WILSON: Okay this is November 1st. I am Angene Wilson and I am
interviewing for the Peace Corps Oral History Project William Salazar.
So what is your full name and when and where were you born?
SALAZAR: My name is William Henry Salazar, but I was christened
Guillermo Henrico Salazar because I am of Mexican descent and my
parents were Mexican, born in the northern part of Mexico, which is the
state of Chihuahua. When I was three we migrated to the border town of
Juarez, which is on the other side of El Paso. And then subsequently
we moved again to Phoenix, Arizona where I eventually grew up.
WILSON: And then tell me something about your family and about growing
up as it might relate to when you eventually went into the Peace Corps.
SALAZAR: Well we came when I was five so I was fortunate in that
I started school as a young kid and I was able to master English
00:01:00relatively quickly. My father had been in the States before my
family came, and the way the story goes is my mom just didn't want
to be a widow anymore. Because my dad would work in the States as an
agricultural worker, and actually initially he came part of the '50s,
the H2 program that I think it's called now and it's the labor program
that is in conjunction with the States. So he did a lot of agriculture
work and then he would visit the family. He would come back during the
off season, which is usually in the winter. So my mom wanted the whole
family to be reunited. But there's also the aspect of my mom worked in
the border town and she did a lot of the seamstress work on the, a lot
of the factories that were American factories along the border. Pretty
similar to what we have now with NAFTA and there's I guess the whole
00:02:00idea of ----------(??) plus she wanted us to be together. And then
it was never spoken but it's that American dream that we talk about in
different cultures. People from Europe talk about that all the time
and the opportunities to live an American life were very tantalizing.
So we came to the States when I was five, started kindergarten. I
think I'm the only person that I know of that needed to go through
kindergarten twice because at that time there weren't any ESL programs.
As a matter of fact the neighborhood that we moved in, we were the
only brown faces the only Mexican kids, which was kind of neat because
we were rather exotic. It was an all white school. Interestingly
enough later on in the '60s it became an all Hispanic school because
the area became inner city and it was taken over if you will by the
00:03:00incoming first and second generation Mexicans. And I had a chance to
see this even though we moved away from there, many years, many years
after that. So when we lived at different places in the Phoenix area
in Arizona and my dad was an agricultural worker. He did migrant work,
so from an early age my summers were spent going to California. We
went to southern California and pretty much followed the crops up to
northern California. And bless my mom, we would always come back after
Labor Day to start school but then to a different house to a different
neighborhood. So for the first seven years of my life we lived in a
different neighborhood and went to a different school, which has its
drawbacks. Fortunately enough for us, however I would thank for my
mom, who obtained a sixth grade Mexican education. She was functional
00:04:00I think, functional maybe vocabulary of 150 words in English, really
valued education simply because she didn't have the opportunity is one
of the things that she wanted to. So vicariously she lived through us
and promoted education. One of the things that my mom did is that she
was astute enough that we would move in and live in white neighborhoods,
albeit we probably had only rented a house in the neighborhood,
probably the cheapest house, but we lived in white neighborhoods so in
essence we had a pretty good education as I look back.
WILSON: Did you--Were you supposed to be speaking Spanish?
SALAZAR: Yes, yes.
WILSON: Yes, so you grew up bilingual. You didn't lose the Spanish?
SALAZAR: No I didn't. There's a transitional part I remember in fourth
grade where my English skills weren't great. I still had an accent and
00:05:00I was losing my Spanish skills. What made it possible for my siblings
and I to maintain Spanish is that as I mentioned earlier my mom, she
had functional literacy level in English. My father probably has if
that 40 working words in English, so we had to translate for them so
when we'd buy refrigerators or we had to sign a lease for a house or
we'd buy a car or do anything of those things, so in that way we had
to keep Spanish. And then later on as I got more interested in really
speaking Spanish very well and reading it my mom would tutor me as far
as reading, so I grew up bilingually which is very fortunate for me
because I've always maintained it. A lot of kids especially second
generation kids don't have that luxury because as the parents learn
English and then the whole aspect--The other thing too, the whole
00:06:00aspect of becoming Americanized, the late '50s, early '60s the school
districts we went to we probably heard the war stories got punished
for speaking Spanish with classmates, physically. You would put up
your knuckles and you would get slapped. And the whole aspect of being
Americanized was not only overt but also covert. And it presents a
problem, presents some problems in our house because you're now between
two cultures. There's a culture of school that you hold in high regard
and they're always right, they know all the answers because they're
the educated ones. They're telling you in not so subtle ways that you
need to leave your culture behind. But then when you go home you kind
of speak Spanish and it's sort of the holidays and the rituals and
so on; you become torn. And at an early age I wish there was someone
to help you navigate through life so you can be functioning in both
00:07:00cultures and be a complete person. And it's only until later on when
I grew up and had mentors in high school who made me realize it. But
then growing up in the '60s for the cultural identity and value in
the culture became very important, and that was a crucial part in my
pathological well being that I was able to carry on through college and
later on. And I think that's one, probably one of the reasons why I'm
so interested in culture and cultural diversity and the whole aspect of
multiculturalism, translating and speaking two languages. And I think
also what led me to volunteer for Peace Corps later on was when I was
WILSON: So where did you go to college?
SALAZAR: I went to college at Arizona State University in Tempe and I
majored in English of all things.
WILSON: And how did you find out about Peace Corps and what made you
decide to do that?
SALAZAR: My older brother hung around with all the international students
00:08:00and they were really a lot of fun and I would tag along. He was four
years older than I was and so they did a lot of the international
things. He went to a community college called Phoenix Community
College and they had a lot of international students, so he hung around
with them. He hung around with all the Latin American/South American
students, and that was a lot of fun. I remember the commercials on
television and I just thought that it was just an adventure that I
couldn't pass up. I remember filling out a three by five card when I
was a sophomore in high school for biology class and the instructor was
asking why is this class important to you and I remember putting down
that I would need this class because I was going to be a Peace Corps
volunteer. So from way back since I was a freshman--
WILSON: So did you know people who were Peace Corps volunteers?
SALAZAR: No actually, no I didn't. I just knew that--
WILSON: That was--
SALAZAR: The younger people who lived in countries that Peace Corps
served. And actually there's the commercial stuff, I should say the
00:09:00ads for Peace Corps were very effective.
WILSON: That's interesting. Now when were you in college from?
SALAZAR: I started college in '71.
WILSON: Okay. And graduated in--?
SALAZAR: Well actually I didn't graduate until '79.
SALAZAR: Actually I have a really--
WILSON: You went into Peace Corps in the middle of--?
SALAZAR: Yes, yes.
SALAZAR: Yes I'm the second one to attend college as I mentioned earlier
that my mom valued education. I had started college right out of high
school. I went to summer school, well graduating out of high school.
I completed nine hours even before my freshman first semester year and
had continued, gone continuously. By the start of my sophomore year I
was really burnt out of college and I really didn't want to drop out.
There's a whole aspect of the trauma and the evil blow to my family
to come home and say I'm dropping out of college, plus I didn't really
00:10:00want to do entry level restaurant and those kinds of jobs. I happened
to be going down the mall after my American literature class and Peace
Corps volunteers were running a table, and I said you know well maybe
this is my way out. I can go home and tell my family that I'm joining
the Peace Corps and I mean you know go and live in Latin American
country, I mean that's big stuff. Talked with a Peace Corps volunteer,
he said, "Well what kind of experience have you had? Have you done
a lot of agricultural work?" I knew lot about plants and growing and
harvesting, and one thing led to another and all of a sudden I found
myself with an application form and my heart beating just very quickly
and trying to figure out how to fill this out and then looking at
my being overseas in a matter of a couple weeks. So that was pretty
exciting. Peace Corps at that time had a thing called PREST, and I
00:11:00forget what it exactly it stands for but it's like pre-enlistment if
you will, which was really quite a lot of fun because I got a chance
to bond with people who I went to eventually went to Guatemala with
where I served. I wanted to go to an African speaking country, but I
figured since I didn't have a degree, I was still in college, that I
would increase my chances if I went to a Spanish speaking country since
Spanish was my first language and I had done agriculture work and some
agriculture project. But the irony is that I wasn't old enough to
drink before I joined Peace Corps, and we were--We had I think over a
two day period a series of interviews and I remember some of us friends
going up to I think in Denver they were calling where the disco was
going to be. And so they said well we're going to go to this place and
have a couple of drinks and I go, "I'm sorry guys. I can't go with you
00:12:00because I'm not old enough."
WILSON: I'm not 21!
SALAZAR: And they just couldn't believe that because most of the Peace
Corps volunteers were 24, 25; they had finished college and been
working and they were looking at going to Peace Corps.
WILSON: Okay now so you, you finished your sophomore year?
SALAZAR: No I actually finished my--
WILSON: You finished your freshman year?
SALAZAR: My freshman year.
WILSON: Okay so you were like 18, 19?
SALAZAR: I was 19.
WILSON: You were 19, okay. And so how did this PREST program, what
SALAZAR: Well it was part of the, it was the interview. And I just
wanted to go so badly I was ready to say and do anything, and apparently
I said the right things and my application said the right things and--
WILSON: And so you left for Guatemala in 1972? And your training was
SALAZAR: No actually, actually Peace Corps had contracted with an urban
group called Basico where ex-Peace Corps in agriculture and language
00:13:00and in Costa Rica. So we trained in Costa Rica, which is right next
door. And we trained there for three months. I didn't do the language
training thing because I already knew Spanish.
