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Article

After a long void in scholarship, literature on US/Central American art began to emerge in the decade of the 2010s. As this new body of literature emerges it is important to consider the politics of visuality and visibility as it informs production and reception of contemporary art by US Central Americans. During the years of US intervention that fueled Central American conflicts (1970s–1990s), the United States produced a visual discourse on Central Americans for US audiences, especially evident in photography, political posters, and Hollywood films. This visual discourse relied on a what I call a “solidarity aesthetics” for Central America, in which images and representations of Central Americans were made, selected, disseminated, and framed to produce empathy and encourage action with the region across the globe. Yet, this solidarity aesthetics entailed optical codes—imagery on poverty, violence, and tropical landscapes—that subsequently established a reductive visual trope about Central America still used today. This visual discourse not only objectifies a Central American subject, but further enables the erasure of US/Central American creative practices as it implies the region produces violence and not art. In the context of such visual discourse, art by Alma Leiva, Muriel Hasbun, Beatriz Cortez, Jessica Lagunas, and Óscar Moisés Díaz exemplifies a disruption of dominant visual discourse by US Central Americans artists. They create art and images that counter historical erasure and the visual tropes that propagate violence while offering alternative visual narratives that reflect on the legacies of war, US intervention, and the consequential displacement and mass migration of thousands of Central Americans.

Article

The study of Native American and Indigenous literatures reveals how native knowledges resisted the Westernizing onslaught implemented forcefully since the beginning of the colonial era by colonial authorities, and after the 19th century by ruling national elites that shared with colonial authorities their belief that local Indigenous cultures needed to be Westernized to be saved. Despite its brutal enforcement, ancestral knowledges managed to resist and survived through the many social crises and transformations that took place from the 16th to the late 20th century. Their lingering effects are visible in this new literary corpus that began to appear in print since the 1960s. In the Latin American case, it is a literary production that is bilingual in nature, as all the authors publish in their own language and in Spanish. The authors in question have rescued their maternal languages in written form and standardized their systems of writing. As Central American-American Indigenous subjects migrate to the United States, they carry with them ancestral knowledges and written literatures as well.

Article

The use of the term “Central American” as an identity category is neither new nor restricted to the US diaspora. However, it is within the last forty years and in the geopolitical setting of the United States that a thriving identity politics has developed. It is during this time period that the use of the term Central American has emerged to denote a tactical American pan-ethnic social identity. This act of consciously employing the term “Central American” as a unification strategy for peoples from the isthmus in the United States echoes other US-based ethnoracial identity politics. Such movements often utilize a pan-ethnic term not only to advocate on the behalf of a racialized minoritarian community but also seeking to provide them a space of belonging by focusing on sociopolitical, cultural, and ethnic commonalities. As other identity markers in the United States such as “Asian American” and “African American” illustrate, Central Americans are not the first population to utilize a region as a strategic unifying term of self-identification. Yet, unlike these other US ethnoracial categories, for those who identify as “Central American” the term “Central America” often connotes not simply a geographic space but also a historical formation that advances the notion that individuals from the isthmus comprise a distinct but common culture. Another key difference from other US ethnoracial identities is that use of the term “Central American” in US cultural politics emerged during a historical era where the broader collective terms “Hispanic” or “Latino” were already in place. The creation and deployment of “Central American” is therefore an alternative to this other supra-ethnic identity category, as subjects view this isthmian-based term as being able to simultaneously create a broader collective while still invoking a type of geographic and cultural specificity that is usually associated with national identities.

Article

Carlos Gregorio López Bernal

In 1871, a wave of “liberal revolutions” began in Central America. Important changes were made to strengthen national states, promote the growth of the economy, and secularize society. The speed and intensity of the reforms varied across the region, as did the results. However, in every case, there were significant advances shown through exports, public works, and architecture in major cities. The benefits of the reforms were also unevenly distributed. Coffee growers, businessmen, and bureaucrats saw their incomes and living standards improve while peasants, indigenous people, and workers received little, and in some cases saw their living conditions deteriorate significantly. The global crisis of capitalism in 1929 demonstrated the vulnerability of the liberal model, producing an authoritarian turn in the region.

