Suso, Gratitude, and Human Dignity

Originally published on Rising Voices.

Every neighborhood has it's own local set of celebrities who become either famous or infamous for their talents, idiosyncrasies, and personal histories. They are the living and breathing incarnations of the archetypical characters who make up the novels and movies we so love. Think of Boo Radley from To Kill a Mockingbird, Aureliano José from One Hundred Years of Solitude, or Katerina Ivanovna Verkhovtseva from The Brothers Karamazov.

In San Javier La Loma, a hillside working class community on the outskirts of Medellín, one of the most well-known local celebrities, “Filthy Suso”, had, until recently, also been one of the most enigmatic. Thanks to the work of HiperBarrio, a citizen journalism outreach project of Rising Voices, the story of “Filthy Suso” is now known both locally and internationally. Led by Yuliana Isabel Paniagua Cano, Catalina Restrepo Martínez, and Gabriel Jaime Venegas, the collective of new citizen journalists created both a video and article about “Filthy Suso’, La Loma's local collector of recyclables. Below are both the video and text, translated from the original Spanish versions. It is worth noting that HiperBarrio's article on Suso was also published on the front page of the weekly local newspaper, Conexion.

Just like the other towns of Antioquia, La Loma has its own set of typical personalities, those who are remembered by each generation. The young people call him “Filthy Suso.” For adults who have seen him in the street since they were small children, those who are older than 40 years, call him the son of “Pachito.”


His true name, in fact, is Manuel Salvador, the youngest son of Mr. Francisco Pizarro and Mrs. Esperanza Sierra. He was born on October 26, 1929 in the Municipality of Armenia, Antioquia.

At 78 years of age, he is still a hardworking man and feels useful. From a very young age he learned how to plough and graze farmland, and pick coffee. Long ago he was a bricklayer, a job that he learned as an apprentice. Currently he mixes his farm life with collecting cans and bottles for recycling because he has no other source of income. In one day, he can earn between 500 and 1000 pesos (USD 2.50 to USD 5.00). We did not dare ask him what he spends his money on.

Ever since he arrived with his parents and his older brother to La Loma, Suso he has lived in an adobe house located near Mrs. Blanca Tejada, or as she is locally known, “Blanca Curra.”

A while ago, he transformed what was once the wood-burning kitchen and turned it into his bedroom, and ever since then the house began to fall apart. Four of the six bedrooms are without a roof. Long ago, Public Works cut his electricity and water. The toilets do not
work and the little water that he has either falls from the sky during rainstorms or is given to him in tubs by neighbors so that he can bathe, wash his clothes, and drink. This means that SIBSEN, the national welfare system, classifies him as ‘level 2′, which is rather paradoxical given his scant resources.

Suso arranges things around his house on a daily basis so that he doesn't get wet. More water falls inside than outside his house. His things get wet in the front hallway and in his room, where he places a small padlock so that he is not robbed. They have already taken everything of value including his tools, pots, and pans. Ever since, he prefers to leave his national identity card at a neighbor's house while he is out making a living.

His appearance reflects the years that have passed, poverty and abandonment. He his half-blind, unable to see out of his left eye. In spite of this difficulty, he still has a desire to work. He has more dignity than many people that we know. He feels useful and says he is happy and he will only go to a nursing home when he is at least 190 years old.

We can affirm that there are people who are so poor that the only thing they have is money. However, Suso has his neighbors who understand that the greatest poverty is to not have anyone in the world, a lack of love, a gesture of affection. Or, to wake up in the morning without knowing if anyone is concerned if you are dead or alive.

While Suso has some family, they barely come around, and it is as if he did not have them. However, many good-hearted people give him food to eat, take care of him when he is sick and keep him company.

Usually he wakes up very early to pick coffee and graze the land, harvesting bananas and whatever else the earth offers. On Saturdays, he collects the recyclables, because on these days the trash cart picks up the garbage.

He goes to mass every Sundays at 6 pm, without fail, and ever since the San Vincente Ferrer parish was founded in 1961. His parents donated the land for its construction, in a place where now three of La Loma's most recognizable institutions exist, including El Liceo Loma Hermosa and La Montaña library.

Seventeen classes of students have graduated since 1985, the date when El Liceo Loma Hermosa was founded. The majority of La Loma's residents have received sacrament there. Since April 1, 1961, 5,789 people have been baptized. They also make up the thousands of users of the neighboring La Montaña satellite library of the Pilot Public Library of Medellín for Latin America, which has provided services in La Loma since 1961 thanks to the community's own initiative.

It is ironic that in the three public sites where the community gathers, socializes and takes advantage of cultural, religious, educational events, could have all been Suso's inheritance.

Suso, my neighbor, your neighbor, the neighbor of all of us, needs, at least, a house without leaks, with running water and electricity and basic public services. It's time for La Loma and its leaders to wake up and thank the family from which he descends for everything they have done for the neighborhood by donating the land.

There is no shortage of sympathy; all that is needed is to find the best way to improve the living conditions for a man, who is owed so much, who represents the actions of his parents, and because he is old and deserves dignity.

If we lose our ability to be amazed, to ask questions, to solve problems, and to learn new things, then after living for 40 years in our house, we may discover that there is a huge tree in front of our house.

What a surprise! We assumed that the streets, the parks, the schools, the churches, the social associations, the libraries are all part of nature. The people also become part of the landscape. It seems as if they have always been here.

Without realizing it, we have prejudices against everyone else. We do not always know how certain people get to where they are.

Translation by Eduardo Ávila and David Sasaki.

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