WILSON: Right, were you the only one?
SALAZAR: So I--Yes, yes. So I got a chance to tour the city, do a lot
of different things and it was really a lot of fun.
WILSON: Sounds wonderful. How was the other training? How did it go?
SALAZAR: Well we--I think we were the first group to train so we were
like the guinea pigs. And we planted a miniature of plots. Our project
was actually a really neat project and it was to find the optimal level
of fertilizer for rice and corn and beans in Guatemala, so our job was
to figure out what, how much application of fertilizer without spending
00:14:00a lot of money or whatthe family would have to use to grow a good crop.
Saving money to save time and getting it out to more crops.
WILSON: So that was part of your training that you were doing this
SALAZAR: Yeah, yeah, so we did the experiment and we were able to
duplicate that in country, which was really neat. We would, part of
the job was to contract with farmers and plant alongside with them.
The only difference is that the part of the plot which varied in
size would have different applications of fertilizer and they would
see the different levels of growth and different output of corn and
beans, so that was pretty neat because the farmer could see empirically
what, how much fertilizer to use and how much they would gain with the
different applications. Now you also have to understand in '71 and
'72 and '73 you had the oil embargo, and as you know fertilizer depends
00:15:00on petroleum products. So our project was really a wash because no
one could afford fertilizer and we couldn't afford fertilizer for the
trials, and Peace Corps didn't know what to do. And anyone who sort of
served in government function or even Peace Corps know, or should know
that the bureaucracy turns very slowly and then plus also ----------
(??) with the host nationals in terms of the soil. So we didn't, they
didn't know what to do with us and we didn't know what to do, so we
traveled around the country for a while just while Peace Corps figured
it out. Some of my friends left; they didn't want to wait around.
And I had the temptation to leave but I just really liked being in
Guatemala. I really liked the indigenous people and the highlands and
what it had to offer was just completely different than what I had been
used to in Arizona. So we turned around and we worked with the co-ops.
We worked with co-op projects and that was kind of neat. We did a
lot of classes at the elementary school, which was pretty neat. We
00:16:00did a lot of classes with the local economists and probably the best
project that we did, even though we did for lacks of trials have lots
more failures. We went around because we had motorcycles and we soil
tested the whole area, which the agriculture department, the department
of agriculture really loved because now they had a database to supply
all the different objects. And then we also did a lot of composting
and taught people how to do that, and well people in third world
countries, those of you who have traveled in third world countries,
are very resourceful. And so this was just another way for them to use
everything and turn around and use these composts, well composting to
help grow their, in our case corn and beans, so that was pretty neat.
WILSON: So you went with a group of how many? How many of you were in
Costa Rica to train to be in it?
SALAZAR: We were 25 of us.
WILSON: 25 of you went for this three month training?
SALAZAR: Yes, mmhmm.
WILSON: And then when you went to Guatemala and discovered that you
couldn't really do that--
SALAZAR: Well actually all 25 of us went.
WILSON: You went to Guatemala.
SALAZAR: And then--
WILSON: And then people, some people left.
WILSON: Okay, and was that the only program in Guatemala at that point
or were there people doing other kinds of things?
SALAZAR: Actually another program that came right behind us was couples.
And not necessarily everyone was married. They were couples and they
did garden projects. They did garden projects and they did protein
raising, for instance rabbits for protein for meat and that was
rabbits. They multiplied very quickly and that was an interesting,
00:18:00kind of an interesting project. So they did both of those and then
also how to grow a variety of different vegetables to supplement their
diets, not necessarily for market but to eat better nutritiously. And
so they did nutrition classes, they did the raising of the rabbits, and
they did the different vegetables. And then their project was also in
conjunction with kids that used a lot of the seeds, and then they used
a lot of the different growing like planting corn and then subsequently
planting beans and then having the bean vines grow on corn. They
utilized the nitrogen in the corn plant, so you got a--
WILSON: What was your experience as somebody who already spoke Spanish?
00:19:00I mean even when you got to San Jose you must have been able to just
go right out and do all kinds of things that a lot of people even if
they'd had a little bit of Spanish wouldn't have been able to do.
SALAZAR: Well it was really interesting because in Costa Rica I blended
in very well. I didn't blend in as well in Guatemala because they were
more indigenous, their cheekbones and a little bit darker skin, the
forehead. In Guatemala it was really interesting when they found out
I was of Mexican descent because Mexico is to Guatemala what the United
States is to Mexico. You look at that as the relationship.
WILSON: Sure, sure.
SALAZAR: So I was rather hesitant to say that I was from Mexico
because usually that wasn't very well received. Probably one of the
interesting things is that there was a lot of the political turmoil,
the outshoot of the '60s, a lot of student movements that had fit into
third world countries. So we made friends with a lot of university
students because they were our age, and we would have very lively
00:20:00sometimes quite beautiful discussions about American foreign policy
and American economic systems and American dictating to you know small
countries like Costa Rica, Guatemala, El Salvador, all Central America,
how the imperialistic or those aspects of American foreign policy. But
what was really interesting is that we agreed that the United States
government had not treated these countries really well then or in the
past. And they were quite shocked because they really wanted to have
a verbal fight. But then at the same time they got to know us as
individuals and it was probably one of the neat things about the Peace
Corps is that you are able to explain what Americans are like in that
Americans are different from what the government does, that Americans
00:21:00are well genuine, very giving, and very understanding people. It's
just that more often or not American foreign policy does not usually
coincide with what Americans really think.
WILSON: So what was it like to arrive in Guatemala and begin your time?
Did you have what we call culture shock? You know was it, how did you
get acclimated and were there things that were difficult? Were you well
prepared? Were there things you weren't prepared for?
SALAZAR: Well even though Spanish was my first language and I could
never language wise, cultures are different. People who, all the
Spanish speaking countries all together, even though the countries
are relatively small in a half in an hour you can go from one country
to the other. They have their own distinct personalities, their own
distinct vernacular if you will. Actually it was a culture shock when
00:22:00we got to Guatemala and were getting off the plane. The soldiers were
on the airport. When we would go to the bank there were soldiers with
M16 guns at the bank, so that was really an eye opener for us. We
arrived by country buses. Sometimes we would be asked to get off the
bus and we didn't know if they were guerillas or just guys giving the
shakedown. And that was really interesting because I'm thinking like
they're going to know that I'm American and I'm going to get you know
kidnapped kind of thing. But I looked Latin American so I was okay.
It was a culture shock because it was like going back to the 1800s.
You look at the infrastructure and you look at how often you look at
education, and it was what I understood the 1800s to be like. Things
00:23:00worked very, very slowly. It was probably the hardest thing as a 19
year old. You want to do things yesterday and I think that's probably
true of Peace Corps volunteers now in 2005, 2006. Things just take
time. What was really hard for me to do is how dealing with doing
things, trying to get something done involved a lot of interaction, a
lot of discussion. And after a while once I figured it out that that's
their source of entertainment. It's something to have radios and a
television and this is how people deal with each other. And when they
ask you how you are, they are genuine. When they ask you about your
family they really want to know. So I think it's probably universal
of third world countries, which coming back from Guatemala is probably
one of the hardest things to adjust to in a way. "Hello, how are
00:24:00you?" doesn't mean hello, how are you? And even now I still, it takes
me for a loop. When I deal with international students it gives me
a throwback to my Peace Corps days because they really want to know.
And so when I finally realized that life really, really slowed down
that it took a whole day to talk to farmers and maybe I just talked to
one farmer in one day, but it was a major accomplishment. And one of
the things is that I'm not sure that the Latin American concept was a
fatalism that the view of nature is really interesting how people see
nature is that nature is a strong force. And I think it's probably
a Latin American concept. I'm probably sure it's probably true of
people who go to Africa or Asian countries. Their nature is, it's a
very active participant in people's lives that people--I wouldn't say
they're in harmony with nature but they, nature--How nature functions
00:25:00in their lives it's a very crucial thing. People don't blast through
roads; they go around roads. When a rainstorm washes up a crop you
just turn around and say well it's God's will and turn around and plant
it again. So that was kind of an interesting thing to get used to.
WILSON: Where were you actually located in the country?
SALAZAR: Well actually I was in two different sites. I was in the
southern, the southern/eastern part that's along the coast. It's
called La Makina it's in Mazatenango. And what happens, the previous
president wanted to have economic development and sort of like the
Amazon jungle if you will. It's in the tropics. It's hotter than
anything, very humid, and it's very isolated. They divided the whole
section into, the whole region into sections. And so we were there
and then after a month I got transferred to the other side which is
the border of El Salvador in a department called Pijaca, which is a
00:26:00lot different from La Maquina. Maquina got its name because they were
having this dozers and this heavy equipment was just kind of leveled
out the jungle and try to make the area more productive, which was
another interesting story.
WILSON: What were your living conditions like? How did you, where did
SALAZAR: Well actually I was one of the richest guys in my village
at $5. I'm not sure if it was $5 or $5.50 that we got a day. I had
a motorcycle. As expensive as gas was because of the oil embargo I
could pretty much go anywhere. Of course the marketplace you can buy,
you can buy a meal for $0.50, a nutritious meal. You can buy all the
vegetables and fruits that you--
WILSON: What would you eat? What were you eating?
SALAZAR: Well I'd eat a lot of rice and beans.
WILSON: Rice and beans, rice and beans.