Article

Elda María Román

Latina/o literature can be understood both in terms of its historical emergence and development as well as its engagement with and representation of history. The formation of a canon called Latina/o literature is a contemporary phenomenon. Institutions that have published, disseminated, and shaped this literature into a discernible entity emerged in the 1970s as extensions of political activist movements. In the 1990s, the establishment of the Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage Project also made possible the recuperation and publication of literature written before the 1960s. Studies of Latina/o literature now explore texts dating back to the 16th century, include 19th-century exile and dissident writing, and trace the evolution of Latina/o literature through the 20th and 21st centuries. While most writing and scholarship has been produced about Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans, and Cuban Americans, literature by Dominican Americans, U.S. Central Americans, and U.S. South Americans is increasingly gaining visibility. Since the mid-20th century, most Latina/o literature has been written in English, though many writers incorporate Spanish or Spanglish. This tradition now spans a wide range of themes, experiences, and genres.

Article

Costa Rica has historically faced many of the same challenges as its Central American neighbors, but to a less dramatic extent. This has put the country on a unique path of political and economic development. Even today, it outperforms its neighbors, often including its more developed neighbors, like the United States, in essential measurements of human development, happiness, lack of corruption, and economics. Many Costa Rican scholars have concluded that the nation benefitted from its time as a colonial outcast and from a lack of exploitable resources like gold and silver. The common misbelief that Costa Rica was settled without the destruction of natives, that the country gained a peaceful independence, and that it somehow avoided all the pitfalls of Latin American development is now met with resistance, and a better understanding of Costa Rican history has emerged. Although Costa Rican development has not been without its complications, issues, and bloody epochs, it has been far less extreme and far more open to change, democracy, and progress. Costa Rica was able to gain a semi-peaceful independence, form a strong republic, and endure the “lost decade” better than many other countries in the region. Since 2008, this tiny country has progressed rapidly. It joined CAFTA-DR, elected its first female president, ended 70 years of two-party dominance, survived national-level scandal, legalized gay marriage, and elected a progressive leftist president in 2018 despite a global shift to the right for political leaders. Yet along with progress comes continued struggles. Costa Rica faces new challenges in the 21st century. In the new millennium, it confronts issues of social injustice, rising crime rates, economic dependency on international monetary institutions, corruption, and human rights, to name a few.

Article

Yajaira M. Padilla

Central American-American feminisms have come into existence within the recent span of the late 20th to early 21st century as communities of Central Americans have become more established within the United States and multiple generations of US Central American women have come of age. Central American-American feminisms are conceived of in a collective fashion and share some general characteristics. However, they are also characterized by their heterogeneity, reflecting the diversity of US Central American women and their emergent feminist politics. Among the key influences that have helped shaped Central American-American feminisms are women of color or Third World women feminisms. The theory making and feminist praxis that form the basis of Central American-American feminisms register many of the central tenets of the latter, including an emphasis on intersectionality and the notion of shared struggles against broader systems of dominations among women and peoples of color. Within the scope of these broader women of color feminist influences, Chicana feminisms have been particularly important, partly due to the cohabitation of US Central American and Mexican American/Chicano communities in areas such at the US Southwest. In as much as US Central American women identify with Chicana feminist paradigms and experiences of oppression, they also disidentify with them, responding with their own sense of US Central American feminist politics and paradigms that draw on their Central American roots and diasporic experiences. In keeping with their transnational or transisthmian nature and sensibilities, Central American-American feminisms also bear the imprint of the histories of oppression and resistance and of migration of Central American women. Indeed, such histories, and the ongoing struggles tied to them, are understood within US Central American feminist politics as ones that remain inherently linked to those of women in the Central American diaspora. This helps to explain why diasporic experiences and issues related to the legacies and traumas of war, transnational migration and family separation, intergenerational relationships between mothers and daughters, and notions of identity and belonging are prominent within Central American-American feminisms. Such issues and experiences are integral aspects of the everyday lives of US Central American women, immigrants and subsequent generations alike, and, as such, are foundational to US Central American feminist politics. The literature and cultural production, as well as scholarship, of US Central American women, both feminist and not, has been instrumental to the cultivation and emergence of Central American-American feminisms. Looking to such texts provides a useful means of helping to define what Central American-American feminisms are and to make discernible their general characteristics and limitations, the US and Central American-based influences that have shaped them, and the issues that drive them. Many of these works also push back against the multiple mechanisms and structures that have silenced multiple generations of Central American women in and outside of the isthmus. In this sense, such works do more than just offer fertile ground for exploring many key dimensions of Central American-American feminisms. They also constitute an example of US Central American feminist praxis.

Article

The Federal Republic of Central America existed for a brief but critical period in Central American history. Tension in the region between its colonial legacy and liberal aspiration and conflict between Guatemalan prevalence and state independence led to the eventual dissolution of the Federal Republic. The result was a confederate rather than a federal approach to government in which each state was sovereign in its own territory. The period convulsed with interspersed colonial and republican regimes, which reflected the politics of the heterogeneous society of the time. The imaginary unity failed and the new republics emerged, doomed to their own sovereignty.

