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Unforgetting: A Memoir of Family, Migration, Gangs, and the Revolution in the Americas

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A timely and no-holds-barred tale of gang life, guerilla warfare, immigration, and intergenerational trauma, Robert Lovato’s memoir and cultural critique reflects on his multifaceted life and examines many of the self-serving myths underlying modern American culture. The child of Salvadoran immigrants, Roberto Lovato grew up in 1970s California. Joining a gang in his teens, A timely and no-holds-barred tale of gang life, guerilla warfare, immigration, and intergenerational trauma, Robert Lovato’s memoir and cultural critique reflects on his multifaceted life and examines many of the self-serving myths underlying modern American culture. The child of Salvadoran immigrants, Roberto Lovato grew up in 1970s California. Joining a gang in his teens, he witnessed a friend take a bullet to the face in a coke deal gone bad and survived his own shooting. He eventually traded the violence of the streets for wartime El Salvador where he joined the guerilla movement against its corrupt, fraudulent military government.  As a child. Roberto endured beatings and humiliations driven by his father Ramón’s anger—a rage rooted in his own childhood in El Salvador. Raised in extreme poverty in the countryside during the time of La Matanza—in which tens of thousands of indigenous peoples were killed in the span of a few months—young Ramón also spent time in a brothel and as the leader of a small band of thieves on the streets of San Salvador. Roberto looks back to the pain of his father’s youth and examines both how he survived a life straddling intersecting underworlds of family secrets, traumatic silence, and criminal black-market goods and guns, and how these forces impacted his father’s life and subsequently Roberto’s own. Returning from El Salvador, Roberto channeled his own pain into activism and journalism, focusing his attention on how intergenerational trauma affects individual lives and societies. In Becoming Américan, he makes the political personal, interweaving his story and that of his father with wider social issues, including gang life—notably that of MS-13—and the immigration crisis, to reveal the profound ties between El Salvador and the United States that have fueled the rise of both of these issues.


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A timely and no-holds-barred tale of gang life, guerilla warfare, immigration, and intergenerational trauma, Robert Lovato’s memoir and cultural critique reflects on his multifaceted life and examines many of the self-serving myths underlying modern American culture. The child of Salvadoran immigrants, Roberto Lovato grew up in 1970s California. Joining a gang in his teens, A timely and no-holds-barred tale of gang life, guerilla warfare, immigration, and intergenerational trauma, Robert Lovato’s memoir and cultural critique reflects on his multifaceted life and examines many of the self-serving myths underlying modern American culture. The child of Salvadoran immigrants, Roberto Lovato grew up in 1970s California. Joining a gang in his teens, he witnessed a friend take a bullet to the face in a coke deal gone bad and survived his own shooting. He eventually traded the violence of the streets for wartime El Salvador where he joined the guerilla movement against its corrupt, fraudulent military government.  As a child. Roberto endured beatings and humiliations driven by his father Ramón’s anger—a rage rooted in his own childhood in El Salvador. Raised in extreme poverty in the countryside during the time of La Matanza—in which tens of thousands of indigenous peoples were killed in the span of a few months—young Ramón also spent time in a brothel and as the leader of a small band of thieves on the streets of San Salvador. Roberto looks back to the pain of his father’s youth and examines both how he survived a life straddling intersecting underworlds of family secrets, traumatic silence, and criminal black-market goods and guns, and how these forces impacted his father’s life and subsequently Roberto’s own. Returning from El Salvador, Roberto channeled his own pain into activism and journalism, focusing his attention on how intergenerational trauma affects individual lives and societies. In Becoming Américan, he makes the political personal, interweaving his story and that of his father with wider social issues, including gang life—notably that of MS-13—and the immigration crisis, to reveal the profound ties between El Salvador and the United States that have fueled the rise of both of these issues.

30 review for Unforgetting: A Memoir of Family, Migration, Gangs, and the Revolution in the Americas

  1. 4 out of 5

    Shawna Alpdemir

    One of the best books I've read this year. Lovato weaves together his story, his father's story, his father's father's story, and of course, the stories of the women who loved them, seamlessly into this novel that is part memoir, part history lesson, and part social criticism. There are several important messages - about generational trauma, American imperialism, and so much more - that are very relevant given today's climate. I speak no Spanish and I've never been to El Salvador. I went into th One of the best books I've read this year. Lovato weaves together his story, his father's story, his father's father's story, and of course, the stories of the women who loved them, seamlessly into this novel that is part memoir, part history lesson, and part social criticism. There are several important messages - about generational trauma, American imperialism, and so much more - that are very relevant given today's climate. I speak no Spanish and I've never been to El Salvador. I went into this book with no understanding or inclination of what I was about to read. As the daughter of immigrants who has felt the tug between the country I was born in and the countries of my parents, though, I could understand so much of Lovato's inner struggle. As an International Relations student and lover of all cultures and travel, this book took me on a journey from my home in California to El Salvador and back in the midst of a pandemic. There are a lot of heavy topics covered, so I hesitate to call the book an escape, but it was an adventure. I almost guarantee you will walk away with new knowledge or perspective. Highly recommend. Give it a try.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Lupita Reads