SALAZAR: A lot of bananas, which were bananas, papayas, pineapple which
00:27:00was good and watermelon, cantaloupes, things that were in the growing
WILSON: You were living by yourself?
SALAZAR: Yes, yes.
WILSON: Living by yourself, not with a family.
SALAZAR: No we trained, when we trained we lived with families for
the intensive Spanish that the other volunteers needed so we were
totally immersed. But when we got on site, which is another culture
shock. You were living by yourself; it's a lot different. And you
weren't close to your friends. My friend was, my closest friend was 50
kilometers away, which is about 35 miles all the way which took about a
half a day to get there.
WILSON: Wow, but you were by yourself in this village with--?
WILSON: I think that we should. We are resuming an interview with
William Salazar about his Peace Corps experience in Guatemala. So
00:28:00let's, let me ask you this question. What was a typical day like in
Guatemala? I know you were in several different places but maybe you
want to start off with where you were first. What did you do when you
got up? What did you eat for meals? You know what was a day like?
SALAZAR: Well the first site that I was at was on the coast on
Mazatenango and that area was actually very interesting. The previous
president had wanted a big finca.
WILSON: So a farm, right?
SALAZAR: This is in the coast of, it's a jungle. And so he went in
and of course he had all the resources and the money so he just made
this huge land clearing and then brought people in from different
areas to settle in the area. So when we were there as Peace Corps
volunteers there were three of us who were there and before us there
00:29:00were two other volunteers who had been there previously. And there
was a, the next Peace Corps volunteer who kind of showed us around but
fortunately there was a research, agriculture research station there so
we made friends for the agronomist. And at the same time there was a
contingency of Taiwanese rice farmers who were doing rice experiments
there at the same time. So we basically spend the first two months
just trying to figure out how everything worked. And it was really
interesting because it was laid out as a grid that we'd think of a
place that just has squares and everything was measured precisely and
it was really interesting because it was all cleared out. And the
areas that were cleared out you could see the edges of the jungle; we
were really close to the coast line. So we, we had motorcycles at the
00:30:00time so we would go around and talk to farmers and in essence follow
the agronomists around and everybody in Guatemala grows corn. And this
area in particular was growing rice so we--
WILSON: These people that you were working with were working on this
finca or this farm?
SALAZAR: Well the finca was off limits because he had all the workers
that he needed.
WILSON: Oh okay.
SALAZAR: So it was the surrounding areas and of course it's all fenced
in and guards and machine guns you know.
WILSON: Oh I see, okay.
SALAZAR: And he'd come for the weekends, so we would just hear
helicopters come by every once in a while and startled everybody but
it was for us it was like going back to what we knew from the movies as
1800s lifestyle. People wore holstered guns and it was, there weren't
very many cars and trucks. People used horses and mules and it was the
00:31:00Wild West literally. There was little enforcement and we for a while
we were wondering why we were there because it seemed pretty scared,
but once you got to know the natives and got to know the other people
and they knew what you were there for it was okay.
WILSON: Now this is before there's a lot of unrest, civil war, whatever
you want to call it in Guatemala?
SALAZAR: It was really interesting because we thought we were going to
be sent home any day simply because there were the guerillas that we
would hear about the guerillas here and there, and occasionally when
we would be riding the bus to the capital city people would board
the bus and make everybody get out and they would look at us and just
they'll know that we're Americans and that's it. But we never suffered
anything and luckily--
WILSON: And you didn't see any, the army burning down villages or doing
anything like that?
SALAZAR: No, no, none of that.
WILSON: That's later.
SALAZAR: Yeah so we weren't privy or part of that. Now when a Peace
Corps volunteer left, the district was called or the county equivalent
to ours is called the Jutiapa which is on the other side of the country
that borders El Salvador. And they asked me if I wanted to take
that site and it didn't take long to hesitate to take the site simply
because the coast got up to 90 degree temperatures in the morning you
know 5:00 in the morning it's 90 degrees. And by noon it was easily
105, 110. And then coming from Arizona I knew what it was like to be
in the hot climate, but I didn't know what it was like to be in a hot
climate and also humid. So I took the opportunity to move to the other
site. And then I work with agronomists in the site, it's more deserts
kind of environment. The people were a lot different even though it
was the same country. There's less indigenous and more, they were
00:33:00more like me, more Latinos and a mixture of the Indian and Spanish.
There wasn't so much culture even though the city and the settlements
in the area had been there for a while were part of the Pan American
highway, so we had a lot of people traveling up and down coming from El
Salvador. Saw a lot of Europeans, a lot of people hitchhiking on the
Pan American highway, so we made a lot of friends and invited them to
dinner. Sometimes they would stay and it was actually kind of neat; it
was really a lot of fun.
WILSON: So the first year you were on the, what would that be, the
Pacific side then right?
SALAZAR: Right, yes.
WILSON: And then the second year you were on the Atlantic side but not
down by the coast?
SALAZAR: No, and we went more towards the center of the country towards
El Salvador. And actually it wasn't the first year, it was the first
three months that I was in Mazatenango.
WILSON: Oh okay alright and then, then you moved over.
SALAZAR: And then I moved over, yeah. So a typical day to answer
your question would be I would get up. I had my own, my own house
if you will and I lived in the center of the village. And then the
00:34:00agronomists lived a block over and they all camped out at a--I lived
with them initially before I got my own place. They had their own
house and we would go over to one of the little restaurants, the only
restaurants combination restaurant/store/bus station/gossip place.
And then we would have breakfast and then we would go out to the
agronomist station where they were conducting research. And then from
there I would go visit farmers and try to get them to plant for this.
Our project was to do fertilizer trials on corn and beans and see what
was the maximum fertilizer that a farmer can use, still saving money,
and then getting a maximum yield. But what was interesting about our
project is that we were there when the oil embargo came, took place so
no one could afford any fertilizer because the base for fertilizer is
00:35:00petroleum. So it pretty much put a lot of damper on our projects as
far as what we wanted to do. We still did our fertilizer trials and--
WILSON: There wasn't any talk about organic gardening or organic farming?
SALAZAR: Well it was really interesting because I'm glad you mentioned
that because that's what we started doing. We started doing composting
and we started doing those kind of things, and then as an offshoot
of that we would go into the grade schools and we would talk to the
grade school kids about doing that. Of course being Americans we
were really welcomed by the teachers and of course we were an oddity
for the school kids, so that was pretty neat. We would hold a lot of
seminars, which was really neat. We would invite all these farmers
thinking that no one would come, and I think out of curiosity or of
nothing else to do they would come and we would have this seminar start
at 8:00 in the morning and go to 2:00. And eventually we get invited
to go to the local drinking place and drink beer till you know 5:00
00:36:00or 6:00 in the afternoon and just kind of mill around and hang out and
sing songs and tell stories and tell more stories. And that was really
neat, and we'd end up coming back to our places and then we'd do the
same thing at another place. But eventually when we started planting,
the whole idea was to get the farmers to allocate a section of their
land with plants just like they would, use the same seeds that they
would, except that we would periodically, were fertilized differently
and then we would see in this case as the corn grew that different
amounts of fertilizer yielded different size plants. Actually it was
pretty exciting because you could physically see it. And of course
at the end of the harvest you would make the comparison, and of course
we would document all that. One of the other things that we did is
that we would go around and we would soil test the whole area. And
the department of agriculture really liked us then because we had
00:37:00man power that they didn't have, so as a result of the Peace Corps
group that I was part of, pretty much something like an exaggerated
amount of something they calculated something like 78% of the area of
Guatemala was soil tested, something that they had been wanting to do.
So that was pretty neat and it was probably one of the most positive
things about Peace Corps and Peace Corps volunteers. As far as our
efforts to show that different levels of fertilizer you can maximize
by saving money really wasn't very fruitful simply because farmers
couldn't afford fertilizer. But an offshoot of that is that we did
organic farming, a lot of composting, and then we also which was I
think was really radical for the time, we started getting farmers to
start growing their beans in between the corn stalks, something they
00:38:00hadn't done before. Before they would go in and they would just burn
it, and for days after the harvest you would have just big black clouds
of smoke that just polluted the whole area. And you could see the
effects of that because people were coughing and people had allergic
reactions and getting colds, and that still goes on. I'm sure it still
goes on now, but the fact that we got them to consider it. You think
of traditional societies who have been doing the same thing for years
and years, and of course you have this wet-behind-the-ears 20 year
old Peace Corps volunteer you know he's not going to listen to us, and
actually they did. And I think it was kind of a--I don't think it was
because of us, I think it was because of the times, lack of fertilizer,
you've got to do something, you want to have some decent yields because
you have to feed the families, number one thing. You want to have some
leftover seeds and you want to have something that you can sell for
those things that you can make. These people lived pretty minimally so
00:39:00it wasn't because of our efforts, I think it was because of necessities
and whether they were willing to do something.
WILSON: What did you do for recreation?
SALAZAR: I had a radio so I would listen to the radio. I had a tape
recorder and I think I had three cassette tapes that I listened over
and over again. I still know the songs by heart thirty years later.
WILSON: What were they?
SALAZAR: One was The Rolling Stones, another one was The Beatles, and
actually it was one of my friends who sent it to me and the third one.