Article

Nahuatl is the Latin American indigenous language having the largest number of colonial documents. As with other colonial documents, the study of these manuscripts requires mastery of the language as well as the relevant historical and philological sources. The emergence of digital repositories in Mexico, the United States, France, and other countries has made hundreds of digital images available to scholars who would not have had access to these sources otherwise. Digital repositories also contain additional tools such as morphological parsers and dictionaries. These allow users to upload new images, transcriptions, and translations, turning digital archives into veritable platforms for scholarly exchange. The irruption of digital repositories promises to effect substantial changes in the field of Nahuatl studies.

Article

Floridalma Boj Lopez

Maya youth literatures in the diaspora are creative works of literature that defy easy categorization. Instead of focusing on form or genre, these works emphasize the refugee experience in relation to issues of state violence and migration in Guatemala and the United States. Mayan youth use do-it-yourself (DIY) publishing as a strategy to create narratives that embrace their experiences with their families and at schools, and in their efforts to create a Mayan community. As a result, these stories are reflective of not just their own experiences, but also their own political investments in how their Maya community is represented and written into existence.

Article

Throughout their history, the countries of Central America have attempted several forms of political and economic integration. After declaring independence in the 19th century, the region lacked its earlier cohesion vis-à-vis Spanish colonial governance. The former provinces aligned themselves in favor of either centralizing regional power in a federal republic or establishing complete political autonomy through the formation of new nation-states. Forces in favor of the latter eventually prevailed. An attempt at economic integration began in the mid-20th century. It was actively backed by the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and eventually led to the creation of the Central American Common Market (CACM). Despite favorable economic conditions in the Post-World War II period, a number of complications undermined integration efforts: war, political crises, and interests that ran contrary to those of the United States. Integration was postponed until the end of the 1980s, after the Esquipulas II Accord reestablished peace in the region. After the countries of Central America signed the Guatemala Protocol in 1993, economic integration was promoted under the banner of free trade. This was done by regional economic groups with the goal of reconnecting the region to global commerce under the most advantageous circumstances possible.

Article

Foreign travelers, mainly from Europe and the United States, did not come to Central America until the founding of the Federal Republic of Central America in 1823 after independence from Spain. They had been previously unknown in the Central American isthmus despite the impression that Alexandre von Humboldt’s achievement made on Latin Americans at the beginning of the 19th century. From 1823 to 1870, the foreign travelers in three characteristic cycles: the first, from 1823 to 1838, during the federal administration, attracted consular agents, merchants, and foreign adventurers, especially former soldiers from the Napoleonic Wars; the second, from 1839 to 1850, brought publicists, canal and timber entrepreneurs, and promoters of diverse kinds of colonization; and the third, which ran from 1851 to 1870, saw the arrival of naturalists, archeologists, entrepreneurs, and diplomats. All of them contributed to the integration of the short-lived Federal Republic of Central America and the division into five nations into the world market and concert of western nations. In fact, the victory of the liberal reforms beginning in 1871 would mean a new cycle of travelers, not discussed here, characterized by the positivist goal of progress, secularity of the state, freedom of religion, the banner of Central American reunification, and the gamble on mono-exportation centered on coffee and banana cultivation.

Article

The Spanish invasion of 1492 was the first marker and constitutive element of coloniality. The presence of coloniality is critical for the explication and reflection on racialized and subalternized relations of dominance/subordination in the Americas and all other places affected by European colonization. In 1992, Peruvian sociologist Aníbal Quijano introduced the category of coloniality of power, further developed in 2000 by Walter Mignolo in his work Local Histories/Global Designs. Coloniality not only constituted a pattern of continual production of racialized identities, and an unequal hierarchy whereby European identities and knowledge were considered superior to all others in what amounted to a caste system; it also generated mechanisms of social domination that preserved this social classification into the present. Coloniality is not limited to the colonial period, which ended for most of Latin America in the first quarter of the 19th century. Despite political independences from Spain and Portugal, the pattern articulated by Quijano continues to our day, structuring processes of racialization, subalternization, and knowledge production. This is the reason Mignolo labels coloniality a “matrix of power.” The literature examined in this article concerns itself with revealing the markers of coloniality on the Central American social body in diaspora. This article contends that diasporic Central American literatures produced within the United States represent not only the experience of exile and migration, but also an experience of continued war and perpetual violence, as Central American bodies discover in this US diasporic landscape, the racialization of their bodies, and how they in turn become disposable as a result of their status.

