La Ceiba Journal

La Ceiba is an online and print journal that publishes original research produced by CSUN undergraduate students on Central America and its peoples.  Recognizing the importance of artistic production,  La Ceiba also publishes undergraduate multimedia projects that deal with Central America.  By publishing academic and artistic works, La Ceiba provides a forum for critical dialogue on issues related to Central America and its peoples.  In this way each issue of La Ceiba contributes to our understanding of the Central American region and its transnational communities.

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A Historical View of the Reasons for Central American Migration




           The purpose of this paper is to analyze the historical reasons for which Salvadorans and Nicaraguans have migrated to the United States and the factors that influence their decision to stay or migrate back home. My research points to the transnational social networks as a main contributing factor to migration. An analysis of return-migration also points to the important role that family ties play in shaping immigrants’ decision to migrate back to their homeland. Such a study is achieved through my interviews of two Salvadoran and Nicaraguan immigrants. Their experiences and views add to the understanding of migrants’ varied motives for migrating and the role family plays in making these decisions. Continue reading

Catalina’s Complex: A Negotiation of a Nicaraguan American Female’s Identity Synthesis



            Many studies of the Central American diasporic community focus on their experiences, and the reality of life in the United States. In this ethnography, I will focus on a first generation American woman, Catalina Castaneda, a pseudonym, is of Nicaraguan descent, and her perspicacity as she faces the realities and predicaments of her identity formation. Catalina is a twenty-one year old college student who currently is a volunteer tutor for young women who dropped out of high school due to pregnancies or other factors. Continue reading

Masculinity in Salvadoran Gangs: The “Normalization” of Violence



This paper will address a theoretical application of masculinity to the specific case of Salvadoran gang members in El Salvador and in the United States. A distinct form of masculinity is present amongst Salvadoran gang members that stems from El Salvador’s violent civil war and transpired to the multi-ethnic barrios of Los Angeles. Masculinity was then shaped by Salvadoran’s direct experiences with violence, mutilations, disappearances, and murders by U.S. sponsored death squads. Moreover, Tom Ward suggests that Salvadoran gang members were influenced by rival Mexican gang members’ idealized masculinity, characterized by promiscuity, physical strength, violence, and brutal punishments. Salvadoran gangs constructed their form of masculinity through blocked accesses to well-paying jobs, high rates of poverty, and exposure to discriminatory practices from law enforcement and rival gangs. Salvadoran gangs then formed la Mara Salvatrucha as a form of representation, a sense of pride, and a rejection of the Anglo-dominant culture. This project also extends to the effects of trauma and violence, especially for children who were forced to “normalize” violence through the brutal war. The rise in gang violence, constant fear of gangs, and investments in prisons to house gangs creates what I have termed as the “Salvadoran gang industry.”

Masculinity in Salvadoran Gangs: The “Normalization” of Violence

“During the war, my father worked as a bus driver in El Salvador and encountered numerous threats to his life by the guerrilla and military. One night during a toque de queda, all those on board were asked to step out of the bus. With the gun pointed at my father’s head, he prayed to God. As soon as the guerrilla heard a siren, they scattered and my father survived. Violence became “normalized” during my childhood; it was common to see bodies and entire families dead.”

-Hector Ramirez

The excerpt by Ramirez demonstrates his father’s first hand experience with violence during the Salvadoran Civil War. In the words of Ramirez, “violence became normalized.” This normalization of violence connects to the contemporary Salvadoran experience with gang violence. For the purpose of this paper, I will provide a historical account of the normalization of violence in El Salvador during its civil war when the Salvadoran state used violence as a means to solve conflict or prevent the expansion of an uprising. This form of social control by those in power led to this “normalization of violence.”

Violence was normalized during the 12 year-long Salvadoran Civil War when the Salvadoran military used violence against the guerilla army. This violence then influenced the performance of masculinity in El Salvador, since violence was used to solve conflict in both the public and private sphere. Currently, El Salvador is dealing with the transnational rivalry between Los Angeles based street gangs Mara Salvatrucha and Calle Dieciocho. The increase in gang membership in El Salvador is due to challenges in maintaining an idealized masculinity, high rates of poverty, need of protection, low-wage jobs, increase in globalization, and more importantly a sense of belonging. Men are joining the Salvadoran gangs as “foot soldiers” as a means of survival and protection. Gang members have practiced this normalized violence in brutal and inhumane methods as has the militarized police in using torture to solve conflict. This type of violence is associated to the violence these children and youth were exposed to during the civil war. As a result, the effects of the civil war, Salvadoran migration, and deportation of migrants have shaped a distinct form of Salvadoran gang masculinity. The Salvadoran government is attempting to find a solution to the current gang problem but continues to use fear, threats, and violence. The Salvadoran government, with assistance and pressure from the United States, would rather punish gang members by incarcerating rather than rehabilitating or “reintegrating” these men back into society. The Salvadoran state has created what I term as the “Salvadoran gang industry,” where the effects of globalization and lack of resources continue to “push” individuals into gangs, while increasing funding to construct more prisons and implement anti-gang policies rather than support rehabilitation programs. However, these gang members are feared throughout the nation and this makes it even more difficult for an individual to leave the gang because he carries the stigma of once being part of a gang. The Salvadoran government, as in the past, continues to use fear to control the Salvadoran population.

Defining Gangs

Before I focus on the normalization of violence by Mara Salvatrucha and Calle Dieciocho (18th Street) gangs, it is necessary to define what are gangs, maras, and pandillas. The term mara represented street gangs in Central America during the 1980s and 1990s. While the term pandilla meant a band of youth, once these groups of youth participated in criminal violence, they were labeled as maras. This label is a reference to the marabunta ants, which overcome their victims by attacking, in groups or swarms (Brenneman, 2012). Academics and government officials continue to debate the formal definition of the term “gang” and the types of individuals that are classified as part of gangs. Most gang experts would agree that a gang has a name, a sense of identity through symbols such as clothing, graffiti, and hand signals. Gangs for the most part are composed of members ranging from 12 to 24 years old while some are older than 24. Gangs are also involved in delinquent or criminal activity which include graffiti, vandalism, petty theft, robbery and assaults to more serious crimes such as drug trafficking, money laundering, alien smuggling, extortion, home invasion, and murder (Seelke, 2014).

Many gang experts argue gangs operate through recurrent associations, territorial claims, criminal activity, and logos/symbols. There are also differences in gang leaderships and the organizational structure of gangs (Gilbertson, 2009). Sanders suggests gang leadership includes more than one leader at any one time and often informal, as the choice of leader is not structured. Also the leadership can be situational where the leadership is based on a certain situation or serves as a function where leadership is situated based on a particular function (1994). On the other hand, Knox defines gangs as being composed of adult leaders and youth followers who are predominantly males of one racial or ethnic group, local network with a specific geographical pattern of activity, known for crimes of violence, and for avoiding detection from violating the law and facing arrest. Gangs exist for or benefit substantially from the continuing criminal activity of their members. In addition, gangs vary in sophistication and leadership at the level of organizational development (1994).

Both Mara Salvatrucha and Calle Dieciocho have become highly organized, however the lines between transnational gang activity and organized crime are blurry. Seelke (2014) finds that Salvadoran gangs are classified into three generations. First generation gangs are localized groups, second generation are national groups with some transnational links, and third generation are internationalized, networked, and complicated structures. As “transnational” gangs, it has been difficult to find a vertical structure within the gang, but it was found that different cliques or clicas that operate throughout Central America and the United States use similar methods. This transnational label was the result of both social and political factors in support of globalization and international migration. These gangs have aimed the violence onto the poor and marginalized communities, resulting in a war by the poor against the poor (Brenneman, 2012). These gangs also lack the organizational structure, capital, and manpower to maintain sophisticated criminal schemes. Gangs in El Salvador are often involved in extortion and street-level distribution of drugs. However, many argue Mara Salvatrucha is involved in higher-level criminal drug distribution (Seelke, 2014). For this paper we refer to MS-13 and 18th Street, as pandillas, localized groups that have been present in El Salvador, while maras are associated with transnational roots.