Oh gosh, what was the third one? Nielson Schmielson the one album I
think he made; I think he has since died. In one of the neat things
about living in a third world country is that when it gets dark people
go to bed because it's another culture of society. And that was
something to get used to. And what people do for recreation is you
00:40:00talk to each other, and people really want to know what you're thinking
and what you're like and your experiences. And as Americans we thought
that was rather invasive and you know none of your business kind of
thing, but after a while there's nothing else to do, you really welcome
that and you really make some really solid friends that way. I did.
We read a lot. We were fortunate enough to get Time Magazine and
Newsweek from the States, although they were a couple weeks late, or
actually sometimes a month late. But we were reading cover to cover.
I was smart enough to take a lot of my literature books because I
was an English major before I left for the Peace Corps, so I had one
of my anthologies that I just was constantly reading. Wrote a lot of
letters home, did a lot of that, so a lot of reading and then we had
motorcycles. We were fortunate enough to do that so we would go in the
countryside and just explore the area.
WILSON: Did you travel all over Guatemala by the time you left?
SALAZAR: Well one of the neat things about being a Peace Corps
volunteer and being in an agriculture project is that when you have
the dry season you don't plant so there's nothing for you to do.
The harvest is in and everybody's saved up for the next time around,
and then the other countries are relatively close. El Salvador was
just 15 kilometers from where I lived. Honduras was another what 45
kilometers, and then going north to Nicaragua, so I was able to go to
all these different places and really see the difference between all
the different countries in spite of the fact that they were so close.
They were so different.
WILSON: What were some of the differences?
SALAZAR: Well the language was different, a lot of the things that
they used. One example would be in Guatemala hueco means hole. In
Nicaragua if you use hueco it means homosexual.
WILSON: Serious differences.
SALAZAR: Yeah so if you're going on the road and of course all the
roads, some of the roads there are not paved are potholed. And it was
00:42:00really interesting because one time I said something like "Look out
for that hole," "Cuidado con el hueco" and everybody just cracks up
laughing. And you know almost swerves out to the road and you know
gets us killed, and this is how I found out there was a difference.
And then the accents were different. People coming up the Pan
American highway, after a while I could tell where they were from. I
would say, "You're from El Salvador," he says, "How do you know?" And
of course a lot of people traveling, traveling through, did lunch with
them, knew they were from El Salvador. So that was kind of neat. The,
where I lived was a center place and it had a plaza, kind of typical
Central American town. And so on weekends you had the kids coming
around shoe shining and you had the big marketplace, so there's a lot
of people from all over the place would come to buy and hang out and
do different things, and that was a lot of fun. It was just really
00:43:00interesting to see how, what people did for recreation.
WILSON: What could you buy in the market?
SALAZAR: Boy, you name it. You can only buy, if you wanted to buy some
remedy for hemorrhoids, they sold it to you. You know a lot of fruits
and vegetables and it's really colorful, really pretty, but it's not
as colorful as up in the mountains where the native Guatemalans still
have the native garb and then they have the chiseled faces and their
expressions because people were mixed. So we didn't have that. Gosh
it was really interesting because it took us a while to figure it out.
We really missed the canned foods from the States. And I remember
going through the marketplace and finding cans of tuna, and of course
with my $5.00 a day I was pretty rich surprisingly, again to show how
poor people are. So I think I bought all six cans that this lady was
WILSON: And then she was probably glad you were a customer.
SALAZAR: And then of course making tuna fish sandwiches and sharing it
with one of the agronomists. And so he was asking, "Where did you get
this?" I got this at the mercado, and he says, "Oh yeah, that must be
contraband." And I go, "What do you mean?" And he says you know once in
a while people will have the black market. And so it was interesting
because once in a while you'd see some things and once in a while you
won't see them. And it was kind of hit and miss, and so that was my
introduction to that. Now one of the interesting things also is that
gas is cheaper in El Salvador. I never figured out why. So people
from Guatemala would get these little pickup trucks. It was really
interesting because you think of pickup trucks like the ones in the
States, just little Toyota or Dotsons, well the Japanese built this
little tiny truck. I don't know if--You don't see them around the
States. They look like big Tonka trucks. So they would have what is
00:45:00it like 15 barrel containers of the oil, so they would drip on down.
And it was really interesting because they would fill them up to the
brim and somebody would be holding on to them, of course they'd be
whipping on the road, and they never, I don't think they ever realized.
I remember bringing it up that they would ever flip or something you
know that would just be disastrous. And of course that was illegal
to do but you know people make do with what you have to do kind of
thing in spite of the laws. One of the other things when we lived in
the coast the government because of the endangered species they had
outlawed the sale of turtle eggs; and turtle eggs in the coast was
considered a delicacy. And then do you guys remember the Rocky movies
where--Well we couldn't understand as Peace Corps volunteers why they
00:46:00were endangered. The people would eat the eggs and I remember being
goaded to trying them and you just, you just crack the shell and you
just swallow it whole.
WILSON: How did it taste?
SALAZAR: Well I didn't try it. I wasn't brave enough but one of my
friends did, and in retrospect I wish I had because you know it was
just like he was like their brother now and you know.
WILSON: Oh because they--
SALAZAR: Because you're one of us kind of thing. I figured just
drinking beer was enough but it was one of those interesting things.
And then this was guys who were agronomists who were educated who knew
the dangers of losing one of the species, but it's just you know it
just goes to show that you can pass a law whether it's you know Central
America or the States, people are still going to disregard that.
WILSON: If it's something they want to do or it's part of that culture.
What were your interactions with host country nationals like? Did you
have? You didn't have a host family although you had one when you were
in training as I recall.
WILSON: You had counterparts that you were working with, these
SALAZAR: Yes, well there was well it's really interesting when you look
at third world societies and it's probably one of the criticisms that
I think Peace Corps volunteers had because the lines you know we, the
lines are very clearly defined--status, skin color, name. More so than
in the States, you know we look at the differences in the States but
they are very, very pronounced in Central American countries. Even
an educated person regardless of what area you're educated in, you're
really ranked and there were so the host nationals that we worked with.
00:48:00We worked with the agronomists and for the most part they were, they
were fun to work with. They were okay and then there were a group
called junior agronomists who were like equivalent of A.A. degree
people here in the States, and they were more our age. They were our
age or a little bit older, so because they were closer to our age we
could relate to them. And so we, just because they were closer to our
age we did a lot of things with them, gave us a lot of leads as to who
to look to farm with. We shared resources, I taught English classes
with the junior agronomists who were in the area, associated with them,
got invited to dinner, drank beers with them, did a lot of the fiestas
and those kind of things. So that was a lot of fun, but that was a
lot of fun simply because Spanish was my first language and I could
00:49:00communicate very easily. And so that was kind of neat that they were
all male and so there weren't any reservations as far as where you
stood; you just because instant friends.
WILSON: And so again your Spanish was an advantage in your host country.
SALAZAR: Well it was really interesting because when being out in the
field and then the first chance that I got after planted, getting a
hold of the farmers and then planting and then monitoring the fertilizer
trials I think was a month and a half, two months before I got to go
in the city. And I was considering myself a failure because I had just
done 12 plots and I had foreseen doing twice that many just because.
And then come to find out that volunteers who had been there for five
years weren't able to do that, but then that's because I spoke Spanish
and I was able to communicate clearly. And that's probably one of the
hardest things, whether you go to Africa or Central America, that one's
00:50:00language is a gateway it goes without saying to really accomplish your
goals as far as being a Peace Corps volunteer, or even anything really.
WILSON: Right. What about interactions with other Americans then and
Peace Corps volunteers? Now you were, when you were in the second
placement after those first three months were you living with other--?
SALAZAR: My close--No I was the only one at the site.
WILSON: You were the only one at the site.
SALAZAR: And I was fortunate because I didn't have anyone to be compared
to or someone couldn't be compared to me. My friend who lived on the--
WILSON: And there hadn't been a volunteer there before?
SALAZAR: No there hadn't been a volunteer before, which is really
advantaged, figure that out very quickly because you couldn't be
compared to somebody else.
WILSON: Yeah I bet that's, sure, sure--
SALAZAR: And actually there was a Peace Corps volunteer before me but
he was part of our group and he went home I think after two weeks.
He just missed his family, just couldn't do it. Well close friend,
we became close friends, he lived on the other side of the mountain
which was, actually wasn't very far. It was only 18 kilometers, but
00:51:00to get to there was a really rocky and really a bad road that just
took forever. And even though I had a motorcycle I had to make sure
that I went during daytime because if I went any other time it was
actually quite dangerous. One of the things--There aren't any phones
where we lived but there was a telegraph office. And I'm wondering
what it's like with the internet now if those kind of communication
areas, if it has helped. The town what five kilometers from where
I lived had a two way radio; they had a co-op officer that we would
call the Peace Corps every once in a while but not very frequently.
But we would communicate through telegram and then those of you who
know how telegrams work, they charge you by the word. And we quickly
figured out that we had to make a code because we didn't want them to
know what it is that we were saying. Because I remember the guy who
delivered the telegrams he would say it's your friend he wants you
00:52:00to come over. And being an American you don't want anybody else to
know your business, and a little village of you know 300 people you
know everybody knows everybody's business kind of thing. And it's
just like in any other town here in eastern Kentucky, but we had a
really hard time with that so we would have this code like you know the
sky is blue. And then of course you had to do it in Spanish because
they couldn't do it in English. And so we, the guy would deliver the
telegram and then he would look at us reading it, he would look at me
reading it, and he had this really quizzical look in his face wondering
you know what this means. And he goes oh yeah okay well thanks and
then he wanted to have an explanation and he didn't get one. If he got
one it was more convoluted, and not only that but having minimal words
also saved us money and then at the same time you know--
WILSON: So what did the sky is blue mean?
