From Central America to the United States: Youth Migratory Productions Out of El Salvador and Guatemala in the 2000s

Open Access
Reinke, Shannon E
Area of Honors:
Bachelor of Arts
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Judith Sierra-Rivera, Thesis Supervisor
  • John Lipski, Honors Advisor
  • John Andres Ochoa, Faculty Reader
  • Immigration
  • Migration
  • Central America
  • Youth migrants
  • Guatemala
  • El Salvador
This thesis focuses on Guatemalan and Salvadoran youth migrants to the United States and their representations of the migratory experience, their homelands, and the U.S. I argue that each of the pieces studied here offers a holistic understanding about young people and the representations that are formed. On the one hand, Guatemalan movies like Gregory Nava’s El Norte (1983), Jayro Bustamente’s Ixcanul (2015), and Diego Quemada-Diéz’s La jaula de oro (2013) show a historical continuity of civil war, genocide, and social injustice against indigenous populations in Guatemala. On the other hand, Salvadoran productions such as Oscar Martinez’s The Beast: Riding the Rails and Dodging Narcos on the Migrant Trail, the image of the migrant from Intipucá, and “Cuarto de Adolescente” demonstrate the resulting variation of emotion and motivation that can lead young people to leave El Salvador in hope of finding a better life in the United States. As a whole, the pieces tell us that young people leaving Guatemala and El Salvador are doing so because of historic instabilities created by the U.S. during the Cold War. They also explain how the historic oppression of people in these countries has led to conflict and fear that has continued to be perpetuated through gang violence and U.S. policies towards drug trafficking. The analysis developed in the chapters follows questions related to the intersectionality between language, race, gender, and sexuality as well, in order to display the complexities that migrant subjects exhibit. By underscoring these complexities, this thesis pushes against the imagined homogeneity of Central American migrants. At a time when Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are separating families and deporting young people to countries they barely even know, and xenophobic feelings appear to have reached a peak in the U.S., this thesis is relevant because not only are undocumented immigrants at risk, but also Latinx populations who have been documented residents for generations.