    UNFORGETTING: A memoir of family migration, gangs, and revolution in the Americas by Roberto Lovato is probably one of the most in-depth & ground shaking memoirs I have read in a while. Lovato peels through the history of El Salvador, the country from which his parents are from, exposing how the roots of that history have dug deep within his family. How that history contributes to their family dynamics all while meticulous detailing how his country of birth, U.S.A, has contributed to that histor UNFORGETTING: A memoir of family migration, gangs, and revolution in the Americas by Roberto Lovato is probably one of the most in-depth & ground shaking memoirs I have read in a while. Lovato peels through the history of El Salvador, the country from which his parents are from, exposing how the roots of that history have dug deep within his family. How that history contributes to their family dynamics all while meticulous detailing how his country of birth, U.S.A, has contributed to that history. As a journalist, Lovato does not withhold any details of the systemic violence in El Salvador and provides a deeply full & often disturbing depiction of it. The way he writes about the dual cultures he belongs to and loves is not only admirable it will be healing for anyone to read that lives in that in-betweenness. There’s so much this book left me with & that I want to praise. What I mainly connected with was Lovato’s ability to connect with his history & how it’s molded his upbringing, the ways it’s hurt his family, and the trauma it’s built that he tackles through in this book. It’s a reminder that genetics can’t tell us about the stories and trauma passed down from generations. Lovato’s memoir to me is an opening for Latinx readers to seek out more knowledge of the countries our parents once called home. Having that knowledge might create the ability to break through cycles of trauma.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Isabella González

    This book was slow-paced and reflective (put me to sleep many times) but I learned a lot about the history of El Salvador and Salvadoran Americans in California from the personal story of Roberto Lovato. I recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of the Americas or of El Salvador specifically.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jim KABLE

    The Saving of a People Just a few days ago I read a two-part interview of Roberto Lovato by Amy Goodman via Democracy Now - one the most trustworthy news online outlets from the US and thought immediately of one of my old middle school students in Australia from 30+ years ago who had married someone born in California of exiled El Salvador background - I had been told something of gangs and displacement - worse than most immigrant or refugee exile experiences with which I am in some ways familia The Saving of a People Just a few days ago I read a two-part interview of Roberto Lovato by Amy Goodman via Democracy Now - one the most trustworthy news online outlets from the US and thought immediately of one of my old middle school students in Australia from 30+ years ago who had married someone born in California of exiled El Salvador background - I had been told something of gangs and displacement - worse than most immigrant or refugee exile experiences with which I am in some ways familiar. This book is a chronicle and is both sad and uplifting - from a growing understanding of being somehow broken - the author tracks aspects of his own life and that of his parents and before them, the treatment of the first peoples of El Salvador, of the children born out-of-wedlock to the country’s landed first families - the land theft and massacres - the involvement by the US in training and supervising those doing the massacring - and worst of all the criminalising upon entry into the US of those fleeing the death and violence aided and supervised - and the ugliness of the present US Attorney-General BARR in militarising police forces... the telling shifts across periods of time back-and-forth over almost a century - reflecting the manner in which the author was coming to understand events, going back in the light of more and more recent knowledge to reinterpret. It is masterful. In Australia - we see similar ugly things happening - a Homeland Affairs Minister demonising particular more recently arrived immigrants groups - locking up asylum-seekers -and children - seemingly without censure from his political buddies - and from the so-called opposition - apart from point-scoring in parliamentary debate - it’s all a game, apparently - and these things include torture, murder, and suicide. It is happening! This is a powerful snd moving testament of how one man put back together all the fragments and redeemed a national reputation. Bravísimo, Roberto! Bravísimo. Éste libro es muy, muy importante! Vea!

  5. 4 out of 5

    asia

    Incredible.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Adam

    Well-written and very original memoir by a second generation El Salvadoran, coming to terms with the violence that has shaped his ancestral land, his home country, and his own family, for generations. Lovato takes a non-linear journey through his own life and his father's life, starting with the "la matanza" ethnic cleansing massacres of 1932, through the El Salvadoran civil war of the 80s and 90s, up to the present day. The author himself goes through dramatic and unexpected changes as he slowl Well-written and very original memoir by a second generation El Salvadoran, coming to terms with the violence that has shaped his ancestral land, his home country, and his own family, for generations. Lovato takes a non-linear journey through his own life and his father's life, starting with the "la matanza" ethnic cleansing massacres of 1932, through the El Salvadoran civil war of the 80s and 90s, up to the present day. The author himself goes through dramatic and unexpected changes as he slowly reconciles his U.S. upbringing with his El Salvadoran heritage and discovers that "unforgetting" is the best way forward.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Andrés Rico

    As a high school kid I would ask my family to take me to bookstores while on summer trips to El Salvador, whether it was La Ceiba or the bookstore at the UCA campus, eager to get my hands on history books on the civil war, 1932, or Monseñor. I wanted to get more of a context for the stories I had heard from my relatives. I found a few along the way, but what I noticed was that most were pretty dry academic texts. The color was missing, I couldn’t see the scenes inside my head. The info was there As a high school kid I would ask my family to take me to bookstores while on summer trips to El Salvador, whether it was La Ceiba or the bookstore at the UCA campus, eager to get my hands on history books on the civil war, 1932, or Monseñor. I wanted to get more of a context for the stories I had heard from my relatives. I found a few along the way, but what I noticed was that most were pretty dry academic texts. The color was missing, I couldn’t see the scenes inside my head. The info was there, yet still slightly out of reach. Reading “Unforgetting” was another type of experience. Not only do you get a crash course in Salvadoran history in the 20th Century, but you get a social, personal, and familial context for each time period described in the book. I could see parallels to my own family: broken families, hijos ilegítimos, indigenismo and the erasure of our roots and identity during Martínez, as well as the strength of matriarchs, the resilience of our people to keep moving forward and find stability whether within or outside El Salvador’s borders. This book is an invitation to meditate on the fact that our lives are impacted by actions and decisions and events that transpired well before our own births, and how by looking back and “unforgetting” them, we can heal, grow, understand ourselves and our loved ones better.

