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Reconciling Americas: Salvadoran Immigrant Activists and Political Transnationalism


In the 1980s, a violent civil war in El Salvador led to the mass emigration of over a million Salvadorans, many of whom fled national territory only to seek refuge in the U.S. - the very country funding the military dictatorship in their homeland. Although many Salvadorans bunkered down in cities like Los Angeles in the years to follow, a cohort of politicized Salvadoran migrants remained entrenched in the struggle in their homeland, supporting the resistance movement there and partnering with North American activists to end U.S. military intervention. This dissertation focuses on one such group of Salvadoran immigrant activists and their quest to "reconcile their Americas," balancing allegiances to their new hostland and their homeland after the war's end. Specifically, the dissertation focuses on the activists' creation of the Salvadoran-American Day festival in Los Angeles, and its institutionalization at the federal level, as a platform for visibility, political change, and integration between their two country contexts. Drawing on over six years of ethnographic research and in-depth interviews, this dissertation teases out the activists' subjective orientation, practical methodology, the constraints and openings for action they encounter, and the costs and benefits they experience in the course of their transnational political work. At a theoretical level, the case study contributes to an understanding of the relationship between processes of immigrant integration and transnationalism. As a narrative, it tells the story of these individuals from their experiences of mass violence in El Salvador to their ambiguous feelings about U.S. citizenship, their eventual embrace of a life lived "in-between," and the long-awaited but complex reconciliation facilitated by the rise of a leftist political power in the homeland.

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