Salvadoran Civil War

The Salvadoran Civil War resulted in the increased tension between a large percentage of Salvadorans and the corrupt militarized government. In 1979, an army coup aborted the results of a “democratic” election which caused the civil war to break out. The right-wing death squads nicknamed escuadrones de la muerte hunted down dissidents and trade union leaders, who were later abducted, wounded, murdered, and disappeared; Salvadorans responded with aggression and unity (Gonzalez, 2000). The dissidents had a growing membership from different segments of Salvadoran society: university students, teachers, trade unionists, and urban and rural poor Salvadorans (Garcia, 2006). The formation of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) was named after the murdered leader of the 1932 Peasant Rebellion (Gonzalez, 2000). The paramilitary groups received their funding from members of the oligarchy to destroy the insurgent groups that challenged the established order, including those in labor organizing, sermons, public speaking, classroom instruction, publications and journalism, and many of them were then tortured, raped, and killed (Garcia, 2006). The U.S. government during both the Bush and Reagan administrations failed to denounce these atrocities and continued to support the country’s oligarchy as the only anti-Communist force (Gonzalez, 2000).

The United States sponsored the civil war through military aid including weapons and war assistance. Gonzalez reports, the United States invested seventy percent of the record $3.7 billion into El Salvador from 1981 to 1989; as the increase in aid and weapons to El Salvador escalated, so did the number of Salvadorans fleeing the escalating violence (2000). The victims included men, women, children, and the elderly. While the United States policed and accused many of human rights violations throughout the world, they were funding a war that committed human rights violations. Human rights groups reported that right-wing death squads massacred an estimated five hundred people each month during the war (Gonzalez, 2000). The United States government funded the Salvadoran government with $6 billion to defeat the FMLN guerrilla group and establish the neoliberal structural adjustments to the Salvadoran economy. Over the course of the war, between 75,000 and 100,000 Salvadorans died, and approximately one million fled the country (Zilberg, 2011). As a result of the war, many Salvadorans left the country to flee to the United States, Mexico, Canada, and neighboring countries, not for economic interests or opportunities, as politicians argued, but rather for survival. Violence had become “normalized” and those fleeing the country were physically, emotionally, and psychologically traumatized.

Civil War’s Role in Forming Masculinity

Although violence has been associated to be a male characteristic within most societies and cultures, there is a distinct form of masculinity in Salvadoran gangs. Many MS-13 gang members recall living in many of the zones of conflict during the civil war. The memories of their childhoods are mixed with the horrors of the war. Gang members as children experienced hunger, living in relocation camps, dodging bullets and bombs, and seeing human corpses, which they associate to their tough demeanor. These child victims experienced and witnessed the atrocities by the military to their own families and community. It was “normal” for children to witness the violence of war when finding decapitated bodies in the centers of city parks. The death squads that terrorized the general population during the civil war would resurface in 1998 to deal with the growing gang problem. For this reason, gang members feared being deported back to El Salvador and if deported they would relive the trauma caused by these death squads during their childhood. For Salvadorans and Salvadoran gang members, it was too painful to talk about the past and memories of their childhoods (Ward, 2013). The trauma stems from the numerous encounters with the military and corpses missing heads, legs, arms, eyes, and genitals. The psychological trauma of seeing dead bodies led to confusion; children were to learn from adults, but it was difficult when these adults only used violence to solve conflicts. Violence would then become “normalized” for these children and it seemed to be a solution to solve disputes and differences.

Fruits of War: Forced Displacement and the Creation of Salvadoran Gangs in Los Angeles

The Salvadoran youth who joined MS-13 and 18th Street gangs’ are recognized as the “fruits of war” as they are the products of the Salvadoran civil war. Similarly to military forces during the war, gangs are notorious for using brutal and barbarous methods of punishment and execution. As a result, gang members began to “normalize” violence, because they would replicate the repression and torture of the military and death squads, displaying no remorse for their crimes. Also due to the war most of the gang members continue to have a deep distrust of authority and cherish the notion of equality (Ward, 2013).

The solution for many families and children was to flee to the United States. These Salvadoran youth had to undergo a painful process of being smuggled from El Salvador to the U.S., suffering the pain of being uprooted from their homeland (Ward, 2013). The youth were leaving behind their extended families and friends. It was a traumatic experience and many gang members describe migrating to the United States as one of the worst decisions because living in a violent and foreign country that supported discrimination was psychologically damaging. Many youth describe the journey hacia el norte as a traumatic experience because it was a long and exhausting trip. It was already “normal” to see corpses throughout El Salvador during the war, and it became normal once again on the trip through the U.S-Mexican border. Salvadorans traveled and continue to travel approximately 3,227 miles illegally across the borders of El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, and the United States by plane, boat, train, bus, or car, but some part of the journey is on foot (Ward, 2013). The dangerous trip has a high financial, physical, and emotional cost for those illegally entering the U.S. The youth were traumatized by the constant fear of being caught and deported back to a violent war in El Salvador. While traveling through Mexico, Salvadorans were mistreated and discriminated by Mexicans, while others acted as spies for Mexican police in locating illegal immigrants. Salvadoran migrants would often become depressed and disappointed when they were caught (Ward, 2013).

The origins of la Mara Salvatrucha are vague because every veterano or old-timer has a different interpretation and history. Many gang members believe the gang was formed in the summer of 1982 in Lincoln Park, a large park in East Los Angeles, in response to a violent soccer match between a Mexican and Salvadoran soccer team. The street gang was actually formed in self-defense and provoked by constant bullying from Mexicans. The Mara Salvatrucha originated in Los Angeles and a result of constant discrimination and victimization of impoverished immigrant youth. As outcasts of society, Salvadoran youth joined forces to cope with the harsh conditions in Los Angeles. The history of Mara Salvatrucha dates back to the mid-late 1970s, as a group of longhaired devil worshippers and dedicated to smoking marijuana known as the Mara Salvatrucha Stoners (Logan, 2009; Ward, 2011). This stoner gang was different from a typical street gang as they listened to heavy metal music, were longhaired, wore black clothes, had pessimistic attitudes, and participated in unique activities.

In regards to masculinity, they did not prove their machismo by engaging in physical fights with rival gang members or committing crimes, such as theft, extortion, drug dealing, or drive by shootings. The gang focused exclusively on getting stoned on marijuana, listening to ear-splitting heavy metal music, and hard core Satanists who worshipped the devil. However, this “stoner gang” transformed into a cholo-style street gang when many members were incarcerated, where they cut their hair and dressed like other inmates. As the gang increased in number, it led to conflict with other gangs and the gang’s identity changed. The gang kept the stoner’s hand signal, the index and litter finger raised as the sign of the devil’s horns. This hand signal soon was spread throughout the city’s walls as part of the gang’s graffiti. Salvadoran immigrants also joined other street gangs such as the 18th Street gang. As the gang transformed their identity, they also transformed from a gang dedicated to protection, into one that is predatory. The main rival of Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) is the18th Street gang (MS-18). This rival gang was formed by Mexican youth in the Rampart section of Los Angeles in the 1960s that were not accepted into existing Hispanic gangs. It became the first Hispanic gang to accept members from all races and to recruit from other states (Seelke, 2014).

Masculinity and Violence

The sense of masculinity of male youth is shaped by their specific relation to the school they attend and by their position in the division of labor. These lower-working class and racial minority boys engaged in youth crime, because they had no access to paid labor and their parents were unable to provide their youth culture desires. Most of the youth arriving to the U.S. from El Salvador grew up in poverty and desired to be part of a society with relative abundance and a culture that prizes material possession, but it was difficult to attain due to their poverty. Therefore they were more likely to join gangs (Vigil, 2002). Many of these immigrant youth found it difficult in schools, thus their life consisted of being in the streets. Many found school to be unrelated to future success as they searched for other means of accomplishing gender. They were denied many resources for constructing hegemonic masculinity, which becomes entirely unobtainable. As a result, street life becomes a “field of opportunities” to surpass class and race domination (Messerschmidt, 1993). In other words, many find street life as a method of attaining material goods when opposed to the conventional route of a job and/or career. Salvadoran youth and men could not fully reach idealized masculinity due to the lack of well-paying jobs in the United States and in El Salvador, which led them to alternate forms through illegal activity within gangs. Gangs offered financial support through extortions, drugs, prostitutes, and paid murders. Obviously, crime is not an extension of the “male sex role” but invoked as a resource, when other resources are not available for reaching masculinity (Messerschmidt, 1993).