  8. 5 out of 5

    C F

    I was a little thrown off by the opening anecdote about Lovato's father coming at him with a machete in the first chapter (his father was suffering from dementia at that point), but after finishing the book it struck me as a brilliant way to open a memoir that eventually stitches together -- re-members -- pieces of his own life, and describes how he eventually comes to understand his father's personal history and its connection to traumatic historical events. My own recollection of the book is a I was a little thrown off by the opening anecdote about Lovato's father coming at him with a machete in the first chapter (his father was suffering from dementia at that point), but after finishing the book it struck me as a brilliant way to open a memoir that eventually stitches together -- re-members -- pieces of his own life, and describes how he eventually comes to understand his father's personal history and its connection to traumatic historical events. My own recollection of the book is already a bit choppy. But a few things : * I finally learned that many words I've learned in course of my own travels through Central America (althought I never made it to Salvador) actually came from Calo - a once secret insider lingo first developed by the Roma people. ("orale" "vato" etc.) * The "Mara" in "Mara Salvatrucha" (MS-13) -- the infamous gang -- originally had nothing to do with gangs. It actually came from "marabuntas," a fictitious species of flesh-eating army ants that director Byron Haskin invented for "The Naked Jungle," a movie starring Charlton Heston. In the 1970s and 80s, a small clique of heavy metal listening Salvadoran youth in the Pico Union Westlake district of L.A. started calling themselves "maras." When they started using machetes to defend themselves against other gun-wielding gangs (Crips, Bloods, Mexican Mafia) the media that -- as the gang itself became more violent -- gained its own sinister infamy. The way Lovato bounces around (chapter-by-chapter) between differtent places and times in his life (along with a few historical interludes) kind of makes the point that history often has to be pieced together to make a coherent whole. Memories -- personal and historical -- are so often hacked up (macheted) into so many seemingly separate pieces that its obscures the connections and throughlines, making it so difficult to amend or heal. What connects La Matanza (the infamous 1930 massacre) to El Mozote (the 1980 massacre under the dictatorship of General Martinez) -- and the current FMLN's cover-ups and enabling of modern death quads (the opposite of the FMLN of the 1980s and 1990s, when so many men and women died in the fight against the death squads and fascist dictatorship that deployed them) is a cycle of violence: "Forgetting begets forgetting begets ongoing mass murder." It is a matter of choice and law (a legacy of colonial genocide?) and not some inevitable result of national character. "Unforgetting" is an early step in trying to breatk the cycle. Which will not be easy. It was shocking to learn how FMLN government officials and gangleaders perpetuate the cycle, living "in a garden of immunity" thanks to a 1993 amnesty law originally intended to protect right-wing ARENA Party members who had committed atrocities during the civil war. And as Lovato points out -- that erasure of responsibility for crimes against humanity goes back to La Matanza: In 1932 General Martinez signed his own law granting "unconditional amnesty to those functionaries, authorities, employees and agents of the state and any other civilian or military person that appears esponsible for infractions of the law." In a country that literally buries its own history in mass graves, forensic anthropologists may be among the country's most important historians. Journalists like Lovato, too, are critical to the process "unforgetting" (re-membering). If the profession weren't an act of resistance and courage then why are so many journalists assassinated every year? Otra cosas: * We have our own historical forgetting that is also connected to violence, including America's role in training Salvadoran death squads. And the blowback that has occurred when the military not only offloads its surplus weaponry on local police departments, but brings its failed theories of counter-insurgency home, applying them to the poor and especially immigrants. (For the full treatment see Stuart Schrader's "Badges Without Borders: How Global Counterinsurgency Transformed American Policing" and Radley Balko's "Rise of the Warrior Cop"). I don't think I knew until Lovato pointed it out that after the 1992 L.A. Riots precipitated by the police assault on Rodney King, Bill Barr (Iran-Contra Bush's attorney general) was instrumental in the shifting treatment of gangs as inner city insurgencies in need of a more militarized response. Is it an accident of history that the protests against police brutality erupted into a full-blown movement while Barr was once again AG for a white supremacist-backed mobster president?

