STUDENT VOICES | CHYNN PRIZE SECOND-PLACE WINNER
By Amy Endres
There had never once been a public opinion poll done in El Salvador until Ignacio Martín-Baró, a Jesuit, set out as the only doctoral-level psychologist in the country to measure the opinion of the people in the 1980s. He knew this would be difficult. He had studied at the University of Chicago, and he was certain that he would need to practice very differently than how he had been trained. But he had still been unprepared for just how difficult it would be.
Much of Martín-Baró’s early conclusions were made on the fact that very few people would speak to him. Only 40% percent of the rich felt safe enough to speak their opinion. And the poor? Less than 20% of the poor would do the speak to him. Less than 20% would speak to him about their lives, what they thought of the government, or anything that could get back to someone who could hurt them.
In his case, silence stood for more than an inconvenience to answer a pollster. It stood for more than a passive distrust of someone collecting data. In his case, silence told a story of gripping fear, of generations of pain, of mothers mourning children slain by an oppressive and violent government.
Silence says a lot, and it’s important that researchers take that silence into account.
I do not present my essay from El Salvador, though, much less an El Salvador in the throes of civil war like my introduction remembers. Instead, I present my essay from the United States. Martín-Baró was attuned to the differences between the countries. He remarked to an American colleague once that, “In your country, it’s publish or perish. In mine, it’s publish and perish.” Indeed, Martín-Baró would later be killed, one of eight martyrs, in November of 1989.
I do not propose that he was mistaken. He was an American-trained researcher after all; he would know the dynamics between the countries. There is far more protection in the United States, particularly for the researchers today, than there was in Martín-Baró’s time and region. However, I do want to turn my gaze to those who cannot freely speak their mind in the United States, and posit that researchers can (and, I argue, should) take on their behalf, if they are to act in the heroic way that Martín-Baró did.
What does silence say in the United States?