Physical violence is employed as a resource for masculine construction as they construct a physically violent oppositional masculinity. In this case, Salvadoran gang members use brutal violence when committing crimes as a suitable resource for “doing gender.” The effects of trauma and violence in the war and abandonment of parents affected their perception of masculinity. Many Salvadoran youth and men joined and continue to join gangs as a means of survival and self-defense, constructing an identity of self-worth, and as a way to create a surrogate family (Ward, 2013). To fit in with gangs, Salvadoran gang members would dress similarly, communicate in slang, and imitate the Mexican gang member’s ways of dress, talk, and toughness. They also demonstrated their masculinity by tattooing their entire bodies and faces. For the most part, tattoos symbolize a tough attitude and an attempt to intimidate others.

Many Salvadoran youth living in the U.S. felt their masculinity was challenged and emasculated with the lack of “manly” work due to their immigration status. Male gang members presented this toughness to demonstrate dominance and control when their blocked access to provide money for their families questioned their masculinity. Most of their masculinity is through the exterior or “physicality” and dominance over women. To demonstrate their driven uncontrollable sexual drive, male gang members join gangs due to the numerous opportunities to have intimate relationships with female gangsters and those women associated to gangs. Male gang members tended to victimize and exploit female members of their own gang or through gang-related activities (Ward, 2013).

“Salvadoran Gang Industry”

Stigma and Imposed Fear

Societal stigmas against gangs and gang-deportees from the U.S. have made the process of leaving a gang extremely difficult. Ironically, those who speak English and from the U.S. are well respected in other third world countries, but in El Salvador they are assumed to be gang affiliated. Politicians and the media portray youth gangs as responsible for the majority of violent crime in the region. To mend this process, some gang members have decided to have tattoos removed as they attempt to reintegrate into society and find employment (Seelke, 2014).

Street gangs in El Salvador have led to increased private patrol. In El Salvador, private patrols are found on most gasoline stations, restaurants, schools, and parks. The fear of gangs continues to fund private security, militarized police officers, and military “death squads.” Without street gangs in El Salvador, many of these militarized occupations would be unnecessary. This fear of gangs has produced an economic dependency on private civilian patrols and created what I termed as the, “Salvadoran gang industry.” In this “gang industry,” it is not surprising to find more prisons being built when compared to schools or rehabilitation programs, which is no different than the United States.

Instead of investing in private security and prisons, the Salvadoran government could invest in drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs, gang exit organizations, and job creation. The Salvadoran government’s excuse for the lack of rehabilitation programs is that there is no money in El Salvador and people do not trust former gang members in mentoring and working with active members in gang-related programs (Yule, 2008). However, there is plenty of money to fund anti-gang government-sponsored programs and policies that lead to an increase in gang members and that solve absolutely nothing. The formation of street gangs has a direct connection to the government’s attempts to control the people through the use of military, economic, and political forces.

Anti-Gang Laws and Policies

El Salvador’s law enforcement and military use excessive force against those they assume are gang-affiliated. They use similar repressive tactics and impose fear. Salvadoran President Francisco Flores introduced Plan Iron Fist (Mano Dura) law in 2003, which was declared unconstitutional, but was followed by a Super Mano Dura package on anti-gang reforms in July 2004 (Seelke 2014). Mano Dura allowed law enforcement to incarcerate large numbers of youth for illicit association or with visible tattoos for gang-related crimes. These laws allowed law enforcement to arrest suspected gang members and increase penalties for those convicted. Through these laws, Salvadoran government officials demonstrated that they were getting tough on gangs and crime, although human rights were violated. Mano Dura by Tony Saca led to the arrest and incarceration of 14,000 youth from 2004 to 2005, but many were released due to the lack of evidence of committing any crime. This incarceration of young men doubled the prison population and gang membership within four years. These ineffective governmental policies led to the increment of gang members when incarcerating men and women in prisons that worked as recruitment facilities with both MS-13 and 18th Street gangs separated by affiliation. To control and defeat gang members, the Salvadoran government decided to re-militarize the country by deploying thousands of military troops to help police officers (Seelke, 2014).

The Salvadoran government, with U.S. support, believes repression and fear solve societal problems, but the results prove otherwise. Luis Monterosa, member of the Central American Violence Prevention Coalition, believes the U.S. government pressured El Salvador to adopt the Iron Fist policies and the failure of the gang truce. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) programs could be more effective if they implemented a restorative justice program where offenders acknowledge the wrong they caused and their responsibility in repairing their relationship with their communities, instead of punishing offenders by isolating them. These approaches would make people feel safer and reduce the number of gang members.

The conditions in the prisons keep these men huddled together like cattle in a cage the size of a shed. These prison pits, each 12 feet wide and 15 feet tall, were designed for temporary 72-hour stays but are crammed with more than 30 men (Nye, 2013). These inhumane conditions lead men to suffer frequent health problems and malnourishment. Members of both Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18 are crammed in these cages. The improvement of the prison conditions for incarcerated gang leaders was one of the propositions in the 2012 gang truce. This led to the transfer of 30 bosses/leaders of each gang from the maximum security Zacatecoluca, also known as Zacatraz, to jails. Also under the truce agreement, incarcerated gang leaders were allowed to receive intimate visits in jail, communicate freely, and share plasma televisions (Nye, 2013). Prisons have proven to be graduate schools for gang members since they have been operating criminal activities out of jails for years. There are numerous confrontations between rival gangs, between gang members and prison guards, and between gang and non-gang inmates; it is not uncommon to learn about prisoner abuse and torture. This is also due to the staffing shortages and assistance from corrupt prison officials.

Rehabilitation and Gang Exit Programs

Margarita Perez, part of a violence prevention organization in Mejicanos, El Salvador, was shocked by the conditions of a grant from USAID. Perez found it shocking that they could not work with anyone who had been in jail or was gang-identified. She asked her colleague, “who are we going to work with, then?” Enrique Roig, coordinator for the Central American Regional Security Initiative at USAID, argued they (USAID) do not work with gang members because the U.S. Department of the Treasury classified MS-13 as a transnational criminal organization. Many other violence prevention programs are not considered for the grant because they would work with active gang members. Many have decided to contact European governments to support their programs that work with gangs. Noah Bullock, executive director of Foundation Cristosal, argues that we should humanize these gang members, as they are not a foreign militia or an insurgency group, but members of Salvadoran families in their communities. He states, “this is a social conflict, not a military one.” In other words, El Salvador should divert from this war mentality with using the military and violence to solve societal problems but rather humanize these gang members. Rick Jones, deputy regional director of the international nonprofit Catholic Relief Services, agrees, “If you’re a young person between 15 and 25 years old, you’re likely to be both a victim and a perpetrator in this country” (Mackey, 2014).

In Ilopango, El Salvador the local government has programs that offer training to young people in driving and speaking English. These programs also founded soccer schools in each of the gang’s territories. This is done to avoid problems and conflict between the gangs as they attempt to restore their crime-ridden communities. Other programs like Homies Unidos are working in pulling gang members off the streets to participate in programs for rehabilitation and prevention, health, education, and job skills (Johnson, 2014).

El Salvador’s new national council recently denied that there would be dialogues with the street gangs. Many members of the National Council for Citizen Security stated that dialogue with gangs is not a priority or on the council’s agenda. There is a lack of collective action on the part of the government and local communities to deal with the gang problem. These indicate signs that the gang truce is dead and any short-term prospects of renewed negotiations (Gagne, 2014).


