Rodrigo (Photographer), 25 years of age from San Salvador, El Salvador

I agreed to meet Rodrigo who is also known to his friends as Toto at a march to remember the Archbishop Romero who was shot dead during a mass celebration on the 24th of March of 1980s in San Salvador. 

Before we started to get going I asked him the typical questions, how are you? how’s life? just to kick off the conversation.

Rodrigo is a photographer as well as a musician and a devoted protestant christian.

He grew up in a friendly household where his family supported him and allowed him to be free.

As we chatted along my curiosity was placed in knowing why he, unlike many young people in this country, didn’t end up in gangs. Rodrigo said that he was never attracted to them. He notes, 

“that stuff never caught my attention actually. I found a refuge in the church which protected me from falling into a negative path. The church has supported me all throughout my life”.

He is aware of the forceful gang recruitment procedure that happens to some kids in certain neighbourhoods. As a matter of fact, he knows the case of one guy in his early 20’s that refused to be part of them, hence, he had to run away from his house not to be seen again. After that, the gang started to intimidate and extort the Mom, forcing her to pay $150 then $200 and finally $300 if she wanted to be left alone. They finally warned her that if they located her son he would be killed.

Rodrigo thinks that the extermination groups, allegedly set by ex-soldiers and police officers are not bringing a solution to end the terrible violence that has shook the nation and made San Salvador fluctuate between the second the third position as the most violent city in the world according to some surveys. He adds, “In the end, gang members are human beings that also suffer and cry. It’s unfair that these extermination groups decide to take these kids lives away, regardless of the fact that they kill other people.

Some time ago, Rodrigo worked at a  without a pay. His Mom used to be opposed to the idea that he worked as a photographer since she argued that no money was made by taking pictures but Rodrigo has proved her wrong and little by little he has managed to secure a living.

As a matter of fact, when he joined the newspaper company; he felt very proud of his new job but never showed off about it to his friends as he dislikes the attitude of competition and arrogance.

It’s risky being a photographer he says and adds, “ It’s not easy being a photographer here because anyone can rob your equipment at any point. It’s also tough in the sense that it isn’t t easy to arrive at a crime scene and see a family member cry in front of his/her murdered relative. It’s those situations he has encountered that have made him strive to be a better person every day. He also feels their pain.

On one occasion he was driving alongside a work colleague to locate a homicide scene in order to carry out an assignment. When they arrived at the community, a gang member forced them to stop, flashed a gun that was tucked inside his trousers and asked them why they were there. The gang member explained that they had nothing against journalists but that nothing had happened there so they had to leave.

In terms of his goals in life, he means to set up in the future a small photography school for kids from low income families to teach them how to see the world in a different way. He wished that photography would provide them with a vision for their future. “ I would prefer a million times more to see kids carrying cameras than guns”.

Overall he isn’t scared of speaking out against the State nor is he worried on whether police would try and mess with him as he sees it highly unlikely to happen. What he does fear, like most Salvadorans, is about speaking against gangs.

With regards to human rights, I ask him to give me his opinion on that topic, “It’s a very difficult one actually. I don’t believe that human rights actually exist in the country. Just check the case of Monseñor Romero, more than 36 years have gone past and impunity still prevails.

On a final note he adds that perseverance will help him to improve as a photographer and artist, “ I don’t regard myself as the best photographer but if I applying patience and perseverance to what I do, I shall slowly get better at my profession and will become a more humble human being too…

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