Sunday, October 26, 2008

Catherine Eiler remembers Marcella Sali Grace

My friend Catherine Eiler has sent me her wonderful tribute to Marcella Sali Grace, the daughter of her husband, John Eiler. Sali was raped and murdered last month in Mexico at age 20.

These are the remarks that Catherine delivered at a memorial service for Sali in St. Louis. I have taken the liberty of editing out transitional remarks that relate to the pacing of the memorial service.

The image is a photograph by Sali, from her Photostream, a playful moment with a beautiful child in the middle of the struggle.


Marcella Sali Grace
By Catherine Eiler

Sali was born in Seattle, Washington and raised in Eugene, Oregon. At sixteen she finished high school. Her life for the past five years has centered around several places – Eugene, Oregon; Santa Cruz, California; Tucson, Arizona; and for the last two years, Oaxaca City, Mexico.

When I first met Sally she was 8-yrs-old and going into the third grade. The little girl I met wasn’t yet the outgoing, outspoken, empowered young woman that she grew to be. Instead she was rather reserved, the kind of girl who hung back and seemed to do a lot of watching and considering.

It got me wondering through all of this about the transition from the observer girl to the bold young woman.

The other day we opened a box of Sali’s things from childhood. At the top was a Halloween mask she made the year I met her. I remember very well watching her paint that. Holding a brush dipped in yellow paint she looked at that mask for the longest, longest time.

Then, with a burst, she started to paint. She quickly pressed two bright spots of yellow on either cheek and outlined the mouth in bold orange. It seemed like she had hardly started and then, suddenly, she was done.

Looking at the mask the other day, it occurred to me that this puzzling transition in her life was like that. She looked and thought for a number of years and then she was ready to act. So she acted. Her participation was unusually swift and decisive because she had prepared so carefully, and for so long.

Her initial “political acts” grew from her love of animals. I remember her coming home from a street fair with a PETA pamphlet, panicked over a picture of what researchers did to animals. That same year she declared herself a vegetarian - at age nine - and when a friend asked why she answered simply, “Because I love animals.”

Using resources wisely emerged early as well. Her high school was eventually to become unacceptable, in part because they did not provide bins for recycling all the paper that a typical school generates. The handouts from the first day of her sophomore year were too much waste. Almost reflexively she found a better, earth-friendly school for herself, the Quaker Friends School. Sali chose never to learn to drive, preferring to ride her bicycle over long distances and in all weather.

With that in mind it is natural to understand her fight to protect the old-growth forests of Oregon with the Cascadia Forest Defenders. She was only sixteen when she spent most of her summer living in a community organized around protecting scores of hundred-year-old trees. Life in the camp was rugged, and she became physically strong hauling water and wielding shovels and pickaxes.

She wasn’t ignoring human beings during this time, though. She rode her bike between restaurants to collect leftover food for the hungry and was a regular at Food Not Bombs, a group that provides meals as a form of war protest. The year she and her mother visited her sister in San Francisco during the holidays it was with religious devotion that she found the local Food Not Bombs to attend so that she wouldn’t miss a week.

Women’s Health and Safety joined her list of concerns, and I have some fuzzy memories of a circus-theater troupe in which she performed. They traveled around raising awareness and encouraging skill development to empower young women.

There were political protests, too, rallies and demonstrations against wars and laws, all the way from Seattle, Washington to Washington, D.C. (Supremely resourceful, Sali could get across the country on about fifteen dollars, busking on street corners with her banjo and selling sketches.)

Somewhere between Cascadia Forest Defense and Food Not Bombs was an emerging interest in the Spanish language and Hispanic culture. Sali studied Spanish in school (the earth-friendly one), and to practice she went out into the community and spoke with victims of political persecution through an organization that provided counseling and assistance to Latinos.

It was in the spring of 2005 that she made her first trip through Mexico. Doing things in her thorough, intense way, she traveled all the way down to Mexico’s border with Guatemala. She wrote home about how playful the Guatemalans were in spite of their impoverished and oppressed living conditions. This inspired her to earn and save, and she returned the next year to attend an intensive Spanish language course in Chiapas, the southern-most state of Mexico.

From there her life flourished in Oaxaca; continuing to live on very little she earned her keep through banjo and Arab dance, both performing and teaching. She was also part of a punk band that played, traveled and empowered.

As an activist her role in Oaxaca and at the border was that of an international observer and assistor. She photographed and wrote about the struggle of the people, publishing mostly online, and most importantly, she just did things – organized people, raised funds, cared for children, painted banners, provided water and basic aid to those walking the long, hard journey to the border … the list just goes on and on.

I’ve primarily described Sali’s life as a social activist. But of course, she was so much else as well. Young and energetic she had it in her to be an artist, musician and dancer; traveler, wanderer and busker; friend, sister and daughter. She is, I must tell you, my hero.


Bernadese Bernadese said...

This is wonderful, thank you for posting it.

Confluence City said...

It is wonderful. I'll tell Catherine you said so. The Eilers have been reading your blog as well. They appreciate your thoughts and your remembering Sali.