  9. 5 out of 5

    Celeste Miller

    This entire book is jaw-dropping. I don't know how else to describe it. Roberto Lovato has written a perfect book interweaving his personal family history, the history of El Salvador, of the United States' disturbing involvement in El Salvador's wars and politics, of the effects of US immigration policies on gangs in Central America and the cycle it caused of unaccompanied minors coming to the US, trauma, loneliness, and bicultural identity.  Yes, I know that's a lot of topics but it's true, he This entire book is jaw-dropping. I don't know how else to describe it. Roberto Lovato has written a perfect book interweaving his personal family history, the history of El Salvador, of the United States' disturbing involvement in El Salvador's wars and politics, of the effects of US immigration policies on gangs in Central America and the cycle it caused of unaccompanied minors coming to the US, trauma, loneliness, and bicultural identity.  Yes, I know that's a lot of topics but it's true, he did it and this book is excellent. I knew a little bit about the US backed massacres in El Salvador because of my college professor who everyone thought was radical because he taught us about US imperialism and the atrocities the US was involved in in Central America. But this book made it all way more clear, all while flowing between the 1930s, the 1980s, and 2015 in El Salvador and the US. Towards the end of the book he hits you with revelation after revelation about his family and their places in the history of El Salvador. I very rarely cry, especially when I read nonfiction, but this book brought me to tears at least three times in the last few chapters.  Oh yeah, he also draws the thread between evil Bill Barr and his terrible policies in the 80s and how they have and are currently affecting El Salvador. It's a very personal book, which is another reason my jaw dropped while reading. Some of the things Lovato writes about seem very dangerous for him.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Melissa Espiritu

    In order to understand immigration issues in the United States, you have to read this book. This poetic memoir weaves history and biography to give you a whole picture of the factors that impact Salvadoran lives both in El Salvador and in the United States. Sometimes it is hard to read, but these very facts are important to understand the context of the third largest population of Latinx living in the United States. I have a deep appreciation for this book for personal reasons. I feel so much gr In order to understand immigration issues in the United States, you have to read this book. This poetic memoir weaves history and biography to give you a whole picture of the factors that impact Salvadoran lives both in El Salvador and in the United States. Sometimes it is hard to read, but these very facts are important to understand the context of the third largest population of Latinx living in the United States. I have a deep appreciation for this book for personal reasons. I feel so much gratitude toward Roberto Lovato for giving a piece of my Salvadoran history back to me by writing this book. I often feel so cut off from my family history and there are a lot of gaps in the history I do have. Even the last name that I grew up with was not my family's real last name. My great grandmother changed her indigenous name when she was young. And unfortunately, I will never really know the story of why it was changed. After reading this book and talking to several Salvadoran Bookstagrammers raised outside of El Salvador, I realize that not knowing is a common experience for a lot of us. A big reason for that is that a lot of the history has been purposely suppressed. Enter the theme of the book which is about how important it is to stop the process of forgetting and to begin unforgetting. Another important feature of this book is that he equally weaves together the history of El Salvador and the narrative of Salvadorans in the United States because there is a legacy that continues for people even when they move away from the homeland. This narrative is linked. In the case of El Salvador, the policies of both countries and the people in both countries have deeply influenced current events in both places. In tracing his family history and finding some healing in the writing process, Lovato helped me understand more of my own history and find some healing as I processed this read. I highly recommend to everyone who is connected to this history, everyone interested in understanding modern immigration issues, and all educators who work within immigrant communities in the US.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Reed

    Hard to pick up, impossible to put down. Lovato doesn’t shy away from describing the violence in El Salvador’s past and present, and so parts of this book in particular were very difficult to read. But I kept going and I’m glad I did. This book jumps around to a few different points in time, rather than following a chronological order, which at times makes it difficult to keep track of the characters. However, I think this structure works very well for the history and the personal narrative Lovat Hard to pick up, impossible to put down. Lovato doesn’t shy away from describing the violence in El Salvador’s past and present, and so parts of this book in particular were very difficult to read. But I kept going and I’m glad I did. This book jumps around to a few different points in time, rather than following a chronological order, which at times makes it difficult to keep track of the characters. However, I think this structure works very well for the history and the personal narrative Lovato weaves. The lives of Lovato and his family are really extraordinary and are intertwined with history across the past century. I have some familiarity with El Salvadoran history and culture, having read some books previously, and some involvement with organizations like CISPES throughout the years. I lived in the Bay Area during the 2000s and am familiar with many of the landmarks in the Mission district that Lovato describes, which made this book more relevant and interesting to me. Would highly recommend Unforgetting and wish more white americans like myself were familiar with the interconnected history of El Salvador and the US which is so relevant to our current political moment

  12. 5 out of 5

    Brendan

    Unforgetting provides a witness's perspective of the violent history of El Salvador. Lovato goes back and forth between his own life in El Salvador and the United States and that of his parents, who grew up in El Salvador right before the 1932 "La Matanza" massacre that initiated a cycle of violence between the government, revolutionaries, gangs and revolutionaries-turned-authorities and that continued into America in the form of the notorious MS-13 and other gangs. The objective of the book is t Unforgetting provides a witness's perspective of the violent history of El Salvador. Lovato goes back and forth between his own life in El Salvador and the United States and that of his parents, who grew up in El Salvador right before the 1932 "La Matanza" massacre that initiated a cycle of violence between the government, revolutionaries, gangs and revolutionaries-turned-authorities and that continued into America in the form of the notorious MS-13 and other gangs. The objective of the book is to provide a new perspective beyond that provided by the American media on the gangs and Salvadoran migrants. Lovato's point is that the gangs grew out of broken families and originated as groups who wanted to defend against oppression before evolving into today's well-known violent criminal gangs. While I sympathized with the plight of those who suffer in this system, there are no real solutions proposed. Worse than that, a major theme of the book is that the UNITED STATES is at fault for, among other things, demagoguing MS-13, cracking down on illegal immigration, and supporting the Salvadoran government's war on gangs. While the USA's actions may not have been effective at preventing the violence, here, too, Lovato doesn't propose what the USA should have done. Apparently, the USA needs to understand the self-inflicted trauma of El Salvador, accept that MS-13 gang members are victims of the trauma of their country's violent history and allow them to run amuck unchecked in the USA. I can accept that the violent history of El Salvador and gang violence in America is more complicated than often presented. But I don't accept that the USA bears great responsibility for failing to solve El Salvador's problem or taking aggressive action designed to prevent Salvadoran violence from embedding itself in America, too.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Rendz

