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The Bonus Book of the Week is “Unforgetting, A Memoir of Family, Migration, Gangs, and Revolution in the Americas” by Robert Lovato, published in 2020. El Salvadorans are more populous in Los Angeles than any other major American city. The author wrote about his own family’s involvement in the politics, economics and violence that have given rise to the stereotypes surrounding El Salvador in recent decades.
It took the author decades to get his father (Ramon, born in 1922) to describe the traumas he experienced throughout his life, and especially as a nine-year old at the start of a revolution of Salvadorans of indigenous descent. Ramon’s parents weren’t married; plus he was of indigenous descent, so he was cursed by society at birth. Ramon’s father too, was illegitimate, but inherited a coffee-bean plantation, which made him a wealthy man, until the market crashed in summer 1931. However, Ramon was denied his family’s riches. He lived in a shack with his mother. A few valuable family connections did allow him to move to the United States for a better life.
Born in 1963, the author grew up in the San Francisco Bay area. As a teenager, he rebelled against his father’s lies, beatings and organized-crime dealings. He began hanging out with a drinking, drugging, petty-crime-committing crowd. But learning more about his family’s and homeland’s histories helped him to better understand his own and his father’s actions and failings. In his early twenties, the author found religion.
El Salvador was just one of many countries whose tribal, religious and political conflicts became American-taxpayer-funded military quagmires that started in the second half of the twentieth century; schemes gone awry initially backed by one or another U.S. president have persisted ever since. Pursuant to declassified documents and insiders– the CIA, other intelligence services and special-forces have engaged in top-secret international adventures in Korea, Guatemala, Cuba, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, etc., etc., etc.
The Reagan Era ushered in secret CIA-training of “counter-insurgency” techniques (translation: the atrocities of a dirty little war on par with Argentina’s) among young males fighting in El Salvador, with the ostensible goal of making the world safe for American-style democracy. Hilarity did not ensue. The usual hypocrisy, cover-ups, historical revisionism, and far-reaching devastation of war later on, did.
There occurred not just destruction, deaths, the trauma of fighting, family decimation, but also unspeakable war crimes such as massacres (via firing squads, even in a church(!)) of indigenous Salvadorans and rapes of females of all ages, in large numbers. “Despite the horrific civil war ravaging El Salvador [that began in 1980] the Reagan administration denied 97 percent of all Salvadoran asylum claims.”
The author listed just a few of the times and locations of mass killings, including:
December 1981, El Junquillo
August 1982, El Calabazo
February 1983, Las Hojas
Read the book to learn about war’s estimated 1980’s death toll, the fate of its perpetrators, how families tried to get more details on the fate of their disappeared loved ones, what happened in November 1989 (hint: there was a backlash in which the author played a role), and much more about why the author thought it was so important to investigate El Salvador’s past, rather than forget all that trauma.