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Salvadoran Imaginaries

Mediated Identities and Cultures of Consumption

by Cecilia Rivas

Publication Year: 2014

Ravaged by civil war throughout the 1980s and 1990s, El Salvador has now emerged as a study in contradictions. It is a country where urban call centers and shopping malls exist alongside rural poverty. It is a land now at peace but still grappling with a legacy of violence. It is a place marked by deep social divides, yet offering a surprising abundance of inclusive spaces. Above all, it is a nation without borders, as widespread emigration during the war has led Salvadorans to develop a truly transnational sense of identity.In Salvadoran Imaginaries, Cecilia M. Rivas takes us on a journey through twenty-first century El Salvador and to the diverse range of sites where the nation’s postwar identity is being forged. Combining field ethnography with media research, Rivas deftly toggles between the physical spaces where the new El Salvador is starting to emerge and the virtual spaces where Salvadoran identity is being imagined, including newspapers, literature, and digital media. This interdisciplinary approach enables her to explore the multitude of ways that Salvadorans negotiate between reality and representation, between local neighborhoods and transnational imagined communities, between present conditions and dreams for the future.Everyday life in El Salvador may seem like a simple matter, but Rivas digs deeper, across many different layers of society, revealing a wealth of complex feelings that the nation’s citizens have about power, opportunity, safety, migration, and community. Filled with first-hand interviews and unique archival research, Salvadoran Imaginaries offers a fresh take on an emerging nation and its people.

Published by: Rutgers University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-xiv

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Introduction: Imaginaries of Transnationalism

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pp. 1-18

At the Houston airport the flight will not board for another hour. Behind me, two women talk about their reasons for going to El Salvador. “We only go for problems. We have come because we have problems, and return to solve some other problem,” one of them says. “I don’t hear anyone say they are going there to take a great vacation,” she adds dryly. The other woman chuckles in agreement. Everybody...

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1. Tracing the Borderless in “Departamento 15”

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pp. 19-48

"El periodismo es el mejor ofi cio del mundo” (“Journalism is the greatest trade in the world”) read the banner at the top of the website of the Asociación de Periodistas de El Salvador (APES) in 2010. This phrase is borrowed, appropriately, from journalist and novelist Gabriel García Márquez’s 1996 address to the...

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2. The Desperate Images

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pp. 49-72

"La verdad circula por todas partes” (“truth circulates everywhere”), La Prensa Gráfica proclaims in a publicity campaign. A 2003 advertisement from that campaign is particularly striking. The photograph shows a group of young men wearing caps and carrying backpacks, barely discernible in the darkness. The...

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3. Vega’s Disgust

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pp. 73-92

Edgardo Vega’s aversion and asco (“disgust”) for El Salvador has only grown since he emigrated in the late 1970s and made his new home in Montreal, Canada, where he has cultivated a satisfying academic career in art history. It is clear that Vega— the protagonist of Horacio Castellanos Moya’s 1997 novel El asco: Thomas Bernhard en San Salvador— never wanted to return to his birthplace....

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4. Exporting Voices: Aspirations and Fluencyin the Call Center

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pp. 93-124

Carla was in her twenties when I met her. She had graduated from a bilingual high school in San Salvador, and currently worked at a call center. I contacted her through a mutual friend, someone who was also her coworker, and we arranged an interview. On an August afternoon in 2006, Carla and I sat at a café in Multiplaza, a shopping mall, talking about her job, about what working...

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5. “Heart of the City”: Life and Spaces ofConsumption in San Salvador

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pp. 125-148

The slogan of a famous shopping center in San Salvador is, “Metrocentro: El corazón de la ciudad y tú lo haces latir” (“the heart of the city and you make it beat”). Shopping malls seem ubiquitous— always a potential detour for everyday errands and the social interactions of many people in contemporary San Salvador. Growing up in San Salvador, I spent time in Metrocentro, and over...

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Conclusion: Renewing Narratives ofConnection and Distance

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pp. 149-154

I am at the Comalapa Airport in El Salvador. After checking in, I reach the area where travelers and their relatives assemble before the travelers say good- bye and proceed to airport security. The lobby is a farewell mini- mall for the already nostalgic traveler who, boarding pass in hand, prepares to leave El Salvador. A...


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pp. 155-166


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pp. 167-176


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pp. 177-188

E-ISBN-13: 9780813564630
E-ISBN-10: 0813564638
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813564623
Print-ISBN-10: 081356462X

Page Count: 216
Illustrations: 2 photographs
Publication Year: 2014

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Salvadoran Americans -- Social conditions.
  • El Salvador -- Emigration and immigration.
  • United States -- Emigration and immigration.
  • Transnationalism.
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