    A must read. I'm so emotional right now, will need time to make sense of my thoughts. But just put it on your lists to start. I repeat, a must read. A must read. I'm so emotional right now, will need time to make sense of my thoughts. But just put it on your lists to start. I repeat, a must read.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Iliana

    This is a must read book for everyone. This is first and foremost a memoir that talks about migration, gangs and revolution in the Americas in a way you may have never encountered in another book. This book is honest! It is well organized as Lovato tells his life story as a child of Salvadorans in the United States. His life in El Salvador, his investigative journalism, the history of El Salvador and the U.S. involvement in this country. He talks about these topics all while unpacking his trauma This is a must read book for everyone. This is first and foremost a memoir that talks about migration, gangs and revolution in the Americas in a way you may have never encountered in another book. This book is honest! It is well organized as Lovato tells his life story as a child of Salvadorans in the United States. His life in El Salvador, his investigative journalism, the history of El Salvador and the U.S. involvement in this country. He talks about these topics all while unpacking his trauma, his family’s trauma, and the trauma of the people of El Salvador both in the motherland and U.S. Like I said this book is honest, Lovato is bold, this is his memoir, a historical book and I loved it. I highly recommend it!

  15. 4 out of 5

    Danielle

    I won this book through a giveaway, and I read it because I am personally interested in this subject matter. I also do a lot of research on gangs for work. I was hoping this book could offer me some new insight and perspective into the situation with violence into El Salvador. I thought this book was well written. Pros: It offered the perspective of a US citizen with immigrant ties and family. I found this to be interesting in terms of figuring out his identity. The author offered a very raw and r I won this book through a giveaway, and I read it because I am personally interested in this subject matter. I also do a lot of research on gangs for work. I was hoping this book could offer me some new insight and perspective into the situation with violence into El Salvador. I thought this book was well written. Pros: It offered the perspective of a US citizen with immigrant ties and family. I found this to be interesting in terms of figuring out his identity. The author offered a very raw and real view of the relationship he had with his father. I found this relationship to be an interesting part of the story since the author used his father’s history to understand their relationship. The book had a lot of data and research woven into it, but it didn’t feel too difficult to read. Cons I thought the way the book was organized made it somewhat difficult to read. For some reason, it didn’t flow well for me. I think the author did a good job distinguishing between the time periods since there is a lot of back and forth. Yet somehow it was difficult to follow at points because of this. I felt that some parts of the book needed more context. It seems that the author references a lot of historical events and often times I would have liked more information surrounding the event. Finally, my biggest criticism of the book is that I felt the author didn’t really answer my questions. I felt that his research of the violence in the country was not really broken down into a clean and precise explanation. This could be because it is a memoir, but I still felt I was left with more questions than answers. Maybe this was the author’s intention. Overall, I would recommend, specifically if you have an interest in learning more about El Salvador, or if you would like to hear a story of someone who struggles with their identity due to their family’s ties to another country.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Esta Montano

    In the late 1990s, I taught a class of Latinx students, most of whom were born in the US to Salvadoran parents who had left war torn El Salvador, either as young adults or teens. My students knew nothing about Salvadoran history; their parents simply did not discuss it. They knew terms like "guerrilla" but had no idea what it meant - to them, all people who fought were "guerrilla". I decided to teach them Salvadoran history through novels by Salvadoran writers. The experience was eye opening for In the late 1990s, I taught a class of Latinx students, most of whom were born in the US to Salvadoran parents who had left war torn El Salvador, either as young adults or teens. My students knew nothing about Salvadoran history; their parents simply did not discuss it. They knew terms like "guerrilla" but had no idea what it meant - to them, all people who fought were "guerrilla". I decided to teach them Salvadoran history through novels by Salvadoran writers. The experience was eye opening for them, but also traumatic, as they started putting pieces together in terms of their families' behaviors and stories that they had heard. This book brought me back to that time. Lovato tells a poignant narrative of what Salvadorans went through not only in El Salvador, but as Salvadorans in the US. He tells the reader what it is like to live on the border - with a foot in each country, yet without really understanding what this means, just like my students. He underscores the nature of keeping secrets, and how once revealed, can be painful yet freeing. The explanations (and misconceptions) around gangs, namely the "Mara" are compelling and further illustrate how pain can be translated into action, albeit not always for good. The writing in this book sometimes is too much telling and not enough showing. Nonetheless, it is a powerful read which I highly recommend,.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Kit Wren