This paper analyzed the distinct form of masculinity by Salvadoran gang members as reinforced by violence in El Salvador’s public and private sphere. It is necessary to understand how these men in the gangs normalize violence to solve conflict and differences. There was a connection between the masculinity articulated during the civil war to the masculinity articulated by Salvadoran gangs. The effects of trauma and violence in the war affected their perception of masculinity. Also, many boys learned to defend themselves through violence because of the lack of male role models during the war and after. Salvadoran gang members imitated Mexican gang member’s way of dress, talk, toughness, and tattoos throughout their body and face. They demonstrate masculinity through promiscuity, physical strength, street smarts, violent and brutal punishments, and this toughness “mask.”

The Salvadoran community in the United States and El Salvador are dealing with gang violence amongst youth but the governments are not adequately helping with this social problem. Instead, the U.S. and Salvadoran governments are using a “tough on crime” method by incarcerating, increasing penalties, and secretly murdering these youth. By re-militarizing law enforcement and using state-led violence, the Salvadoran community is experiencing high levels of violence. Violence and economic issues are once again causing a large influx of youth and women to migrate to the United States. It is necessary to not only provide and fund gang prevention programs, but also community programs working with active gang members. Although the gang truce failed, it is the Salvadoran government’s responsibility to meditate the issues facing the youth and offer solutions including opportunities for work and education. The Salvadoran government must realize that violence did not work in the past during the war and it will not effectively change the current gang problem. El Salvador, with the assistance of the United States, has implemented methods of imposing fear of gangs to the Salvadoran population. It is believed and preferred by Salvadorans to punish rather than rehabilitate gang members but they fail to understand the trauma these gang members experienced during the war and when migrating to the U.S. The United States and El Salvador have created what I termed as the “Salvadoran gang industry.” There is a greater move to incarcerate or warehouse all the MS-13 and 18th Street gang members but fail to offer them jobs, counseling, educational opportunities, and a purpose causing then a cycle in this “industry.” The “Salvadoran gang industry” is increasing the number of gang members incarcerated in El Salvador and the imposition of fear on the general population. El Salvador continues to be part of a cycle of violence; it was demonstrated when youth transitioned from a civil war to a street war where violence became “normalized.”

In further research, there could be a focus on the current child migration from El Salvador. The research could focus on youth gang members who arrive in the United States and discover if these youth continue to affiliate with gangs or completely break ties with gangs. This would determine if the new destination’s resources such as job and educational opportunities make a difference. There could also be a focus on the youth’s migration to other states within the United States that are not highly populated with Salvadorans or Latinos. Also, are these youth challenging barrio masculinity as they decide to leave the gang. This project could use qualitative research methods to conduct in-depth interviews with youth and men who are former gang members who recently migrated from El Salvador.


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Zilberg, E. (2011). Space of Detention; The Making of a Transnational Gang Crisis Between Los Angeles and San Salvador. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.

Editors in Chief

La Ceiba’s editorial board would like to welcome you to this new and exciting project housed under the auspices of the Central American Studies Program (CAS) and supported by CAS’ faculty and students at the California State University, Northridge. La Ceiba is an undergraduate student journal that publishes student works concerning Central American issues such as identity, immigration, and human rights, among others. The journal features works from students in different fields of study including journalism, health, criminology, sociology, psychology, and Central American Studies.

The journal allows students to become recognized and acknowledged for their creativity and dedication. In addition, contributing to a public space like La Ceiba grants students the opportunity to explore their creative abilities while remaining critical of issues that pertain to the Central American field of studies. Through structured education students have acquired critical thinking skills that allow them to question the social, political and cultural issues of Central America. Their writing expresses the concerns and inequality of the underrepresented faces of the Central American people. Their art represents an encuentro, a clashing of ideas and feelings.

As part of La Ceiba’s inaugural issue, the publication hosted its first Art Workshop in April, 2014. This event was envisioned to provide an opportunity for students to come together and spend a day with experienced and knowledgeable professors and local artists representing the fields of history, art and literature. Whether writing a fictional story, exploring photography of a violent civil war, or creating an art project, students entered a free space to demonstrate their capabilities and creativity away from the traditional classroom setting. La Ceiba’s first workshop allowed students to express themselves freely, without the pressure of a grade or a critique. Their imagination and experiences were awakened by the stroke of a pen or paint brush. The results are both tangible and residing within each student present at this memorable event.

A personal note from the Editors in Chief:

As one of the chief student editors, my responsibilities include editing students’ work (often on an individual level) and uploading the documents. Through the process of editing, I have continued to expand my knowledge on past and current Central American issues and history.

As an editor of La Ceiba, my initial goal was to offer my academic abilities to solidify this online publication. I have come to realize that La Ceiba and contributing students have helped me grow as a person and encouraged me to be an exemplary Central American Studies major.

José Torres

Revolutionizing Gender Roles in Nicaragua

Las Sandinistas

Sandinista Guerrillera. Internet Image.


Central American Women

Latin American male revolutionaries are central to how revolution is imagined in Latin America. From Simón Bolívar and Jose Martí against the Spanish Empire, Francisco Villa, and Emiliano Zapata against the Liberal elites in Mexico, and Fidel Castro and Ernesto “Che” Guevara against Cuban elites and the U.S., these images of male revolutionaries have led to the construction of a Latin American revolutionary iconography that emphasizes the struggles, contributions, and endeavors of male revolutionaries. However, the multifaceted contributions of women like Rigoberta Menchú in Guatemala, María De Los Santos in El Salvador, and Luisa Amanda Espinoza, Nora Astorga, and Daisy Zamora in Nicaragua are either deemed not important to the revolutionary movements in Latin America, misrepresented, or erased completely. In this essay I want to draw attention to the women revolutionaries of Nicaragua, women whose contributions have not received the same critical attention as those of the men. Yet, what I hope to demonstrate is that the work of these women was actually instrumental to the revolutionary process. From organizing support lines to direct combat, these revolutionary women participated in all facets of the revolution. Moreover, they were cognizant of their role in the revolutionary process as women revolutionaries and they took political positions that aimed to improve their political standing as women. They understood that the revolutionary process offered them an opportunity to establish themselves as political agents and rearticulate gender norms in the new Nicaraguan society that they were going to form.

In order to establish the importance of analyzing the contributions of these Nicaraguan revolutionary women, I will briefly address the iconography that the Sandinista revolutionaries created around Augusto C. Sandino, one that is best captured by The Monument to Sandino. In 1927, Augusto C. Sandino led a resistance movement against the U.S. occupation of Nicaragua that eventually resulted in the U.S. pulling out their Marines in 1933. The U.S. Marines, of course, left Anastasio Somoza at the head of the Nicaraguan National Guard, which they had organized and trained, and he, as is well known, had Sandino assassinated and himself established as dictator. As dictator, Somoza exercised a brutal repression to stay in power, one that his sons would later continue. In fact, the historian John A. Booth argues that, “Anastasio Somoza Garcia did indeed plant some of the seed that would help destroy his political edifice forty-five years later” (1982, 97). In particular he cites, “The ruthlessness of his methods, the martyrdom of Sandino, and the alienation of Sandino’s followers and admirers” (ibid), which culminated in the final year of the dictatorship, 1979, when they were ousted from power by the Sandinistas. The importance of Augusto Sandino cannot be overstated. The revolutionaries who later took up arms against Somoza not only named themselves after him, but they represented him as the “father” of the revolution. One particular monument symbolizes how the Sandinistas represented Sandino as the patriarch of the revolution: The Monument to Sandino. Erected upon the Laguna de Tiscapa, it is a towering black silhouette of Sandino’s image. The fact that Ernesto Cardenal, the poet-priest-revolutionary who commissioned the work, chose a silhouette clearly shows that he expected all Nicaraguans to recognize the black cut-out as representing Sandino. The revolutionary struggle, as The Monument of Sandino clearly symbolizes, is a masculine endeavor.

