- U.S. Central Americans: Reconstructing Memories, Struggles, and Communities of Resistance eds. by Karina O. Alvarado, Alicia Ivonne Estrada, and Ester E. Hernández
This collection of essays provides a multifaceted analysis of how Guatemalan and Salvadoran immigrants and their children have created a vibrant community in Los Angeles. The authors together illustrate how immigrants from these two nations have at once reshaped this city's geographic, social, economic, and political landscape in an effort to make it their home, while also working actively to retain a sense of belonging to their natal communities. This collection of well-researched and provocative articles, written by scholars in multiple disciplines, opens new intellectual terrain that should be of interest to both Central American and US-Latino Studies scholars.
Far from presenting a uniform image of California's Central American immigrant community, this book analyzes some of the many differences within this diverse group. In particular, the wide-ranging experiences of Maya and Hispanic immigrants and that of the men and women of this diaspora are considered in multiple articles. Another special element of the collection is the focus on artistic expression and aesthetics as tools of identity formation and political theater. The visual is broadly defined in this volume; one author considers Maya dress by immigrants and the refashioning of traditional textiles by their US-born daughters, and another the creation and use of community archives as a means of generating working memories for US-born Salvadorans, and still [End Page 417] another the politics of graffiti. Scholars of modern Central America and the US-Latino experience are likely to find several articles of interest.
The authors promise to illuminate academic understandings of Los Angeles's Latino community by bringing into focus the presence of Salvadoran and Maya and Ladino Guatemalan immigrants in this city. Unfortunately, however, the editors fail to realize their larger goal of producing a collection that examines the experience of US Central Americans, not simply that of Guatemalan and Salvadoran nationals in Los Angeles. An argument might be made for a Los Angeles-centered study, since it has the largest concentration of Central Americans in the United States. The lack of articles, however, on Honduran, Nicaraguan, and Costa Rican immigrants greatly diminishes this work's overall contribution and value to the field. Deeply related to this point is the fact that the editors do not fully articulate how Central America is (and has been) geopolitically and culturally defined, though they seem to attempt to do so the introduction.
The book's introduction defines Central America through its relationship to US imperialism and frames isthmian immigration as a byproduct of the United States' Cold War support of brutal military dictatorships. In this context, the editors briefly narrate how El Salvador, Guatemala, as well as Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama, (which historically has not been considered a part of Central America) were all shaped by country-specific US imperial policies that created conditions that inspired large-scale emigration toward the north.
Even though the authors do not include articles on Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama, they do acknowledge that these nations are a part of Central America. Costa Rica, on the other hand, receives no mention in the volume, not even in the introductory essay, which provides a historical narrative that defines the region for readers. Regardless of the editor's reasons for not seeking out articles on Costa Rican immigrants in the United States, Costa Rica is nonetheless a Central American nation and as such its completely unexplained absence in this work and the discussion of its people's out-migration are major oversights.
Despite the volume's omissions in geographical scope, this collection of essays is likely to shape future research projects on Los Angeles's Latino community, as well as contemporary research on Guatemalan and Salvadoran emigration.