    This was a tough but necessary read about the dificulty of moving past a genocide in your country's history, one that is still being attempted in muted tones, and a look at the interdependence of domestic police forces and foreign "security forces," at baseless hysteria about "gangs" and the pathologizing and dehumanizing that sets the foundation for something truly horrific. There are weak points in the book where the author inserts part of his personal history but keeps part of himself to hims This was a tough but necessary read about the dificulty of moving past a genocide in your country's history, one that is still being attempted in muted tones, and a look at the interdependence of domestic police forces and foreign "security forces," at baseless hysteria about "gangs" and the pathologizing and dehumanizing that sets the foundation for something truly horrific. There are weak points in the book where the author inserts part of his personal history but keeps part of himself to himself; he talks about the courtship he made of a resistance leader but not the eventual separation and divorce. I suppose i shouldn't demand too much from any author, but i'm also not sure that a partial telling of that adds to this book. I fear that the strategies of the salvadoran government described are about to come home. If that sounds alarmist to you, well, it wouldn't be the first time bill barr endorsed and participated in a genocide, would it.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Briayna Cuffie

    A personal, raw, and detailed read. An eye-opening learning experience. The Spanglish was a bonus for my ears. It’s a bit graphic (possibly triggering for some) sometimes, but the details are important. I appreciated the parsing out of his Indigenous heritage, and how they were specifically persecuted. He goes through his life of being in the US, going back to El Salvador, and returning to the US. There are many layers about community, the complexity of livelihoods, why people flee/seek asylum, A personal, raw, and detailed read. An eye-opening learning experience. The Spanglish was a bonus for my ears. It’s a bit graphic (possibly triggering for some) sometimes, but the details are important. I appreciated the parsing out of his Indigenous heritage, and how they were specifically persecuted. He goes through his life of being in the US, going back to El Salvador, and returning to the US. There are many layers about community, the complexity of livelihoods, why people flee/seek asylum, and how some get caught up.

  19. 4 out of 5

    RACHEL

    In 'Unforgetting', Lovato takes us on his journey into the silences of his family and of his countries, United States and El Salvador. It is a story of silenced tales of violence, generational trauma, the tangled interconnections between the United States and Central America. There has been so much silence, we all have difficult work of unforgetting I'd there is to be healing or we will continue these cycles if violence. My copy was a gift through Goodreads First Reads. In 'Unforgetting', Lovato takes us on his journey into the silences of his family and of his countries, United States and El Salvador. It is a story of silenced tales of violence, generational trauma, the tangled interconnections between the United States and Central America. There has been so much silence, we all have difficult work of unforgetting I'd there is to be healing or we will continue these cycles if violence. My copy was a gift through Goodreads First Reads.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jalinne

    Being Salvadoran American (whatever that means) I have never read a book that honors our history quite like this book. I see so many parallels between Hector’s family and mine. illegitimate children left to fed for themselves, absentee fathers, the resilience of Salvadoran women.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Gary Singh

    So much to say about this amazing book. One concept in particular: Crafting the book structure as a process of forensic therapy and healing intergenerational trauma. For that reason alone, it resonated deeply with me. More words coming soon ...

  22. 4 out of 5

    Steph

    The novel reads prophetically as well as an uncovering of history. At the time I read this memoir, impeachment managers, a collection of representatives and lawyers from Congress, presented evidence against former president Trump. Within that evidence, they uncovered The Big Lie. And this book must be read in times such as an impeachment, particularly chapter 17: "Forgetting begets forgetting begets ongoing mass murder" (170), and Traumatology is the science of injuries and what causes them. Tra The novel reads prophetically as well as an uncovering of history. At the time I read this memoir, impeachment managers, a collection of representatives and lawyers from Congress, presented evidence against former president Trump. Within that evidence, they uncovered The Big Lie. And this book must be read in times such as an impeachment, particularly chapter 17: "Forgetting begets forgetting begets ongoing mass murder" (170), and Traumatology is the science of injuries and what causes them. Traumatology is the science of "making the bones speak". As Americans, we must remember not only what happened in El Salvador in 1932, (a genocide of greater proportions than that of the Holocaust), but we also must remember what happened on January 6, 2021, because "granting amnesty to war criminals [or Presidents who incite insurrection] is a sanctioning and a forgetting of the atrocities committed against its people by its own government" (173). Do not codify the act of forgetting genocides or insurrections, and do not erase misconduct. At Chapter 17, I had to put the book down and spend a day away from the genocide. While this book seems vital to me, I can't deny that while reading it, my stomach turned, I vibrated and shivered in fear and disgust, it gives me nightmares, and yet, I felt then, and feel still now, the need to look at that darkness and know. What that knowing gives me, I still can't put into words, but I feel a sense of power in the "knowing". I struggle to explain that odd tangling of disgust and power. If one only ever reads a single chapter of the memoir, please read chapter 20: "San Salvador 2015". Here, Lovato interviews Santiago, the top Mara gang leader. Lovato, like his grandmother before him, becomes a master tailor. He weaves together the disparate fabrics of assassinated archbishop, Óscar Arnulfo Romero, Suzanne Collins' novel, The Hunger Games, a Salvadoran legislator who worked with the U.S. justice department to create Salvador's "Mano Dura" policies, and a gang leader with Gold teeth who has read the Greek classics, Shakespearean tragedies, and Latin American Boom writers. Is the gang member like the assassinated archbishop? A holy man who protects the unprotected and the most marginalized from a corrupt government? Is this gang member like the cruel leaders of District 1 who send children into a tournament of bloodsport until there is only one left standing? Is this gang member victim to American foreign policy? The stitching together of all of these disparate pieces is masterful, and a snapshot of the memoir's entirety: weaving, stitching, connecting the pieces to make a whole. Unforgetting and making the truth into a discernible shape.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Sherrie Miranda