Women, notwithstanding The Monument of Sandino’s symbolism, began incorporating themselves in the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), an organization focused on creating a “system free of political, social and economic inequality” (Randall, 9), because they saw the revolutionary struggle as an opportunity to participate in the overthrow of the Somoza regime, which they believed was necessary in order to change a patriarchal society that imposed unequal relations among men and women. Prior to the revolution, these women were relegated exclusively to the domestic sphere and were expected to execute all the household tasks such as cooking, cleaning and raising the children. By taking care of the children, cleaning the home and preparing the food, these women were directly contributing to the maintenance of the family as a social unit as the men did by working outside the home. Though their contribution to the maintenance of the home was not recognized, women were acutely aware of their socio-economic position, because they were “the first to be affected by unemployment, inflation and shortages” (Randall 10). If inflation beset the economy, the women would have do to more with less money; if a particular commodity became scarce, the women would have to find alternative sources. Furthermore, “it is the women who face the task of holding the family together when the men lose their jobs and can no longer contribute to support the family” (10). If inflation beset the economy, the women would have do to more with less money; if food became scarce, they would have to with less. Furthermore, “it is the women who face the task of holding the family together when the men lose their jobs and can no longer contribute to support the family” (ibid). Moreover, when men abandoned their wives, the women were left to support and raise their children on their own.

Women, then, embraced the revolution because they realized that their ability to redefine the gender norms would determine their position in a post-Somoza Nicaragua. They realized that women from every socio-economic level should work to “organize themselves and work together to rebuild [their] wounded country and to fight for their rights as women” (11). The image that captures the complexity of these changing roles is the photograph of a Sandinista woman holding her child in one arm and carrying a rifle in the other all the while smiling intently. This image demonstrates that the Sandinista women revolutionaries were cognizant that by participating in the revolutionary process they were acting politically, overcoming the exclusion from the political sphere, and rearticulating motherhood as compatible with revolutionary politics. By becoming revolutionaries, these women, then, were subverting the patriarchal distinction between motherhood and the political sphere.

María Dora, Nora Astorga, and Daisy Zamora, exemplify this through their personal involvement in the war, as all three redefined motherhood as they integrated themselves in the revolutionary process. According to María Dora, she was “committed to the birth of that new world, which like every delivery will be painful and joyous” (Randall, 53). As a revolutionary woman, she was aware of the importance of refashioning Nicaraguan society so that women could gain political agency. Like birthing a child, Dora suggests, participating in this struggle would not be easy, but it would provide the opportunities for future generations of Nicaraguans. Nora Astorga, a mother of three children at the time of the revolution, also defied the norms that society placed on women by being the key combatant in the capture and execution of General Pérez Vega, el perro or the Dog as he was known. After luring him to an apartment, Astorga and her comrades executed him. The success of the operation carried out by Astorga not only weakened the National Guard but demonstrated that women could play a key role in the revolutionary process. Like Dora and Astorga, Zamora contributed to the revolutionary struggle by participating in direct combat. Tired of playing support roles, Zamora took part in the assault of thirteen police stations and was instrumental in saving the lives of here comrades once the operation faltered. The participation of women in the revolution, however, extended beyond Dora, Astorga, and Zamora: it included peasant and working class women.

Nicaraguan peasant and working class women also participated in the revolution, because they not only experienced the repression of the dictatorship but also the economic struggle to provide for their families. Determined to change their political and economic conditions, these women took up arms and fully devoted themselves to the struggle. According to Gloria Carrion, the participation of these women led to a political awareness and personal realization: “Women from the poorer sectors come to us spontaneously and enthusiastically because it is through their integration in the political process that they find personal realization. Peasant and working class women find fulfillment through collective action” (Carrion, 56). The “collective action” of bourgeois women like Astorga and Zamora as well as peasant and working class women gave birth to a new society. Through their revolutionary actions women were able to fight against the chauvinism that was present in Nicaragua during that time.

The success of the Nicaraguan revolution signified a new beginning for women, because they had successfully challenged the dominant gender norms. Women have now been able to occupy positions such as those like Special Attorney General and Vice-Minister of Culture, which prior to the revolution would have never been offered to a woman. Las Sandinistas of Nicaragua continued the legacy of Sandino in order to fight for their rights as women in a patriarchal society that prohibited women from participating in the political and social spheres. By integrating themselves into the struggle, women were acting not only as political agents, thus they defied the gender norms and creating a society that enabled women to be seen as equals to men in the political sphere. Their involvement in the revolution was every bit as important as that of men. Not only were they aware of the need for change, but they were successful in carrying out their tasks that ultimately brought out new opportunities for women.

The Pipil People of Izalco


Visual representation of the legend of
“Original Sin”
from the Myths and Legends of the Pipiles of Izalco

Transnational Children in the United States

Transnational Identity


Transnational Guatemalan Identity

I was born and raised in a marginalized community in Los Angeles, CA while my parents are natives to an indigenous community in Guatemala. Therefore my identity is composed of both an U.S.-American and Guatemalan culture and as a result I practice a transnational identity. Transnationalism is defined as an identity that includes more than one culture or country. However, I never came to associate myself with the Guatemalan culture and tradition but primarily identified myself through an “American” culture. A major factor that led to the exclusion of my Guatemalan identity was the lack of U.S. educational institution’s inclusion of  Guatemalan history. The United States’ history excludes the Central American perspective and the negative U.S influences on the region.

As I continued in my education and community involvement,  I became aware about the issues that Central America was undergoing. I learned about the civil war in Guatemala and the continuous violence that targeted indigenous communities. With this in mind, I had an urge to know more about the culture of Guatemala. This encouraged me to preserve my Guatemalan culture and understand it better. As a result, I became part of a Guatemalan cultural event that took place in Los Angeles.  In the Guatemalan cultural festival there were numerous indigenous groups that represented different regions in Guatemala. In this festival, indigenous groups competed to crown la reina (princess) by walking through the stage with cultural attire and provided the best speech. In the festival, I represented el caballero, the protector of the queen, when walking on the stage with her by my side. During the ceremony, my role was to pray to  to the gods of the west, north, south, and east. By the time she got to the center of the stage, she prayed to the same gods by my side. La reina began her speech by presenting in both Spanish and Quiche. By the end of the ceremony, a winner was announced by the judges. The winner of the ceremony went to my indigenous group from San Francisco el Alto from Totonicapán.

During this event, I learned the clothes la reina  and I wore represented our Guatemalan tradition and held great cultural meaning. The traditional clothing of the indigenous community represented both past and present attire. La reina wore a dress that had many colors that covered most of her body. At the same time, I wore a white outfit with pants and a long sleeve shirt. I also wore a red bandana around my neck and a red long belt around my waist to represent indigenous markers. From the whole outfit the hat was the most special piece I was able to keep. It had a texture of straws and hay with a circular shape that complemented the oval in the middle of it, which was perfect for my head. The traditional clothing I wore on the day of  the festival is essential to our culture in Guatemala. The color and patterns on the clothes represent many different indigenous groups of Guatemala, which displays the diversity in Guatemala.

In the event, I realized that I was not the only transnational child. I realized that many of my parent’s friends’ children participated in the same event. This made me realize the significance of transnational children like myself, who fail to practice their native country’s traditions and culture. For that reason, the hat demonstrates the other half of my identity that will be preserved.

Many indigenous parents from Guatemala maintain their culture and identity in the United States through inheriting such practices to their children. However, transnational children battle to keep their primary identity by strong influences from the dominant “American” culture. In the article,  “Living in two worlds? Guatemalan-Origin Children in the United States and Emerging Transnationalism,” Cecilia Menjivar discusses transnational children’s behavior toward their parent’s cultural background. In another article, “Alla en Guatemala: Transnationalism, Language, and Identity of a Pentecostal Guatemalan-American Young Woman,” Lucila D. Ek focuses on the effects of transnationalism through the lens of a Guatemalan girl. Both authors highlight the life of Central Americans in the United States and the challenges their children encounter.