SALAZAR: Well it means you know I want you to come over.
WILSON: Oh I want you to come over, okay.
SALAZAR: And then one of the things too is that one of my Peace Corps
00:53:00friends not around the area where we lived was as an American they
think that you're rich. And in some ways we were because you know we
had a motorcycle and you know it's something they can't afford. And
you know my $5.00 a day I was a rich guy in my village so they think
you have all these different things. So Peace Corps houses get broken
into all the time just because they want what you have kind of one of
those things, and I think that's probably kind of universal. So we
didn't want them to know, although they knew anyway, that you know you
weren't going to be at home.
WILSON: That you were going to be gone. What are a couple of memorable
stories from your Peace Corps experience, ones that you continue to
SALAZAR: Well the faith that people have in God. I remember we were
trying to get farmers to plant differently, and one of the ways that
we were getting them to plant differently was we want you to have more
00:54:00spacing between the rows and between the plants and what we want you
to do is we want you to plant two seeds instead of three. And so one
of the farmers said and once you become friends they're very honest
with you. I don't know if they'll follow your advice but they're very
honest with you. He says well so I remember asking he says well why do
you plant three trees and excuse me three seeds. And I was explaining
to him that three seeds take a lot of nutrients and then you're wasting
those nutrients in three seeds where if you would just use the nutrients
in one seed you would get a better stalk and a bigger corn and probably
healthier that would withstand any insects or any of the fungus that
would come up. And very patiently and very astutely he understood the
concept and he says, "Well we plant three seeds for these reasons. One
is for the birds. One is for God, and the other one is for us." And I
00:55:00remember as a 20 year old trying to make sense of that.
WILSON: How could you fight that?
SALAZAR: How could you fight that? And of course being a university
student and being 20 and thinking I knew it all and going back and
saying yeah but, and they're trying to refute that whole thing and then
eventually after something like six minutes figuring out that I wasn't
making any headway and then thinking about it you know. When you're a
Peace Corps volunteer and there isn't any other entertainment and you
think a lot about those things that go on and I think it was through a
process of writing a letter home that it finally dawned on me that it
made sense. It made sense the way they were doing it. So then when we
had our plots and the way we would do our plots is that we would plant
two seeds. We would plant them 90 centimeters apart and 60 centimeters
between stalks, and then once they came up about oh see two weeks which
00:56:00was about five, six inches we would pull--
WILSON: And this is corn?
SALAZAR: This is corn, yes. We would pull one of the stalks up. Well
let me take an aside. One of the farmers that agreed to let us use
part of his plot he happened to be one of the rich guys from the area
and he owns hectares, like he owns half the town kind of thing. So
I neglected to tell him at that at two weeks and with five inches we
would come in and pull the stalks out because we wanted to just have
one stalk. So I drove out on my motorcycle and I figured that he would
know just because of the noise, and so I'm sitting there pulling stalks
out. So here comes this guy who's half dressed. I think he has his
pants on; doesn't have a shirt, and he has his holster on. And I'm
pulling stalks out and I look up at him, and he looks at me and of
course he says, "What are you doing?" I say, "Well, I'm pulling the
00:57:00stalks," and it dawned on me very quickly you know his gun is pretty
prominent. And he recognized who I was and it was kind of scary after
the fact, and then so he just started laughing. He said, "Well how can
you just come in here and do this you know to my land?" And you know
that American arrogance and the thinking that you know everything and
it was a good lesson. And so I explained to him the whole situation,
and I was the laughing stock of the area for a long time, probably
still am. I would go back and refresh their memory.
WILSON: Because you were pulling out what you planted?
SALAZAR: Yeah, and you just don't do that. And even though he was one
of the rich landowners and probably planted and harvested more than
he probably needed, probably sold more than he saved, it was something
that the cultural practice that you just didn't do.
WILSON: Any other memorable stories?
SALAZAR: Yeah, how it's well there's two. One it's before we went in
country we had a list, sort of like the United Nations list that talks
about the square area and population and the great dawn of the ethnic
groups and the languages yeah, and then what percentage is Catholic.
And then the, what is it, the birthrate and the death rate, and
they didn't make any sense. I was looking at it and I've seen those
before and when you compare them to the States and literacy rates and
those kinds of the things, but it didn't hit home until I remember
frequently driving home from the plotter or doing one other for like
trials of seeing the farmer, and there would be procession. And there
I think still occurs in some small towns here in the States where you
have a procession from the church to the cemetery, usually they're in
00:59:00close proximity. And the number of caskets that you see there were
infant caskets, and that was the whole aspect of dealing with death
and someone who would be so young that would deal with death. And I
remember visiting families where there were two kids who had the same
name, and I said, "Well why is one son named Juan and the other kid
named Juan?" He said, "Well when he was born we didn't think he would
make it and so he was really sickly for a long time and then we had him
and we named him Juan because we thought the other guy, our other son
was going to die." And of course that was the dad's name. And it also
brought to more vividly how women look so old and were so old. They
were 30 and they looked like they were 50 because they had kids and
they didn't have time to recoup between kids. And then a basic diet of
corn and beans and not the other nutrients, so women didn't have a very
01:00:00good life. You know if you were a woman in Guatemala or I guess in any
third world country it was a pretty hard life. So the death of babies
there were so frequently, and then going back and looking at statistics
and looking at how high the infant mortality rate, so that kind of
confirmed that. And then the real graphics then really showed that.
The other one was we see it here in eastern Kentucky where someone
just run into kids who are just brilliant. You could tell they were
just gifted kids and they excelled at school and 6th grade was as high
as they would go, and there weren't any more opportunities for them.
And seeing, coming from the States and growing up with the American
dream and anything is possible and how you built connections and how
there's a lot of possibilities and you can move from one town to the
next and create a whole new life literally, whether you're educated or
01:01:00not, that wasn't open to them. Now I thought that was really sad and
one of the things that I talk a lot about with my family, with my kids.
We talk about opportunities and put it into perspective that we have
some opportunities that a lot of people can only dream of.
WILSON: What was it like coming home to the US?
SALAZAR: Oh that was so hard. I mentally had left Guatemala because
it was time for me to come home. I was ready to go back to school;
I had left my sophomore year in college. I was the only Peace Corps
volunteer that didn't have a degree; everybody else either had a
political science degree or a biology degree. Or a lot of the groups,
a lot of the people who were in group were called generalists.
WILSON: Generalists, right.
SALAZAR: Yeah generalists, psych, political science, sociology, kind of
type of degrees. But then that group, they were the types that were,
they were going to go into business and they were going to graduate
01:02:00programs so they wanted to--There wasn't any altruistic thing about
them, which I thought was really anti-Peace Corps because the close
friends that we made we really wanted to help people. We really wanted
to make a difference; we really embodied the Peace Corps philosophy
as we understood it. And from their perspectives they wanted to
get the culture training and the language training so they could do
international business, and we thought that was rather selfish.
WILSON: Oh so there were some volunteers who thought that way?
SALAZAR: Yeah, and they were very open about it and you kind of had to
accept that that's what they were there for. And actually they were
pretty decent volunteers but it was pretty clear that that's what they
joined Peace Corps for. So coming home was very difficult. The phone
would ring at my house and I would stare at it and my mom would say,
"Well aren't you going to answer it?" And I'd go no I--And then I would
go to the store and the store was oh probably three blocks away, four
at the most, and in Arizona and Phoenix in the summer in July it's
01:03:00you know 115 degrees so I would walk to the store and walk back. And
my mom would say, "Well what took you so long?" I says well I walked
to the store and she says well why, and so it was really, really hard
to get used to. And I missed speaking Spanish and I missed the slow
life. I missed feeling important. When we came back I was just one of
the seven kids in my family, just one of the kids in the neighborhood.
Some people knew that I had been to Peace Corps but well oh okay
yeah. I missed the important stuff you know people walking where I
lived would come up to my door and knock and wanted my help or wanted
me to teach them English or wanted me to translate something. Or if
I was going to the city to take something for them or buy something
for them, so I missed that self importance that you get being a Peace
Corps volunteer. I had a hard time with the traffic, with the hustle
01:04:00and bustle. I remember my sister's car breaking down on the other
side of town and so she called and I would still go to bed at you know
8:00. And so I was driving across town and the city was all lit up and
people were at stores and it was a 24 hour kind of thing, restaurants,
and I'm thinking, "What's wrong with these people? Why aren't they in
bed?" But it was that urban, that post-industrial urban setting where
you don't have those time constraints anymore. And I missed the clean
air, I missed the beautiful clouds, I missed the sincerity of the
people when I would run into friends and the, "Hello, how are you?"