    Great read if you have an interest in El Salvador & other Latin American countries Reviewed on Amazon on January 20, 2021 This book is not for everyone, but for those that are interested in how El Salvador became synonymous with gang violence, the answers are in this book. Having been active in the anti-war movement & gone to El Salvador twice, I won't lie. I was deeply saddened that the situation has only gotten worse since the peace accords were signed. And before you say, gang members deserve to Great read if you have an interest in El Salvador & other Latin American countries Reviewed on Amazon on January 20, 2021 This book is not for everyone, but for those that are interested in how El Salvador became synonymous with gang violence, the answers are in this book. Having been active in the anti-war movement & gone to El Salvador twice, I won't lie. I was deeply saddened that the situation has only gotten worse since the peace accords were signed. And before you say, gang members deserve to die, read about how the gangs came to be & where they actually came from. Hint: The US deported them from here. It is with many mixed emotions that I recommend this book about a people who despite immense heartache are still some of the most generous people in the world. Thank you, Roberto, for this labor of love. Sherrie Miranda's "Crimes & Impunity in New Orleans" follows the dramatic story of naive, sheltered Shelly going to “The Big Easy” to prepare for El Salvador, but has no idea she will encounter sexism and witness racism as well as illegal activities by government agents. https://www.amzn.com/dp/B08KMHNNDK Author, Sherrie Miranda's husband made the trailer for "Crimes & Impunity in New Orleans." He wrote the music too. https://youtu.be/7_NL-V9KEi4 Review: Shelly’s journey in “the city that care forgot.” Sherrie Miranda’s new novel “Crimes and Impunity in New Orleans” puts the reader into a whirlwind of political protests, abusive police, sexist attitudes towards women, and “good old boys” racism in 1980’s New Orleans. Miranda’s second novel follows Shelly, the young northerner, as she quickly finds out that she “isn’t in Kansas anymore” while encountering a slew of picturesque, colorful characters. Reading her book makes you wonder if justice and respect for blacks, immigrants, and women can be reality in America.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Vince

    We've been fed stories of migrant caravans of drug dealers, rapists, and gangsters from Central American for years. They lack not only honesty but any veneer of context. They come from our elected officials, from the endless stream of misinformation masquerading as televised or online news, from our social media feeds, and from print media. Robert Lovato, in his heartfelt memoir sets out to correct our misperceptions by sharing the truths about his family's life in El Salvador during the war yea We've been fed stories of migrant caravans of drug dealers, rapists, and gangsters from Central American for years. They lack not only honesty but any veneer of context. They come from our elected officials, from the endless stream of misinformation masquerading as televised or online news, from our social media feeds, and from print media. Robert Lovato, in his heartfelt memoir sets out to correct our misperceptions by sharing the truths about his family's life in El Salvador during the war years; truths that had been hidden behind the wall of his father's silence since Roberto was a child. As an American of Salvadoran ancestry growing up in San Francisco Lovato lacked a sense of self that produced in him an anger and in his adopting a risky lifestyle that was leading nowhere good. A brief detour through evangelicalism, a call to higher education, and his subsequent work with migrant assistance organizations puts him on a new path that inevitably takes him to El Salvador and a reckoning with his family's past. His story is emotionally gripping and unsparing in it's dissection of Salvadoran history including American support of the fascist regimes and their death squads that murdered thousand of indigenous farmers and suspected FMLN insurgents. This cathartic journey also delves into the world of Salvadoran gangs like MS-13, spawned on the streets of L.A. and deported back to El Salvador. Wonderfully constructed and written with a palette of emotion that carries you away. It is eye opening and utterly unputdownable. It is thrilling history wrapped in a quest to reconcile and repair the psychological trauma of one's life. It is among the best memoirs I've read in the last few years and worthy of any accolades that come it's way.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Luis Cuesta

    I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway. Roberto Lovato´s memoir reveals the role of Central American community in LA and the origin of the "maras" in the 1980´s where Salvadorean youths banded together in part to defend themselves against more established Mexican and Black gangs. Through the pages we discover that cycles of war, displacement and gang and police violence were in many regards fueled by U.S. policies across many administrations and eventually the L.A.-formed gangs flourished I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway. Roberto Lovato´s memoir reveals the role of Central American community in LA and the origin of the "maras" in the 1980´s where Salvadorean youths banded together in part to defend themselves against more established Mexican and Black gangs. Through the pages we discover that cycles of war, displacement and gang and police violence were in many regards fueled by U.S. policies across many administrations and eventually the L.A.-formed gangs flourished in El Salvador after heavy U.S. deportation campaigns. "Unforgetting” can be seen as a story of two countries, inextricably bound, and Lovato is uniquely positioned to tell it. As a U.S.-born son of immigrants, he grew up knowing the culture of gang life in the streets of San Francisco, spent his holidays visiting family in El Salvador, worked for nongovernmental organizations in both countries, joined the opposition as an urban commando late in the civil war and later witnessed, as a journalist working for The Boston Globe, the exhumation of mass graves. In my opinion the main asset of his memoir is that Instead of focusing on individuals or moments, he wants us to think historically about the conditions of this violence instead of falling into the tired tropes of criminalization and racism.

