and Gender Equality (Madoka)
H.E. Ms. Zelayandia described globalization as a phenomenon that cannot be stopped. She explained that we must work together to preserve traditions, because otherwise “everywhere will become the similar to everywhere else”. Yet she notes that while tradition must be preserved, there are some aspects in which cultures must change to adjust to globalization.
H.E. Ms. Zelayandia comments that before, she saw that women were being left behind in her country as civil rights were not focused. However, H.E. Ms. Zelayandia assured to us that this situation has now “changed 180 degrees”. Decision making posts for women has greatly increased, and there are various types of support available for women, such as hotlines. H.E. Ms. Zelayandia expressed her gladness that the new governor of Tokyo is a woman. She introduced to us that she knew her and the gave wishes for her success. H.E. Ms. Zelayandia is the first female Salvadoran Ambassador to Japan, yet she explained to us that now, almost one third of the Salvadoran ambassadors are female. She feels very proud and passionate to be the female ambassador of El Salvador to Japan.
Madoka Nishina 12th Saint Maur International School
Kate Shimizu 12th Seisen International School
Youngbin Noh 12th Saint Maur International School
Kurumi Onishi 11th Saint Maur International School
Karen Nishina 6th Saint Maur International School