Seminar Guest

Central America

The small country of El Salvador has played a big role in the life of Professor Jim Winship from the UW-Whitewater Department of Social Work. As a  young man fresh out of college, Dr. Winship dwelled in El Salvador as a Peace Corps volunteer.  He continues to return regularly, currently researching the youth of El Salvador, looking at the drawings they produce, the dreams they hold, and the effects of immigration. One recent product of  this research, funded in part by a Fulbright grant, is a documentary entitled “Difficult Dreams: Coming of Age in El Salvador.”
Professor Winship is also involved in a new web 2.0 format called digital storytelling. Here are some examples of that genre, including the second story called “From Arnoldo,” which is a reflection on salvadorans and his time in the Peace Corps.

 The legacies of the civil war in El Salvador from the late 1970s to the early 1990s are still visible to Professor Winship in the work that he is carrying out. Those times of trouble were also one of the few times when U.S. citizens paid attention to the country, one of the smallest in the Western Hemisphere. There are still resources available about the country and the period of war, such as this Web page by the Public Broadcasting System.

Prize-winning author Sonia Nazario visited UW-Whitewater on Nov. 28 and spoke to a brimming Young Auditorium audience about the power of determination. This human quality is most powerfully demonstrated in immigrants. She found that determination in the story of her own family’s odysseys between Argentina, Wisconsin, and Kansas. That inherited determination helped Ms. Nazario succeed as a journalist as well.

However, Ms. Nazario was to realize this determination is puny in comparison to the drive she found among young Central Americans pulled by a desire to re-unite with mothers who immigrated before them to the U.S.  The valuable contribution that Ms. Nazario’s celebrated book Enrique’s Journey makes to our roiling debate over immigration is to humanize through one family’s story that flow of abandoned children to the U.S., a stream of as much as 48,000 per year and still growing even as overall immigration has declined.

Beyond the task of putting flesh and blood on the statistics, Nazario was also willing to add her own conclusions to the immigration debate. She is critical of the efforts of the U.S. to stanch the flow of immigration, both in terms of the harm it does to humans and its futility. “When we build 700 miles of fence, honestly, we do not understand this kind of determination,” she said.

Nazario also believes that mothers make a mistake, especially in the eyes of their own children, when they decide to leave their country and children to attempt to relieve economic misery with work in the U.S. She believes the best solution is to put resources and policy decisions toward the goal of improving those conditions in the home country. Money for border fences here, for example, would be more effective if spent in micro-loan programs in countries like Honduras that allow women there the minimal amount of security and nutrition needed to persuade them to stay put.

Portrait of Adelita

Portrait of Adelita

Professor Pilar Melero admits that it is partly her family roots in Durango state that feed her interest in the Mexican Revolution. Historians call that northern zone of Mexico “the cradle of the revolution” because of the leaders, battles, and ideas that nurtured the upheaval that erupted in 1910. Dr. Melero spent most of her childhood in Durango before immigrating to the U.S. Her research into the literature of the revolution focuses on women. In fact, her own family contains women revolutionaries. This was like a revelation. As celebrated as the revolution is, why have so many women been forgotten?

The fact is that there is a certain type of woman in the revolution that has been mythologized – a pretty, agreeable complement to the men. The image of “Adelita” comes immediately to mind, because she is celebrated in a famous ballad (or corrido). The work of Dr. Melero aims at bringing more of the women who fought and led attacks, and were perhaps not pretty and subservient, into the image of all those who participated in this movement.