  26. 5 out of 5

    John

    This memoir was for me a slow start; the interspersed Spanish lingo I found distracting. Also the many characters with Spanish nicknames, but fortunately there's two pages of references for them. Book is about author's efforts to discover his roots during multiple visits to El Salvador. It's highly emotional. Although he was born in California as the son of Salvadorian immigrants, somehow he feels full of shame. When as a child his parents took him to visit El Salvador, being American made him f This memoir was for me a slow start; the interspersed Spanish lingo I found distracting. Also the many characters with Spanish nicknames, but fortunately there's two pages of references for them. Book is about author's efforts to discover his roots during multiple visits to El Salvador. It's highly emotional. Although he was born in California as the son of Salvadorian immigrants, somehow he feels full of shame. When as a child his parents took him to visit El Salvador, being American made him feel as though he floated above the molten political chaos existing beneath the childhood fun. His father as an airline employee was able to pass stolen goods through customs without checking. Not only that, but his father's sex and social life was mostly a big fat lie. Lovato's memoir features colossal contradictions and torn loyalties everywhere. Murderous gangs and cops; death squads; the terrible consequences of U.S. military and political influences. He's appalled by the slaughter of indigenous peoples as well as citizen toddlers and teens. Thousands of mass graves dot the Salvadorian countryside. Overall, except for the slow start, I found Lovato's plain-spoken and unpretentious writing style appealing. El Salvador an attractive place to visit? Tourist sites advise caution.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    The author is writing about El Salvador and its tragic history but he could be writing about so much of late 20th and early 21st Century migration to the US, law enforcement, terrifying "labeling" of indigenous peoples, military might, American imperialism and interference in other countries. Lovato, the son of Salvadoran immigrants, has spent a lifetime trying to understand his parents, especially his silent father, and their stories. This book wanders through both his life and 20th Century Sal The author is writing about El Salvador and its tragic history but he could be writing about so much of late 20th and early 21st Century migration to the US, law enforcement, terrifying "labeling" of indigenous peoples, military might, American imperialism and interference in other countries. Lovato, the son of Salvadoran immigrants, has spent a lifetime trying to understand his parents, especially his silent father, and their stories. This book wanders through both his life and 20th Century Salvadoran history. We mainly read about El Salvador in this country in the context of gangs of Salvadoran youth. This book greatly expands the context in trying to understand the meaning of these gangs.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Julia Kardon

    Roberto Lovato masterfully weaves a story that spans his and his father's generation, about El Salvador, about the United States, about corruption--about a militarized police force, and what communities do to survive. It was incredible to read this shortly after tanks rolled through Washington DC and proved that the US is growing ever more fascist, treating citizens like insurgents, just as they have throughout the world. This books also serves a reminder that Obama presided over some of the mos Roberto Lovato masterfully weaves a story that spans his and his father's generation, about El Salvador, about the United States, about corruption--about a militarized police force, and what communities do to survive. It was incredible to read this shortly after tanks rolled through Washington DC and proved that the US is growing ever more fascist, treating citizens like insurgents, just as they have throughout the world. This books also serves a reminder that Obama presided over some of the most horrific child separations and border policing in US history. But this book is also a tender account of a family history, with quite a few surprises in it. Should be required reading for any American.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Alma

    From his father’s past to his own present, Lovato takes readers on a behind-the-scenes look at the history of violence in El Salvador, the rebels that tried to overthrow the government, the U.S. involvement in the country’s affairs, and what being a member of a gang means in both El Salvador and in Los Angeles. “Unforgetting” is an eye opening, compelling read. Find out more on my blog: https://shouldireaditornot.wordpress.... From his father’s past to his own present, Lovato takes readers on a behind-the-scenes look at the history of violence in El Salvador, the rebels that tried to overthrow the government, the U.S. involvement in the country’s affairs, and what being a member of a gang means in both El Salvador and in Los Angeles. “Unforgetting” is an eye opening, compelling read. Find out more on my blog: https://shouldireaditornot.wordpress....

  30. 4 out of 5

    Beth Winegarner

    Roberto Lovato's memoir is a beautiful, searing analysis of growing up between two nationalities -- Salvadoran and American -- and how USA policies drove the conditions in El Salvador and led to mass killings and gang violence. He treks to El Salvador to see mass graves for himself, and to uncover his own family's connections to these cycles of violence. But he also knits a strong story of love and family, even in the face of silence and generational trauma. Don't miss this book. Roberto Lovato's memoir is a beautiful, searing analysis of growing up between two nationalities -- Salvadoran and American -- and how USA policies drove the conditions in El Salvador and led to mass killings and gang violence. He treks to El Salvador to see mass graves for himself, and to uncover his own family's connections to these cycles of violence. But he also knits a strong story of love and family, even in the face of silence and generational trauma. Don't miss this book.

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