Article

The presence of coloniality is critical for the explication, and reflection, on racialized and subalternized relations of dominance/subordination. The Spanish invasion in 1492 was the first marker and constitutive element of modernity. In 1992 Peruvian sociologist Anibal Quijano introduced the category of coloniality of power, further developed by Walter Mignolo. This epistemic change not only constituted a pattern of continual production of racialized identities and an unequal hierarchy whereby European identities and knowledge were considered superior to all others in what amounted to a caste system but also generated mechanisms of social domination that preserved this social classification into the present. Coloniality is not limited to the colonial period, which ended for most of Latin America in the first quarter of the 19th century. Despite political independence from Spain or Portugal, the pattern elaborated by Quijano continues to our day, structuring processes of racialization, subalternization, and knowledge production. This is the reason Mignolo labels it a “matrix of power.” Central American–American literature represents the nature of colonialized violence suffered by U.S. Central Americans and constitutes racialized and subalternized migrants as a form of interpellating agency deployed in the name of the excluded subjects. Novelist Mario Bencastro’s Odyssey to the North, Sandra Benítez’s Bitter Grounds, Francisco Goldman’s The Divine Husband, and the EpiCentro poets mobilize in different fashions and directions the inner contradictions of identitary and decolonial issues in reaction to colonialized perceptions of textual subjectivities—or their traces—manifested in their respective discursive practices. These phenomena cannot be understood outside of the historical flux generated by the coloniality of power.

Article

Valeria Marina Valle, Caroline Irene Deschak, and Vanessa Sandoval-Romero

International migration flows have long been a defining feature of the Americas and have evolved alongside political and phenomenological shifts between 2009 and 2018, creating new patterns in how, when, and why people move. Migration is a determinant of health, and for the nations involved, regional changes create new challenges to defend the universal right to health for migrants. This right is repeatedly guaranteed within the global agenda, such as in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations; the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights; and the 2015 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially SDG 3 regarding health and well-being, and SDG 10, which aims to reduce inequalities within and among countries. The 2018 Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration confirms a worldwide partnership highlighting protection of migrants’ right to health and services. The literature reviewed on migration and health in the Americas between 2009 and 2018 identifies two distinct publication periods with different characteristics in the Central and North American subregions: 2009 to 2014, and 2015 to 2018. The first period is characterized by an influx of young adult migrants from Central America to the United States who generally traveled alone. During the second period, the migration flow includes other major groups, such as unaccompanied minors, pregnant women, disabled people, people from the LGBTIQ+ community, and whole families; some Central Americans drew international attention for migrating in large groups known as “caravans.” In South America, the 2010–2015 period shows three defining tendencies: intensification of intra-regional cross-border migration (with an 11% increase in South American migrants from 2010 to 2015 and approximately 70% of intra-subregional migration), diversification of countries of origin and extra-regional destination, and the persistence of extra-continental emigration. Social determinants of health have a foundational relevance to health and well-being for migrants, such as age, housing, health access, education, and policy environment. Guiding theories on migration and health include Push-and-Pull Theory, Globalization Theory, Transnationalism, Relational Cultural Theory, and Theory of Assimilation. Migration and health was analyzed through the lens of five disciplines (Management, Social Work, Communication, Education, Information Science & Library Science, Law): clinical medicine, social sciences, health (general), professional fields, and psychology. There is an overrepresentation of literature in clinical medicine, demonstrating a strong bias towards production in the United States. Another gap perceived in the literature is the minimal knowledge production in South America and the Caribbean, and a clear bias towards publication in the North American continent. At the regional level, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO)’s agenda serves to highlight areas of success and opportunities for future research, particularly in two areas: strengthening partnerships, networks, and multi-country frameworks; and adopting policies, programs, and legal frameworks to promote and protect the health of migrants. As these strategic lines of action aim to provide the basis for decisions regarding migrant health in the region, they should be considered two important avenues for further academic exploration.

