The forgotten roots of — and responsibility for — a diaspora
As many in the U.S. protest the influx of Central American migrants, they fail to recognize that this moment is in part a boomerang —flung into motion by American military intervention decades ago.
Most U.S. citizens have at least an elementary memory of our country’s participation in the Vietnam War; ditto the war in Afghanistan.
But ask an average American about the U.S.’ most extensive and expensive counter-insurgency campaign between the two, and you’ll likely receive a whole bunch of blank stares and confused faces. For whatever reason, the U.S.’ involvement in the Salvadoran Civil War — with our forces in great part instigating its start, extending its length and devastation, and providing weapons and justification for large-scale human rights abuses — is widely forgotten inside our borders; condemned to the graveyard of selective memory.
However, the effects of U.S. intervention in that conflict — which was responsible for the death or displacement of nearly two fifths of the country’s population at the time — are still being felt today.
After nearly a million Salvadorans fled their country between 1979 and 1992, many took refuge in the U.S.; particularly California. It was there, in the LA area, that the now-notorious MS-13 and Barrio 18 gangs were formed. When the migrants were deported in mass in the 90’s, so were the gangs, bringing to El Salvador — which was still reeling from 12 years of war — a new crisis, and sending a new wave of refuges headed for the U.S. border.
This story, written from the abandoned Salvadoran village Toriles, was originally published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune in January 2020. You can read it here.