Monday, September 24, 2012

"My machete is the word": Maria Lopez Vigil receives France's Legion of Honor

Theologian and writer Maria Lopez Vigil, author with her brother, José Ignacio, of the popular "Un Tal Jesus" radio program, has been inducted into the French Legion of Honor. On presenting the award to Ms. Lopez Vigil at his residence in Managua, France's ambassador to Nicaragua Antoine Joly, said that "the person France is honoring today is above all, the woman, the theologian -- and not just any theologian, the journalist committed to just causes, the writer."

Here is a translation of Maria Lopez Vigil's acceptance speech at the ceremony:

Thank you, Ambassador Antoine Joly, for your words that moved me so much as I was anticipating them and touch me so much again now. Thank you to the French government which you represent. And may my gratitude also go to your predecessor, Thierry Frayssé, who I believe is complicit in this award that France is bestowing on me today.

If you remember, when you told me that they would be giving me this honor, it made me laugh and it frightened me. Later, thinking about it over and over again, I went on laughing and feeling scared and in the end I was able to make sense of it because life is mischievous and offers us coincidences that surprise us -- something has tied me to France ever since I was little.

When I was a girl, and for years, my heroine was a French girl. The Maid of Orleans, Joan of Arc, stirred my imagination. I wanted to be brave like her, like her I wanted to participate in a quest, like her I wished for an important destiny, a great one, even to give my life for it.

I belong to a generation that opened its eyes to the meaning of social justice and political commitment to the Cuban revolution. I belong to a generation that a short while later opened its mind to the revolution that was liberation theology for Latin America. And I belong to the generation that a bit later enthusiastically opened its heart to the insurrection in which many of you participated to overthrow the Somoza dictatorship. All this made me decide to come to Nicaragua 32 years ago.

Joan heard voices. The voices I heard were those of the Nicaraguan revolution. Here I would learn to be brave like my heroine, I would participate in a quest, and I would become involved in the destiny of a whole people. I didn't know anybody in Nicaragua and that attracted me more -- it was an adventure. I would start from zero. After the zero came one, two, three, four...And here I stayed. I am an adopted daughter of this motherland. And although I wasn't born here, it's here I wish to die.

The voices that call me now, although different, have the same urgency. The civic revolution that is pending today in Nicaragua includes other challenges, but we must keep fighting to make it possible. This effort is worth it, and when we achieve that Nicaragua we have imagined, dreamed of, one that is better, more just, happier, more for and with everyone, we will feel that no blood spilled, no pain and no efforts were in vain. It's a battle we must fight, as we do all of them, with enthusiasm, organization and cunning, without war. I'm delighted that this meeting is taking place today, September 21st, International Peace Day, the day when fall begins in one part of the world and spring in the other -- colors in the leaves, colors in the flowers.

My machete is the word. For ten years I spun words in the popular weekly El Tayacán. And for thirty years I have molded them in Envío magazine. Here in Nicaragua I found the opportunity to write several books for Nicaraguan boys and girls that I know have made them think, dream, feel afraid, get excited, laugh. Here in Nicaragua I have been able to hear the words others have used to talk about their lives to then put them into writing. From Nicaragua, I have found the time and space to talk to many women about their human rights and how their bodies and their choices are sacred. I have also talked to many young and not so young people about a certain Jesus, another possible God, and Saint Romero of America. Many of these words were born by playing with them, thinking about them with my brother José Ignacio, who is here with me today. Am I a theologian? I don't think theology is a matter of titles; it's just "giving reason for our hope" in words.

My machete is the word. I have always felt I am a word craftswoman. I don't know how to do anything else. I have never done anything else. I only have my "paper children", the books I have written -- sheets of paper first, then screens that I have filled with words. I've spent my life playing with words, reading, writing. And editing what others have written. I have spent my life talking. Talking to others and also talking to myself. Therefore, as the poet [Antonio Machado] used to say, "I hope to talk to God someday."

So I am receiving this award for my words, those I have written, those I have spoken. I am receiving it at a very difficult time for Nicaragua. Among those in power, corruption of words is rife -- words tainted by lies and used to mislead, words that have become empty opportunistic rhetoric and alienating arguments, especially when they take the name of God in vain. And among the powerless, fear of speaking critical words is growing because of the reprisals of authoritarianism against those who call for liberty, demand equality, and proclaim fraternity, those ideals that come to us from the land and people of Joan of Domrémy.

Today I would like to remember the many people in Nicaragua who have given their lives and run risks and who are still running them daily for speaking words of truth. I feel this honor isn't just for me; I believe it belongs to a "knightage" of many -- reporters, writers, communicators, broadcasters, artisans of the word.

Because I'm receiving it here and now in Nicaragua, at this difficult time, in this season of waiting, this award is a commitment for me. I promise to keep on speaking and writings words that teach us to doubt, to think, to question, to be suspicious, and also to laugh. I commit myself to go on building words with the most heretical and provocative meanings possible. My heroine was a heretic, for which she was burned at the stake.

I am immensely surprised to be receiving this award. And that's how I feel, as if it were a story: Once upon a time there was a girl who lived on an island and dreamed of becoming like a girl in far away France who, seated on a horse -- and therefore a knight -- confronted her enemies with a sword...In the school that is Life and with the Teacher that Time is, the girl grew and learned what life teaches: to distinguish friends from enemies, to choose which voices she should listen to, to understand that the most heroic quests are daily efforts...And now, almost at the end of her training, when she least expected it, the compatriots of her heroine have made her, as they did Joan, a Knight...a Knight of the Legion of Honor. They didn't give her a sword but a medal that she receives this night, imagining that it could serve as a shield for her. And they all lived happily ever after. I'm telling you this as I dreamed it and as the story has ended, it's time to make a toast. Let's celebrate!

Photo: France's ambassador to Nicaragua, Antoine Joly, pins the Legion of Honor medal on Maria Lopez Vigil.

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