Article

Gallica, the digital library of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, was launched in 1997. The library contains almost five million documents (manuscripts, books, journals, newspapers, maps, iconographic documents, and recordings), many of which are connected to Latin America, offering rich perspectives on the relationships between France and Latin American countries across the centuries. The many travel narratives, testimonies, essays, photographs, and maps available provide rich insight into French perception of Latin America from the early 16th century to the mid-20th century. Although Gallica’s collection of manuscripts on Latin America is not plentiful, one of its main goals is to provide easy access to rare French books printed centuries ago, of which not many copies are available today and which are rarely present in other digital libraries. The richest collection is probably on Brazil, since Gallica has organized a special collection titled “France-Brésil” which provides access to the rich personal collection of books and manuscripts of the first French historian of Brazil, Ferdinand Denis (1798–1890), among other treasures. Gallica has undeniable value for researchers specialized in Latin American history, although working on its collections requires at least reading proficiency in French as the vast majority of the accessible resources are in French.

Article

While literature by Latin American origin groups within the United States (e.g., Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Dominican) has been treated as a single literary corpus—“Latina/o Literature” or “Hispanic Literature”—since the last decades of the 20th century, in practice, the commonalities among such texts were more comparative than panethnic in nature until significantly more recently. That is, while literature by different national-origin groups revealed some strong similarities in theme and form, the writing itself reflected the specific concerns, background, and history of the specific national-origin group, rather than giving evidence of intra-Latino group interaction or a developing sense of a shared intra-Latino culture. This article traces the commonalities among these bodies of literary production, including in the “pre-Latino” period, the 19th to mid-20th centuries, before there was even a commonly understood concept of “US Latino literature,” as well as during the Chicano and Nuyorican Movements of the 1960s and 1970s. It then turns to a discussion of developing representations of inter-group interactions and tensions, including in the more recent emergence of “Central American American” literary production. Particularly in the increasingly cosmopolitan urban centers of the United States, an evolving sense of intra-Latino solidarity and panethnic Latino “community” has come into view in the literature produced by Latinx writers of the later 20th and 21st centuries.

Article

Allison Brownell Tirres

Latino Americans have intersected with the law in complicated ways throughout American history. Latinos themselves are a diverse and heterogeneous racial, ethnic, and cultural group, with members hailing from all parts of the Spanish-speaking world and representing all variations on the spectrum of race. Each group has a unique origin story, but all have been shaped by law and legal process. Legal historians and legal scholars explore the role of law in incorporating Latino groups in American society, the effects of law on Latino communities, and the struggles of Latino lawyers, activists, and ordinary people against legal discrimination and for equality. The civil rights story of Latinos bears strong resemblance to that of African Americans: In each case, members have been subjected to de jure and de facto discrimination and social subordination. But the Latino civil rights story has unique valences, particularly in the areas of language discrimination and immigration law and policy. Latino legal history demonstrates the complex ways that Latinos interact with the color line in American law and politics.

Article

During the Cold War’s earliest years, right-wing governments and oligarchic elites in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua fostered closer relationships with the Catholic Church. Dictatorial leaders like Guatemala’s Carlos Castillo Armas and dynastic regimes like Nicaragua’s Somoza family regarded the Church as an ally against supposed Marxist influence in the region. Those ties began to fray in the late 1960s, as the Second Vatican Council’s foundational reforms moved Catholicism farther to the political and social left around the globe. This shift was especially prominent in Central America, where Catholics like El Salvador’s Archbishop Óscar Arnulfo Romero and Guatemala’s Father Stanley Rother were among Central America’s most visible critics and reformers as political violence increased across the region during the 1970s. Relatedly, evangelical Protestants, particularly Pentecostal groups based in the United States, flooded Central America throughout that decade. Their staunch anticommunism and established ties to influential policymakers and political lobbyists in the United States, among other factors, gave evangelical Protestants greater influence in US-Central American relations. Their influence was strongest during the early 1980s, when José Efraín Ríos Montt, an ordained Pentecostal minister with Eureka, California’s Verbo Ministries, seized Guatemala’s presidency via a coup in March 1982. Notable US evangelical leaders like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson praised Ríos Montt’s regime for its rabid anticommunist ideology, while President Ronald Reagan claimed that the dictator had received a “bum rap” in the global press. Concurrently, some US evangelical missioners and pastors also foregrounded the Sandinista government’s anti-Protestant activities as additional justification for US support for Nicaragua’s Contra forces. Religious actors were also instrumental to Central America’s peace processes after the Cold War, as Catholic and Protestant leaders alike worked closely with regional governments and the United States to end decades of political violence and enact meaningful socioeconomic reforms for the region’s citizens.

Article

The social, political, and economic features of Central America are summarized and the impact of economic and political processes on the region is highlighted. Predominant global, historical, cultural, and political events are weaved together, in an attempt to understand the realities of the region. The challenges for social work profession and practice are presented, as well as their implications for new approaches to intervention and education.