And I would begin to tell them well you know, you know, but they didn't
want to hear that. And so that lasted, that lasted for a while, and I
was trying to figure out how to go back. And if I could have figured
out how to go back I probably would have done it, but I promised my
mom that I would finish my degree. I was the second in my family to
01:05:00go to college and I copped an agreement from her that I could drop out
of college as I mentioned earlier to do Peace Corps, and now I was back
and I had to fulfill the commitment. Being a student was very different
because I felt even though the students were probably two years younger
than I was that I had seen the world, I was more mature, and I had seen
death and had lively political discussions with the natives. And then
thinking back that the marketplace where the center of life would occur
that if I were to go back five years later that would still probably be
the same. And there was some nostalgia to that, but at the same time
hoping that there would be some progress at the same time. And then
looking at traditional societies and looking at progress and trying to
make sense of where progress kind of diminishes people's interpersonal
01:06:00relationships and then where traditional society's kind of stymied
and stay in one place. And even now 30, 35 years later after Peace
Corps I still battle with that. One of the things for instance one of
the villages would, how they would carry water is that they would go
to the common well. It kind of reminds me of the biblical reading of
women at the well, and you know where the center of activity happens
and women wash clothes and meet up. And I would wonder what would
happen if at the village they would get a water system so that they
would have water piping to all their houses, what would happen to the
social interaction that they would have among women, especially since
women don't have much of a life other than work and kids and more
work. What would happen to that? One of the other things too is that
when I was there they introduced the plastic jugs which don't break,
which are a lot lighter to carry and they'll last you a lifetime. And
01:07:00then what would happen to the local people who made the water jugs
out of clay and then how that art would be passed on from generation
to generation and now there wasn't a need for that. And I wondered
about those things how technology and innovations ruined traditional
societies because you still, you still don't have those opportunities.
You still have 6th grade education. The plot of land that that has
keeps getting cut up because of sons and daughters and you know there's
still a hunger issue when the weather doesn't cooperate. And you know
what happens to those, to that lifestyle of those societies. So when
I have discussions with people about people coming from El Salvador
and Nicaragua and Honduras and all those countries and Mexico to the
United States, you know I mention those things. When you have nothing
01:08:00--it's kind of like that Janis Joplin song --when you have nothing,
you have nothing to lose. And you know who immigrates? Who risks their
lives crossing you know the desert and the coyotes and the smugglers
and all that? You know those people who have hope. It's the only thing
they have; they have nothing else but hope, and hope that they can
come to the States and benefit from the riches that we have. And so
when I talk to students about my experience in Guatemala and what they
have and try to not lecture but try to get them to understand what is
it that they have going for themselves and how they can be that much
better. And then when they talk about how people are coming from south
of the border and taking Americans' jobs and I talk about who comes and
why. And those issues have become bigger issues in relation to foreign
policy and domestic policy and those kind of things.
WILSON: And would some of the people who are coming be people from
WILSON: Like ones that you were, you knew?
SALAZAR: One of the things about being a volunteer which was really
hard, and I think every volunteer faces that, is that you always wonder
if people want to be your friend because they want to be your friend
or just because you're the ticket to the States. And then now you're a
connection and then since you live in the States and they know someone,
well that would make it that much easier. You know could you sponsor
them in essence so they would have to do all--
WILSON: And you had those kinds of--?
SALAZAR: Yeah, so as a 20 year old Peace Corps volunteer that's probably
one of the hardest things that I had to deal with. You know how close
do I get to someone? And people would come up to me and point blank,
from the agronomists who were college educated to the lowest peasant
whose Spanish was just very adequate, would point blank ask me says,
"Well you know can you get me a job in the States?" And having to
say, "No, I can't," and probably one of the smartest things that I
01:10:00did because you know if you start saying yes then you'll have to start
saying yes to everybody. And of course I really couldn't do it. Now
one of the things that happens with Peace Corps volunteers, and two
of my friends one married a Costa Rican. That's where we trained.
And another one of my friends he did a second tour, so they married
a national. And their wives came back to the States and had wonderful
interracial marriages, and their wives bless their hearts really
adjusted really well to the States, but I guess that's a triumph in a
small way that they were, managed to, able to I don't know. That's kind
of looking at it in a pejorative way. Though they loved their wives
dearly it wasn't like, well I guess to me it sounds like they rescued
someone. But it's, they just happened to click and they married and it
01:11:00happened to work, and they still go back and forth. So they--
WILSON: What do you think the impact of your Peace Corps service was on
Guatemala on the small place where you were and the people? And what
do you think the impact was on you? In some ways you've already talked
about the latter I think.
SALAZAR: Well I quoted an email story regarding the Peace Corps
volunteers, so there's been some, I think some good discussion with
result from that.
WILSON: Because they're talking about--?
SALAZAR: The effectiveness.
WILSON: The effectiveness of the development part as opposed to the
relationship building, right?
SALAZAR: Yeah, yeah and I think probably overall if you look at the
publications and you look at Peace Corps service, if you look at this
story I think there's more of a relationship that I think Peace Corps
promotes more relationship or more relationship things work. And I
would agree with that, and I think one of the criticisms that Peace
Corps gets is that if we invest X amount of dollars, why don't we invest
01:12:00it in development and then the relationship will happen? Well Peace
Corps happens to think the other way or I think Peace Corps thinks that
both things can happen at the same time. And I think the criticisms --
--------(??) these people have, the expertise, the engineering expertise
who do a water system for example as opposed to an untrained Peace
Corps volunteer. And then invest all that money and improve people's
lives, but I think they miss the point in that the Peace Corps in a
one on one level gets people to understand what Americans are like and
that Americans are from A to Z. You know they can be black Americans,
they can be someone like me who is a child of migrants, immigrants,
and then they can be white kids. Even though Peace Corps volunteers
are skewed more towards the middle class, upper middle class white kids
kind of thing. So in a way I was kind of an anomaly as a Peace Corps
volunteer. My projects I think I would rank in probably the lowest
as far as showing farmers that they could grow more with using less
01:13:00fertilizer simply because they couldn't afford fertilizer.
SALAZAR: We talked a lot about harvesting like they do in the Midwest,
and we were successful in that working with the co-ops there was a
thresher that we would just go from farmer to farmer. I'm not sure
that's still around. Last I heard it had broken down and no one had
fixed it, and then there wasn't another Peace Corps volunteer to do the
legwork. I think probably the most successful thing that I did, I put
it in my resume all the time, is that one of the Peace Corps volunteers
and I think I mentioned it earlier in the interview is that he set up
a basketball team and a basketball court. And I thought I would do
the same thing because I just liked to play basketball. And probably
the basketball still exists and people still play basketball, so one
of the neatest things that I would say there's a legacy for my stay
in that Progresso where I lived is that because there isn't any other
01:14:00entertainment other than people drinking and their regular fiestas that
people have commemorating different things. So in the relationship
building part of it the project that I was designated and trained to
do really ranks really low, probably the and I think most of the Peace
Corps volunteers would say that it's their interest or an offshoot
of their project. Like the, we worked with co-ops and going to the
classrooms and talking about organic farming and talking to farmers.
And then the building the basketball court, which really was a lot of
fun getting a lot of different people involved and then setting up the
basketball team. I think that was probably the most important thing
that I can say that I left in Guatemala and that I'm really proud of.
WILSON: What about the impact on you?
SALAZAR: Well it's really interesting because there isn't a day when I
don't talk to Maurice or one of my closest friends and I try to figure
out how I can go overseas. Once you get that bug, and I think it's
01:15:00true whether it's a Peace Corps volunteer that never goes back, never
travels even to Canada, is that you just develop this affinity for
traveling. And then developing or traveling in the most undeveloped
areas and knowing that you can survive by your wits and by what you
know. And seeing life at its bare minimum where we loved riding the
busses. They call them the campesino buses, the poor people's buses
where you know a quarter gets you, you know something like 50 miles
kind of thing. And just knowing that people, it's kind of hard to
explain to somebody who grows up in the States, it changes you. And
I still feel guilty when I run the faucet water waiting for it to get
hot because where I lived I had to go outside and then pump it, and
then you know I still remember. 55 pumps would get me a shower and if
01:16:00I took longer than that I would have to go out and pump it some more.
So water was a valuable commodity. I still get upset when I go to the
cafeteria either here on campus or in restaurants and people leave half
their food. And I know that you know you're supposed to eat everything
on your plate because everybody does where I lived as a volunteer.
When I complain about not having this or that and I think back to my
Peace Corps days and I go, "Oh I'm rich. I'm just I'm blessed; I'm
a rich man." So it makes me aware of who I am because I'm a different
person as a result of this experience. We were talking about our
experiences. Maurice, who served in Afghanistan, he says, "If I had
a chance, at the drop of a hat I would do it again." And if I didn't
have kids and if I didn't have a job and I didn't have a kid that's
going to go to college in the next year, at the drop of a hat I would
do it again. And that's in spite of the diarrhea that I had, you know
01:17:00the worms in my stomach, waiting for the bus that never came, getting
stuck in thunderstorms and freezing to death, getting my crops planted
after you know 14 hours of planting, and then the next day seeing them
all wash away because the rain didn't stop. Those failures and those
frustrations I would still do it again simply because that was a time
in my life that it defined and helped define who I was.
WILSON: Have you ever been back?
SALAZAR: No, no.
WILSON: And are you in contact with anybody from, volunteers or people
SALAZAR: One of the families, it's really interesting that you should
say that because last summer I got a letter from one of the ladies in
the marketplace. She has a little stand there and it was so, I guess
from our American vernacular would say it was so quaint because she
would talk about who had died and who had gotten married and those kind
of things. And yeah and you kind of relish those and you know who got
01:18:00married to who and you thought oh they were going to get married anyway
kind of thing. And then it's just and then there was like a tag and
it says and the marketplace got another stall. You know those little
things that in a small rural community that you know those little
things happen and those are big things that you relish.
WILSON: Sure. What was the impact, what has been the impact of the
Peace Corps experience on your family, on your wife, on your kids?