Transnational children usually find it difficult to connect with their parent’s home country. According to Menjivar, several reasons why many transnational children find a hard time establishing relations with their identity is through, “the inability of many of these youngsters to travel.” Undocumented parents in the United States have difficult financial issues due to low-paying jobs. Therefore parents cannot afford to send their children back to their home country to maintain their duo-identity. Many children fail to engage in their transnational identity because many, “appear more concerned with their lives and prospects in the United States and, at this point, do not seem likely to continue to sustain a long-term in their parental homeland”(Menjivar, 547). Transnational youth focus on a future in the United States and lose their ambition of returning back home and reconnecting with their parent’s homeland. This demonstrates how transnational youth pursue education, financial stability, and greater opportunities  as a form of social mobility. Lucila mentions how Amilia, a Guatemalan girl,  cannot travel to Guatemala as previously done due to school officials threatening in losing her guaranteed spot in the school (71). As a result, she did not travel for some time because an educational opportunity was her priority. Additionally, students face academic pressures in attempts to establish a prosperous life. Several types of hardships make it difficult for transnational students in understanding the other half of their identity. These hardships could cause a long-term effect on the youth and children to eventually abandon their cultural and traditional identities. In most cases, it is not their choice to lose that connection to their origins but at other times it is influenced by the negative views on the indigenous culture.

An individual of indigenous origins can be seen as inferior and “uncivilized,” which causes transnational children to lose affiliation with their indigenous identity. For example, an indigenous culture viewed as inferior was demonstrated in the story of Amalia. Lucila states, “Amalia’s father reiterated that they are from Guatemala City and are not indigenous. Furthermore he viewed the Mayans as a different race.” This duality still exists in Guatemala due to the clash of two cultures from the Ladinos and indigenous Mayans. Some Ladinos do not considered themselves as Mayan because they are not fully indigenous. Ladinos are half Spaniards and Indigenous but find it repulsive to be associated with the indigenous population. Most of these shared ideas are the effect of the history of indigenous people who have faced invisibility and portrayals of ‘inferiority’. According to Menjivar, transnational children do not want to be affiliated with their parents’ home country due to the fact, “it may have to do with the increased social status of the children as that of the parent’s decreases, for the children often learn English and become familiar with the [dominant] culture more rapidly than do the parents.” Parents of transnational children face numerous challenges because of language barriers. Due to the challenges, transnational children view their parents as incapable of assimilating to the dominant culture because of their indigenous ties. The youth begin to realize people from non-indigenous origins are more privileged. Transnational children come to ignore and abandon their other indigenous identity

Also indigenous parents tend to establish their cultural identities into their U.S. born children however numerous hardships in the dominant culture and challenged identity make it  difficult for their children to establish such connection. In the end, it forms an effective understanding of one’s complete identity of both an U.S.-American and Guatemalan indigenous identity.

Guatemalan Guerrilleras




Guatemalan Guerrilleras

Every country has their own story and every great nation has its leaders, leaders who have stood up for one reason or another to create a better quality of life or to rightfully defend what is theirs. These well-known leaders do not disappear over time, because they are written about in textbooks, recognized in movies, and remembered in many other ways like monuments and holidays. When we think of Guatemalan leaders we often think about men. We have the legendary Tecún Umán who fought the Spanish invaders and their allies and the first democratically elected presidents of Guatemala, Juan José Arévalo and Jacobo Arbenz, who fought to defend Guatemala from U.S. imperialism. While these men have done many great things, one cannot help but wonder where do the great women leaders fall into Guatemalan history? There have been many conflicts in Guatemalan history, yet textbooks focus exclusively on men. Guatemala, as the rest of Central America, has a long history of conflict, war, and revolution.  In particular, Guatemala went through its own revolutionary armed conflict from the 1960s to the 1990s.  Beginning in the 1960s, politically dissatisfied Guatemalans formed armed revolutionary organizations, known as guerrillas, to fight the U.S. supported Guatemalan dictatorship.  Most of the revolutionaries were men, but women also participated in the revolution against the oppressive dictatorship. My paper focuses on analyzing women leaders within the revolutionary movement during Guatemala’s Civil War. It’s a significant and relevant historical issue, because Guatemalan women’s revolutionary efforts have not been adequately acknowledged. Women contributed to the revolutionary movement in Guatemala by producing testimonials, fighting as guerrilleras, and rearticulating the domestic sphere as a revolutionary space.

During the 1970’s and 1980’s, Guatemala was under the control of an authoritarian government, a dictatorship that represented the interests of national elites, the U.S. state, and its corporations. The Guatemalan dictatorial state would  mutilate, murder, and disappear any Guatemalan that challenged such inequity.  Life in Guatemala turned for the worst when the state institutionalized violence within the country. Some of the most impacted areas were those where indigenous people resided. In Guatemala: The Origins and Development of State Terrorism, Bowen states, “In rural Guatemala the conflict quickened. Army massacres were resumed, especially in Chimaltenango, Huehuetenango, and El Quiche departments” (292). As a result, many indigenous populations who lived in the rural areas of Guatemala were massacred. This was due to the army’s scorched earth policy where they were to kill everyone who was in their way: a guerrillero, a family member of a guerrillero, or anyone believed to be a one (Bowen, 292).  Essentially the state implemented a policy that everyone should be killed so as to eliminate any chance of rebellion.  Most indigenous people sought refuge in other countries such as Mexico, and those interviewed by Mexican officials said that they left Guatemala because of the army’s oppression. As mentioned by Bowen,“All refugees, adults, and children interviewed in Chiapas, Mexico in the spring of 1983 told Americas Watch Investigators that it was from army atrocities, not those of the guerrillas, that they had fled” (293). The Guatemalan dictatorship, then, directly targeting the indigenous populations; it made the revolutionaries like the enemy of the people so as to legitimize their repression of indigenous civilians.

Guatemalan women did not participate in the armed conflict in equal numbers to the men, because they faced barriers as women that did not allow for their participation.  In patriarchal societies such as, Guatemala, there is a mindset that men should work and provide financial security, while women should take care of the household duties. In Women in Latin American Guerrilla Movements: A Comparative Perspective, Reif argues that, “women primarily direct the reproductive activities of the household which are necessary for the reproduction of labor power. Such activities include childbearing, socialization of children, and the care of family members” (148). Women are expected to handle every aspect of the home and their first priority is the family unit. Men on the other hand provide for the family, which allows them to participate in the labor market outside the home. As Reif demonstrates, “The patriarchal model of Latin American family structure is characterized by the males control over most activities related to the outside world” (ibid).  Guatemalan society is patriarchal in the sense that women are expected to take care of the home while men take public positions within society. It is this patriarchal model that limited women’s involvement throughout the guerrilla movements. For example, “Women’s roles in reproductive activities and the patriarchal attitudes which provide ideological legitimation for their relegation to the domestic sphere inhibit women’s participation in guerrilla movements” (Reif 150).  Another social force that prevented women from becoming involved in the revolution was coming from a working class background. As Reif describes, “Their work is exhausting and low-paying and tends to restrict them to domestic areas where class consciousness is not as likely to arise” (151). Even while these forces made it difficult for women to be involved in the social sphere, it did not mean that women kept their arms crossed and did not fight.

In Guatemala, Rigoberta Menchú became a leader and voice for the indigenous population. As an Indigenous woman, she experienced first hand all the injustices of the Guatemalan state’s repression:  Guatemalan soldiers killed her mother, father, and brother. In IRigoberta Menchú An Indian Woman in Guatemala, Menchú describes how her brother was brutally murdered: “They took my brother away, bleeding from different places. When they were done with him, he didn’t look like a person any more. His whole face was disfigured [through several] beatings, from striking against stones, [and] tree-trunks; my brother was completely destroyed” (Debray, 173). Her father was burned alive while protesting at the Spanish embassy (Debray, 185), while her mother was raped several times and was disfigured beyond recognition. After failing to get her to confess, the soldiers let her die in the mountains (Debray 199). The death of her family was a crucial moment for Menchú, because she decided that she would fight the dictatorship and help her people resist its repression. Having her parents killed made her realize that marriage was not for her and that her heart belonged to her people: “my primary duty is to my people and then to my personal happiness” (Debray 225).

