Abstract

As the children of wartime immigrants from El Salvador become adults, they must grapple with the role violence played—and continues to play—in Salvadoran society. Second-generation Salvadorans interpret their relatives’ stories of war, death, and violence through a lens that prioritizes lessons gained over traumatization. Thus, immigrant parents’ casual discussions about their experiences during the Salvadoran Civil War (1979–1992) become what this article calls necronarratives: stories pieced together from memories based on foiling death and violence generated through state necropolitics. Youth interpret inherited memories through a lens of survival, resilience, and healing. Necropolitics refers to the ability of the state to legislate and draw policies that determine who lives and who dies. Although scholars have noted that high levels of war-related trauma among Salvadoran immigrants cause them to remain silent about those experiences, my research reveals that children of these immigrants collect and construct narratives using the memory fragments shared during casual conversations with their relatives. Drawing from 20 semi-structured interviews with U.S. Salvadorans, this paper shows that U.S. Salvadorans construct narratives out of their family’s war memories in order to locate affirming qualities of the Salvadoran experience such as surviving a war, achieving migration, and building a life in a new country. Contrary to past indications that Central American migrants live in silence about their national origins in order to avoid discrimination in the U.S. and to avoid traumatizing their children, this study on second-generation Salvadoran adults describes the ethnic roots information families do share through war stories. The Salvadoran case shows youth actively engage with necronarratives as they come of age to adulthood to yield lessons about how their national origins and ethnic heritages shape their senses of belonging and exclusion within U.S. society.

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