SALAZAR: Well that's really interesting because my wife and it's
probably true of the spouses who didn't have the Peace Corps experience
because Maurice and I talk about that all the time about our spouses.
My wife thinks that I'm living in a time warp, you know that's the
most exciting thing that I've done in my whole life, and in a way it
is. And so usually when I, as my wife says relay war stories, and she
knows by now that they're pretty consistent so she's heard them 10,000
WILSON: She could tell them too.
SALAZAR: And so it's now I cushion my stories by saying next to getting
married and next to being a father, my Peace Corps experience was
probably one of the most important experiences in my life. So not
being a Peace Corps wife or having that, living in the third world
or even studying or traveling abroad, it's kind of hard. But in my
kids it's kind of interesting because every opportunity that comes up,
and I think every Peace Corps volunteer would like to have their kids
be Peace Corps volunteers. It's just kind of you just don't become
a complete person unless they have that experience and be really sad
if they didn't. So I promote perhaps I should be a little bit more
careful because if my kids want to go overseas that means I probably
have to pay for them. And I hope that as they grow up and if Peace
Corps is still around I suspect that it will be so. And I tell them
that you know we don't waste things because there's people that are
01:20:00starving. And then we have more than an abundance of things, and it
has an impact on my family because when Christmas comes around, when
birthdays come around they ask for the important things. So in my
family it has an impact in that way, and in spite of the fact that they
didn't have those experiences. They only have them secondary through
pictures, and I show them a lot of movies. I show them a lot of movies
from Mexico, so get them thinking that way. My daughter, much to my
delight, she's doing an arts academy in Michigan. And she had a choice
whether she would take math or Spanish, and she took Spanish.
WILSON: Good for her.
SALAZAR: And I thought that was really neat. And then she's run into
kids who have lived abroad and are fluent, so I got lectured as to
why she is not fluent. And but she's taking Spanish and we speak in
Spanish, and she sends me emails in Spanish. So that's a big plus
being bilingual, that you want your kids to have that ability.
WILSON: What has been the impact on your career path? And starting with
going back to college, talk about what you've done since.
SALAZAR: Well when I came back I was bound and determined that I was
going to get a degree in agriculture.
WILSON: Oh, so you were going to switch from English?
SALAZAR: Yeah, and I figured that would take me another four years,
and I just didn't want to be in school that long. I just, growing up
the thrill of language and what language can do for you and the impact
of language, grew up reading bilingually. And so I went back and got
my degree in English, minored in Spanish, and then minored in Spanish
simply because I needed to bring my GPA up because my two, first two
years were disastrous in college. I went into teaching; it was very
WILSON: So you graduated from?
SALAZAR: The University of, from ASU.
WILSON: From ASU in?
SALAZAR: A degree in English.
WILSON: In 1970--?
WILSON: '79, okay, and with teaching credentials.
SALAZAR: Yes, yes.
WILSON: Okay in English and Spanish. And then?
SALAZAR: I taught high school for a while, got a master's in counseling.
I wanted to do counseling.
WILSON: And this is all in Arizona?
SALAZAR: Yes, yes. The, oh I want to say amnesty but the refugee
program, the refugee was really big and Arizona was one of the gateways
from people fleeing the civil war.
WILSON: The civil war, yeah of course, yes, right.
SALAZAR: In El Salvador and Guatemala, and so I wanted to do some
counseling in that and subsequently got a counseling degree. And I
worked with one of the church affiliated centers, and that was really
interesting work while I was still working at the high school. So that
01:23:00was a way to connect with my Peace Corps experience. I did a lot of
translating, relived a lot of stories of people coming through Mexico
and crossing the desert and trying to make it here in the States.
And by the grace of God how they made it without a compass without a
direction is just, just made it because they were just kind of heading
north kind of thing. It's very similar to those of you who have gotten
a chance to watch the movie "El Norte," which depicts it very well. My
first grant, oh I should tell this story. I think this is probably the
crowning piece. How I was able to build the basketball court was that
there was a little ad in the Peace Corps bulletin board and it talked
WILSON: This is back in Guatemala?
SALAZAR: That was in Guatemala, yes. And it says you know $500 to do
a project. And I said well I'm not making any headway and I really
01:24:00wasn't as successful as I was later on, and so I wrote and there was
a simple application and got the $500 and that's how I was able to
organize the village and build the basketball court. And just you know
just I mean that was a lot of fun. It was a really neat project. And
so I realized that writing grants was a way to go. And then when I
was a high school counselor I started writing NEH grants and started
being very successful, did a couple seminars. I studied Octavio Paz,
the Mexican poet. I studied Garcia Marquez, the Colombian writer
in Boston. And I said you know I quickly figured out that this is a
route to go. So subsequently my present job here in the Institute for
Regional Analysis and Public Policy here in Morehead is a result of
all that. One of the things that we're trying to do is we're trying
to do some liaison work because they haven't been so successful. Well
01:25:00we write grants and we do an exchange, so we do an exchange and we send
some researchers down to a Central American country hopefully and then
we bring some over. We've had some other departments do that and we've
had them speak and do a number of different cultural kind of things.
So this is my way of getting back hopefully in the near future back to
Guatemala and Central America and back there.
SALAZAR: So and that's what I do in my job right now is I help write
grants, research grants, I edit grants. Some new grants right now
we're administering one of the grants, so I'm involved in the grant
process from top to bottom. And that's pretty exciting because without
money you can't do things.
WILSON: So after you were a high school teacher, then you mentioned
Boston. Where does Boston come in?
SALAZAR: I did an NEH, National Environment for the Humanities seminar.
That's where I did Garcia Marquez studying the literature.
WILSON: Oh okay.
SALAZAR: And then I did a--One of the things and occasionally I'll go
back and I can still read my notes and in some places I put dates. I
was smart enough to take Henry David Thoreau's book and I would just
read it and--
WILSON: To Guatemala when you were in Peace Corps?
SALAZAR: Yeah when I was a Peace Corps volunteer. When there wasn't
anything to do and I didn't want to listen to the radio, I was tired
of speaking Spanish. And in a way I wanted to think that I lived like
Thoreau but no it's just I took the temperature like he did every day
and that was pretty exciting. But that was a really comforting. And
then so when I came back to the States and I was applying for one
of the NEH seminars I was in Hawthorne, Thoreau and Emerson. And I
remember in my essay writing about my Peace Corps volunteer and I'm
thinking that that's what got me selected.
WILSON: Got you, got the--So how many years did you teach high school
SALAZAR: Gosh let me see what is it from '80 to '90.
SALAZAR: So 11 years, '91 yeah.
WILSON: And then you went into graduate?
SALAZAR: Then I did, I did counseling for another six years.
WILSON: In Arizona.
SALAZAR: In Arizona yeah. So this is so my moving to Kentucky is I
basically grew up in Arizona except for my stint in Guatemala.
WILSON: So you moved to Kentucky to do the specifically to do grant
WILSON: Right, right. I would think moving to Kentucky from Arizona
would be culture shock just like moving from Arizona to Guatemala.
SALAZAR: Yes, yes. I just find it very fascinating that a lot of the
cultural aspects of family and small town life, they are very similar
to how Hispanics live, the extended family concept.
WILSON: In eastern Kentucky.
SALAZAR: Yes, so I fit right in, though they don't think that I'm one of
them. And I don't think they ever will be, it's just--
WILSON: That's hard to do in Kentucky.
SALAZAR: Yes it is, well with good reason.
WILSON: What, you said you were hoping for international experience in
the future. That may be through one of these grants you can go back.
SALAZAR: Boy I just I scour those grants like anybody's business and
collaborative effort if it comes up I'd just jump on. I'd like to use
my Spanish speaking skills and my culture skills. Now Peace Corps has
a really nice enticement where you can serve in an emergency capacity.
WILSON: Right, Crisis Corps [Editor's note: later Peace Corps Response].
SALAZAR: Yes, and I--
WILSON: Have you--?
SALAZAR: And I looked, as a matter of fact I researched that but I'm
a 12 month employee. I don't have the luxury of the nine month kind
WILSON: So you can't, yeah right can't do that, but maybe later. What
do you think the impact of Peace Corps experience has been on the way
you think about the world and what's going on in the world now?
SALAZAR: Well we had a presenter just recently come to ----------(??)
01:29:00and he talked about world population. And he mentioned this fact
and went through. The people didn't really register; it kind of went
through one ear and out the other. And he said that he was really
amazed that people in Congress that something like 10% of people in
Congress had passports.
SALAZAR: And I questioned him later on because I can't believe that
because they can do these junkets and they can build the government and
they can go anywhere. They can go to the Middle East you know during
the breaks, it's just at their whim. He says no, it's about 10%, more
in the Senate than in the House. And it's just you know if people
would travel overseas and even though you don't get the full view of
if you go for a week or something like that, they would have a better
understanding of how to formulate American policy in the Middle East or
South America. And I think that's really important.
WILSON: And of course I think Senator Dodd is the only person who speaks
SALAZAR: Is that right?
WILSON: And he speaks Spanish because he was Peace Corps volunteer.
SALAZAR: Peace Corps volunteer!
WILSON: In Dominican Republic, so he can speak Spanish with the
President of Mexico for example.
SALAZAR: You know and those kind of experiences are very important.