Rigoberta Menchú participated in workers’ strikes, the formation of indigenous peasant organizations, and drew attention to the plight of indigenous Guatemalans through her testimonial, the aforementioned I, Rigoberta Menchú.  It was this testimonial, which she dictated during the revolution, that exposed the injustices that were placed on the Guatemalan people, particularly its indigenous populations.  In The Silencing of Maya Women from Mamá Maquín to Rigoberta Menchú, Victoria Sanford states that Menchú’s, “book was published in 1983 at the height of state terror and an ongoing Guatemalan army ‘scorched heart’ campaign against the Maya that had begun in 1981” (131). Recognizing that the rest of the world was unaware as to what was going on in Guatemala, Menchú took the initiative to be the voice of her people. Furthermore, as Sanford points out, “Her autobiography and speaking engagements brought attention to the destruction of Maya villages and the brutal killings of the Maya, including members of her own family” (131). Menchú, then, challenged the Guatemalan state’s violence against Guatemalans, especially the indigenous communities, by providing her testimony.

Menchú’s testimony, however, has been challenged by Western scholars, particularly in the U.S., because their racism does not allow them to comprehend how an indigenous woman could not only produce a monumental testimonial but also garner so much support in many parts of the world.  As the Guatemalan scholar, Arturo Arias, points out in the Rigoberta Menchú Controversy, “Stoll affirms that the famous Nobel Prize winner of 1992, who has gathered many honoris causahonorary Ph.D.s and has been a UNESCO ambassador, ‘exaggerated the truth’ in the narration of her alleged testimonial” (73). Other critics like Conrado Alonso argue that Menchú lied about having a brother. Alonso claimed that Menchú  never had a brother, a brother who “allegedly” passed away from contamination from pesticides sprayed on coffee plantation (74).  Such criticism demonstrates the racism that Menchú was subjected to by Western academics, ones incapable of having the narrative of European superiority challenged.

Besides Rigoberta Menchú, many women contributed to the revolutionary movement by testifying to their experiences and their revolutionary actions against the dictatorship. In Guatemela: Women in the Revolution, for example, two women shared their experiences during the revolutionary struggle. Cristina, a Quiche woman, was targeted after her participation in the Comite de Unidad Campesina. As the repression worsened, Christina was the most sought out woman by the army, and her compañeros sent her to seek refuge in the capital alongside her mother, while her father and brother stayed behind to manage distributing weapons to their people (104). María Lupe also produced an important testimonial of her experience as a rural worker at the time of the war. Lupe became one of the first women to join the Guerrilla Army of the Poor: “ I was the first compañera to arm herself, because I was pursued by the army; they came to take me away. I left the children with another woman, but…I had to come down from the mountains into the town where the army knew me and was looking for me and take my children away with me” (106).  Indigenous Guatemalan women like Christina and María, as the persecution they suffered demonstrates, played a key role in the revolution against the dictatorship.

Indigenous women also participated in direct combat alongside the male revolutionaries against the Guatemalan dictatorship.  In a Letter from Guatemala: Indigenous Women on Civil war, Arias states, “Lucia an Ixil speaker, explains that during combat, fear and loneliness vanished. She focused exclusively on confronting the army. She was always chosen for the front lines on her platoon because of her bravery at the front (ibid, 1876).  Another recognizable woman was Amanda, who at the age of fifteen also fought with the revolutionaries and at one point courageously rescued eight men and five children who were being tortured by the army (ibid, 1876). Reports of women handling weapons are numerous.  For example, Arias writes that, “Roselia was not afraid of weapons. When engaging in combat she had a big surge of adrenaline and enjoyed the thrill of coming out alive” (2009, 1876). These women saw the need to fight, and they became leaders who put their lives at risk.  As an article in the The New York Times demonstrates, many Guatemalan women payed with their lives: “A female guerrilla commander and twenty-one other leftist rebels died in a weekend clash with government troops that netted caches of rebel weapons, army spokesman said today” (1982).  These women leaders played an important role in the revolution and should be acknowledged for having done so.

Women’s contributions were not limited to providing testimonials or direct combat; they also assumed the guise of traditional gender roles so as to provide direct support to the revolution.  As Reif explains, “A group of women can operate a safe house or store weapons…Women were also able to pose as wives or mothers permitting entrance to restricted areas such as government buildings, business operations, and prisons” (154).  Given that traditional women’s roles revolved around the home, many revolutionary women used these norms to their advantage by repurposing the domestic sphere to the revolutionary cause.  Moreover, as Perez states in, Guerrilleras in Latin America: Domestic and International Roles, “Women choose to become active and involved in domestic groupsbecause they anticipated a greater potential for change in their hierarchical status” (313-5).  In other words, they saw the repurposing of the domestic sphere not only as a way of supporting the revolution but also as a way of changing gender norms.  Women revolutionaries, then, utilized domestic groups to participate in support of those in direct combat, policy formation, and leadership roles (315).

As the foregoing has demonstrated, Guatemalan women played important roles in the Guatemalan revolutionary struggle, and they deserve recognition for having done so.  Failure to provide such recognition does not only erase their contributions but also functions to reaffirm the dominant male centered construction of history, one in which women are represented as playing no role in historical events.  Women guerrilleras courageously contributed to the revolution; and, if we are to break with patriarchal ideologies, we must recognize those contributions.  I hope that I have in a small way contributed to providing that recognition.

Works Cited

Arias, Arturo. “Letter from Guatemala: Indigenous Women on Civil War.” PMLA: Publications of the Modern Language Association of America, 124.5 (2009): 1874-1877.

Gonzalez-Perez, Margaret. “Guerrilleras in Latin America: Domestic and International Roles.” Journal of Peace Research, 43.3 (2006): 313-329.

Gordon, Bowen. “Guatemala: The Origins and Development of State Terrorism.” (1984).Rpt. In CAS 310 Modern History of Central American Peoples Course Reader.Comp. C. Simonds. Northridge, CA: Sunstar Copy and Print, 2013. 292-293.

“Guatemala: Women in the Revolution.” Latin American Perspectives, 10.1 (1983): 103-

Menchú, Rigoberta, and Elisabeth Burgos-Debray. I, Rigoberta Menchú: An Indian Woman in Guatemala. London: Verso, 1984.

Reif, Linda L. “Women in Latin American Guerrilla Movements: A Comparative Perspective.” Comparative Politics, 18.2 (1986): 147-169.

Sanford, Victoria. “The Silencing of Maya Women from Mamá Maquín to Rigoberta Menchú.” Social Justice, 27.1 (79) (2000): 128-151.

The Rigoberta Menchú Controversy. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001.

UPI,. “AROUND the WORLD; Guatemalan Army Says It Killed 22 Guerrillas.” New York Times, (1982): A.4.

Zur, Judith. Violent Memories: Mayan War Widows in Guatemala. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1998.

Central American Food Acculturation


To Make End’s Meat:  An Analysis
of the Food Acculturation Process
Amongst Central Americans

Even though Central Americans experience socioeconomic disadvantages, they typically are healthier than United States inhabitants. Experts argue, once Central Americans migrate to the United States, their diet changes, and worsens as their length of residency increases (Duffey et al 2428). They are more likely to eat various foods types, healthy and unhealthy, because they now have access to a wider variety of options. Also, they have the opportunity to expand their food pallets and try exotic foods that were not available to them in their home country. On the contrary, they can be forced to change their food eating habits if traditional ingredients are not easily accessible in their neighborhood. Slowly, they begin to adapt and acculturate to the United States unhealthy food consumption (Kaplan et al 323). This causes them to stray away from traditional homemade meals. The change in their diet and adaptations is also known as food acculturation. The transformation in Central American traditional meals is apparent at the micro level, for example change within individuals of Central America; also at the the macro level, change in the Latin American immigrant group as a whole (Kitler, Sucher and Nelms 6). Studies demonstrate that the process of food acculturation is causing this population to develop diseases such as obesity and diabetes (Duffey et al 2428). The food acculturation process has proven to have negative effects on Central American migrants residing in the United States, which can be seen through comparing the United States and Central American food trends, analyzing social factors that impact this particular group, and observing the health effects from this process.

