The wars that ravaged Central America in the 1980s have long since disappeared from the evening news. Most people would have difficulty remembering that only a little more than a decade ago, the United States was “drawing the line in Central America” as it became more deeply involved in the affairs of the region. This video is a vivid reminder of the bitterness of those struggles and their continuing impact on the daily lives of the region’s people.

This is a collection of interviews with ten boys and girls, ages 12 to 15, who lived through the wars in Guatemala and El Salvador. The film makes no pretense that the ten are a representative sample of the children who were caught up in the war, but these youngsters do represent a variety of experiences and responses to the political and military events. Of the four Guatemalan children interviewed, Diego continues to live among his neighbors, who were also the killers of his father. Rosario innocently urges her mother to throw rocks at the soldiers responsible for her brother’s death. Dora’s family has fled the highlands for the dubious safety of Guatemala City. Sebastian and his family have gone into hiding in the mountains, taking up residence in one of the “communities of population in resistance,” which automatically makes him a guerrilla in the eyes of the government.

The six children from El Salvador include four from the guerrilla stronghold of San Jose las Flores. One of these is a former guerrilla, a veteran of the civil war at age 14 whose macho mannerisms cannot conceal the disturbed look in his eyes. The other two children reside in the capital, San Salvador. At 13, Evelyn is an enterprising student whose family store was overrun during the guerrilla offensive of 1989. Fifteen-year-old Juan grew up in an urban orphanage while his father was off fighting and dying as a guerrilla.

Patricia Goudvis is producer, co-director, writer, sound recorder, and narrator of the video. She worked as a photographer and filmmaker in Central America in the 1980s. Because the video is a series of vignettes, it can be divided at a number of places for more effective use in the classroom; the accompanying study guide provides the exact running time for each interview, further facilitating classroom usage. While some of the translations of the interviews are included in voiceover format, most appear in subtitles.

If the Mango Tree Could Speak offers a bottom-up view of the conflict in Central America. Although the narration is well done, additional background information will have to be provided for students who are not familiar with the history and geography of Central America. The pain, the loss, and even a few rays of hope come through vividly in this production. Most viewers will come away sharing the conclusion of one of the children: “the real peace hasn’t come yet.”