For example Colombia's in the news and I think it's going to probably
after Iraq and Afghanistan it's probably going to blow up because we're
supporting the wrong side. And what it is is that we want to bill
ourselves as the good guys, and we have good intentions and our ideals
are good and promoting democracy and promoting economic development.
We're the only country that really thinks that way, but we don't know
how to carry that out because NAFTA for example or the Central American
Free Trade Agreement, they're not to benefit the people so that we get
the black eye. And then so we have you know at the same time we're
blessed that in a country like ours we have Peace Corps who could
remedy those kind of things, but there's not enough of us to do that.
But we could change foreign policy that things like NAFTA and CAFTA
01:31:00really don't help the people who really need the most help.
WILSON: This is the second tape with William Salazar interviewed by
Angene Wilson for the Peace Corps Oral History Project. Okay, so we've
been talking about what the impact of Peace Corps service has been on
the way you think about the world and what's going on now. Do you want
to say something more about that?
SALAZAR: Well universities are doing an excellent job and actually
churches have probably been at the forefront even before Peace Corps
came into existence about. But then they have a specific mission and
a specific purpose of sending missionaries to the world, but that's
to evangelize. And actually high schools to some extent, depending on
what their philosophy is, but it's mostly the middle class, upper middle
class high schools that do study abroad programs. But there isn't a
university or college across the country and I think that's probably
01:32:00one of the biggest competitions that Peace Corps has that don't promote
the study abroad, whether it's a four week summer or a semester to do
language and culture study. So I think what needs to happen is that
to have more of a humanities, more of an intercultural. I hope that
it doesn't become a fad and it just comes and goes. We talk about
culture diversity and the influences of culture and different cultures
that we can still promote that in colleges and universities across
the country across the curriculums so that when those people get into
positions of leadership, whether they become professors or they become
teachers or they become you know a finance rep that they can see the
world in a different way. And we talk about it and pay lip service
to this globalization and the globalized society, but how would they
really have a handle as to how do that? And I think Peace Corps does a
01:33:00really good job of instilling that in volunteers and so when they come
back they're very good and excellent evangelizers as far as language
and culture skills. And then looking at the world in a different way
and reformulating American policy so that it benefits the country so
we have more friends than we do enemies, and then so when we look at
say dividing of resources or allocating resources. For instance, this
year the big discussion was the AIDS epidemic in Africa and what was
our role in it and how we really dispensed the resources. And then
we have a policy that says well we will only do education programs
that encourages abstinence. Well that's not going to help in a third
world country. They're still going to have the increase of AIDS, still
going to have all the ills, whether you agree with it or not they are
01:34:00going to continue. So those kind of policies need to be looked at
and I think, you know there's nothing wrong with being religious and
having a core set of beliefs and having something like pro-life that
say abstinence is very important. But the thing is that to inflict
our will on other societies it just doesn't make sense. It's just
like we don't want other societies to inflict their views, values and
forms of thinking on us; it's just a two way street. And I think that
the arrogance of Americans, and I put myself in that pool, that we
know all the answers that our way is the best way is not really true.
And I think promoting Peace Corps, promoting people studying abroad
and to travel abroad, and to make it easier in spite of 9/11 to have
foreign exchange students, international students at the high school
01:35:00level or at the college level so that people can know how somebody else
lives and what they're like. And I think this is how we really get to
understand each other. Now here's the dilemma. So we have technology
like email for example and we have cell phones and those what is it
modern technologies that prevent people from getting really close. So
I think probably the best remedy is to have people visit and live in
third world countries because they don't have those technologies. When
you sit right across from somebody else and really get to know who
they are so when they ask you well how are you they are really sincere.
They really want to know how you are. When they ask you, "Well
tell me what you think about this and this?" and you tell them so you
develop a dialogue. And nothing may come out of it other than you've
developed a relationship with someone else, but that's a relationship
that would never have existed had that not happened.
WILSON: And that what you would think would have been the impact of
Peace Corps for the last 45 years? We were talking earlier about is it
01:36:00relationship building or is it development.
SALAZAR: Well the world changes and curriculums have to change and
sometimes there's always a misstep. When I was a Peace Corps volunteer
there wasn't any cultural training and people just jumped in.
WILSON: There was no cultural training?
SALAZAR: Not for my project.
SALAZAR: Now I talked to other Peace Corps volunteers that went at the
same time that I did and their project had extensive culture training.
WILSON: Yeah, we certainly had lots of culture training.
SALAZAR: You know a lot of dos and don'ts and a lot of says well do this.
WILSON: Right, right but they were focused on technology for yours and
what you should do for your skill?
WILSON: That's interesting.
SALAZAR: And then actually well when you think about the vacations
it got some people in trouble. For instance I'll give you the
example. In Latin American countries women are not allowed to go
into bars; I think it's probably different now. So the female Peace
Corps volunteers would go with us to bars and of course their name
was stained from then on because that's not something you do, but it
01:37:00also puts the focus on female, female, American females as to what is
their role in the third world country. Do you succumb to third world
rules of which are really detrimental to women and how do you navigate
between a modern society thinking? And men didn't really have that
problem. I remember having discussions Peace Corps volunteers who went
as couples and how they would be talking to farmers and talking to the
different people and the women would be ignored. And they were just as
much a part of the project as anyone, and that was very interesting.
WILSON: What do you think the role of Peace Corps ought to be today?
SALAZAR: Well I definitely believe in Peace Corps. I think that's
WILSON: Do you agree that it should have gone into Mexico? You know
SALAZAR: Yes, but they went into Mexico but it's very specific and very,
very high, high skilled.
WILSON: Yeah it's technology, high-tech.
SALAZAR: I was, I made inquiries and I actually talked to someone from
Peace Corps Washington.
WILSON: And of course the current director is himself a Mexican American.
SALAZAR: Yeah. I thought it was I'm hoping that it's an open door
to other programs. There are communities in south of Mexico who are
as primitive and as in dire needs of what Peace Corps offers as in
Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras just in you know the cultural
aspect alone. There's a lot of work, Mexico finally got smart and
recognized other different indigenous tribes and other indigenous
languages, that Spanish is not the official language for literature
for example for communication. So there's a lot of linguistic work to
be done and Peace Corps could fulfill that role very easily and very
economically, and I think it would make relationships between Mexico
and the United States a lot better. I think if I were Peace Corps
01:39:00director and I was asked by the President what should happen is that
a lot of economic development should go into Mexico. Whether that
would alleviate immigration problem I'm not sure, but I think it would
be a start to have, sort of have a huge young population, educated
population without any opportunities for employment. And I think
that would curtail a lot of people wanting to come to the States. I
mean would you sacrifice your life? Would you leave your family and
everything that you know to travel 2000, 3000 miles just so you could
make a living? You would think twice if there were some opportunities
to do that. If you were an adventurer then it would be a different
story, and we'll always have that in society. People will always be
crossing borders, but I think those people who believe in having a life
in the community and village that they can make a living, I think they
01:40:00would think twice about having to immigrate. And I think the families
would want them to do that, if there was a possibility of them to make
WILSON: One last question because I don't think we got to this when you
were talking about what you are doing here. You have also, besides
writing grants, you're teaching Spanish?
SALAZAR: Yes, yes.
WILSON: And you've been involved in multicultural activities on campus?
WILSON: Do you want to talk a little bit about that because some of that
comes out of your Peace Corps experience too, right?
SALAZAR: Well you're probably referring to the tape that Maurice and
I made. Well because of who I am and how I grew up in Arizona and
trying to straddle two cultures, it's always been a double whammy.
The assimilation part is how I grew up, the late '50s, early '60s the
educational system was geared that way. We were punished for speaking
Spanish in school, and then of course you come home and your parents
01:41:00speak Spanish. So then you're okay at home but you're not okay at
school, and then being an adolescent and trying to figure out how that
works and then trying to make some sense that you can be, you can have
a duality as we say in literature. So cultural issues have been not
only my personal goal but also my professional goal, so they're really
intertwined because who I am also talks about what I do and how I deal
with others. So I'm a great proponent of I guess the catchword now is
cultural diversity. And to know, for others to get to know somebody
else who they would normally know or would feel comfortable with, and
so I've done a lot of work with that and done a lot of presentations and
actually done some writing in that area. And actually I'm going to see
a friend next week about doing that very same thing. She's black and
01:42:00she lives in Louisville and we're looking at setting up some possible
workshops so we can talk about what's it feel to be somebody of color
at a predominantly white campus and how they can make the adjustment.
WILSON: Well that's good.
SALAZAR: And how universities can have more higher retention rates and
then how can people fit in without being singled out for example when
black students and Hispanic students come to campus. And they want
to be part of everything else, and so it's a very difficult thing. Of
course it's okay well we're doing this because you're African American;
we're doing this because you're Hispanic as opposed to having that open
arms welcoming. We don't know how to do that. We don't know how to
do that because people have never lived overseas. People don't have
that ease of traveling and going from one culture to the other. So in
a small way I think we can do that. Well not only that but it's really
01:43:00important that more people get educated and as more people become more
mainstream, then they know how to straddle both cultures and they can
help others along the way. That's just the way I was brought up.
WILSON: Okay, I always ask at the end is there a question I didn't ask
that you want to answer?
SALAZAR: Well no, no actually what--I'm really grateful that you're
doing this and I'm hoping that my responses to my experience are
something that will be enhancing the project that you mentioned and
thank you for inviting me to do that. I appreciate it.
WILSON: Thank you.
[End of interview.]