Central American migrants eat healthier than individuals born in the United States. Latino’s traditional diet includes: beans, tortillas, rice, fruits, and vegetables (Gordon-Larsen et al). According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, Latino migrants eat more fruits, vegetables, fiber, low-fat breads, and drink fruit and vegetable juices. They also consume fewer amounts of desserts, soda, snacks, fruit drinks, and fast food, compared to individuals born in the United States (Duffey et al 2428). Latin American migrants consume minimal amounts of sugar, sugar-sweetened beverages, and red meat. Instead, they eat less-expensive alternatives like chicken (Ayala et al 44). On the contrary, experts claim that the standard American diet consists of a meal composed of a main course accompanied with side dishes, which tend to include meat, vegetables, and starch (Kitler, Sucher and Nelms 9). The typical American tends to eat foods that are abundant in calories, saturated fats, and sodium. Fast food, such as burgers, fries and pizza, are among the most consumed foods Americans eat. According to the article, “U.S. Restaurant Traffic Holds Steady in First Quarter 2013 and Spending Increases, Reports NPD,” 78% of all restaurant visits were to fast-food joints. The United States has more than 313,000 fast-food and fast-casual restaurants. American food trends tend to be low in fruits and vegetables (Kaplan et al 326). According to the article, “How Americans Eat Today,” 25% of the consumed calories by North Americans are made up of sweets, desserts, soft drinks, and alcoholic beverages and only 10% of their diet consists of fruits and vegetables.

There are various factors that may initiate the food acculturation process in Central American migrants, who live in the United States. Once immigrants lay foot on United States soil, they begin to adapt to the customs embedded in American society. This causes them to transition from third world rural life to first world urban life and from impoverished societies to affluent societies (Kaplan et al 323). In addition, the neighborhoods they migrate to determines their diet and activity patterns they develop. It also determines the inaccessibility of markets in the area, which may or may not offer Central American traditional foods. Availability plays a vital role in people’s eating habits since many can only eat food that is available to them. Central American migrants usually live in urban immigrant neighborhoods. Produce and healthy foods are limited in these areas because liquor stores, fast food restaurants, and meat markets are more common than grocery stores (Walker et al 876). These neighborhoods are called food deserts and can be defined as, ‘‘urban areas with 10 or fewer stores and no stores with more than 20 employees’’(Walker et la 876). Living in these food deserts can discourage people from living healthier lifestyles. In addition, these cities are located in impoverished areas that are segregated from society (Walker et la 876).

Residents are unable to afford the limited healthy food products accessible in these neighborhoods because most of these families work two to three jobs to make ends meet (Walker et al 876). In 2012, 92% of Mexican and Central American men and 58% of women, ages 25 to 64, were in the labor force (Elmendorf). Another factor that affects resident’s ability to buy fresh food is the long distance they have to commute from their homes to go to a store, which limits those who do not have a car. Central Americans typically have low-incomes and are linguistically isolated when they begin to adapt to the American lifestyle (Gordon-Larsen et al). Their low-income and educational levels leads to the inability to rapidly accommodate to the living arrangements of the United States. These factors may also cause them to decrease their physical activity, increase the availability of conventional food, and consume high-fat energy-dense foods in their neighborhoods (Gordon-Larsen et al 2024).

Another reason food acculturation develops in Central American migrants is based upon their adaptation to popular American food trends of eating meat and fast food. Analysts have shown that Latino immigrants have greater access to fast food with their new income in the United States (Tavernise). For some, their ability to buy fast food and meat is considered an accomplishment and may even consider it as becoming successful. In their opinion, they are providing the “best” food for their family since it was considered a luxury in their homeland. The majority of immigrant parents wish to provide the best for their families. In Central America, these parents were not able to eat in restaurants or consume meat, so now that they can afford to do so in the United States, they take advantage of their new ability. Another factor that may further push food acculturation in these communities is convenience. Since many Central American immigrants work more than the average worker, it is more convenient for them to buy fast food for their family than to cook after a long day of work. These factors partake in the negative impact that food acculturation has on Central American natives.

The process of food acculturation has negatively affected Central American migrants by causing them to develop diseases. Migrants who have healthy diets have a greater possibility of developing diseases once they adapt to the United States food trends (Corral and Landrine 743). Another factor to consider, since Central American migrants are acculturating to the United States cuisine, they are going to develop the same diseases that United States residents develop as a result of what they eat. For example, obesity and other health related diseases are associated with food acculturation (Gordon-Larsen et al 2024). According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, people 20 years and older in the United States, 3 out of 4 Latinos are overweight or obese, while 2 out of 3 whites are overweight or obese. As a result of becoming overweight or obese, they may develop other diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, osteoarthritis, breast cancer, colon cancer, endometrial cancer, kidney cancer, or prone to stroke. The article, “How Americans Eat Today” mentions that the increase rate of obesity and weight gain are direct results of changes in food trends during the 1960s and 1970s throughout America; during this period, the number of fast food franchises vastly increased, causing portion sizes to increase because businesses wanted to sell large portions at an affordable price. This increased the caloric intake of residents causing them to gain more weight than ever before and to develop diseases that are not inherent to their body types.

Another cause in which Latinos develop diseases from food acculturation is the fact that  more than half of Latinos are lactose intolerant. According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, 50% to 80% of Latinos are lactose intolerant, unable to digest lactose (milk and milk products); however, only 2% of Europeans are lactose intolerant. The Latino diet does not consist of dairy products in contrast to the European diet. When Europeans first migrated to the United States, they brought their food traditions and spread their ideologies to anyone they encountered and imposed it on everyone they conquered (Nibert). European cuisine is one of the most influential leading food trends out of a great variety of other ones in the Americas. When Central Americans begin to adapt to this melting pot of different cuisines, sometimes they consume food products that are not good for their health and their bodies react negatively towards these types of foods. Regardless of their reactions, they consume it anyways because they have no choice to choose otherwise. This causes them to have health problems that could be evaded. In addition, negative health phenomenons originated in food deserts where Central American migrants tend to live. Fast food restaurants, meat markets, and liquor stores are more prevalent in these impoverished areas, causing them to consume these food types at a more constant rate. Too much meat can shorten one’s lifespan, affect human development, and increase risk of health diseases such endometriosis, atherosclerosis, colon cancer, and rheumatoid arthritis. Unhealthy residents who live in food deserts have limited access to pharmacies due to the lack of health care facilities in the area, which could prevent and create limitations for the sick to access medications (Walker et la 876).

In conclusion, the food acculturation process has proven to have negative effects on Central American migrants residing in the United States, which has been seen through a comparison of the United States and Central American food trends, an analysis of the social factors that impact this particular group, and an observation of the health effects from this process. When Central Americans migrate to the United States, their food consumption and habits evolve over time by adapting to United States’ eating habits. Latino’s healthy eating habits tend to decline as their length of residency in the United States increases (Kaplan et al 323).Experts indicate that humans have different psychological impulses depending on their food consumption (Kitler, Sucher and Nelms 2). For this reason, Latinos take advantage and eat foods that they once considered luxuries. The food acculturation development in Central Americans can be seen through an increase of eating high-fat foods and a decrease of consuming fruits and vegetables (Corral and Landrine 738). The food acculturation process is important because it impacts more than one-third of the foreign population living in the United States. The U.S. Census Bureau states, 37% of the foreign-born populations in the United States are from Mexico and Central America. Ironically, Latin American’s health deteriorates once they migrate to the United States because most  of them have the mentality that living in the United States would give them access to a better lifestyle, compared to their own country in Central America. Another reason is the insufficient amount of research performed in this area. Through research, experts can analyze the factors that influence food acculturation and the link of acculturation with Latino’s dietary changes. Research on this topic will create awareness, rhetoric, and discourse that can push administrators to further progress in promoting healthier nutrition. As a result, they can also prevent the negative food acculturation effects on Latinos, as well as other foreign-born migrants. This issue is not only affecting the Central American community living in the United States, but it also impacts other foreign-born populations. Studies demonstrate that healthy eating habits prolong one’s life, but eating poorly can create adverse that affects. Arguably, everyone should have the option of choosing whether they want to eat healthy or not, and unfortunately for many people there is no other option.


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