Representations of Central Americans in CISPES-sponsored Texts during the Central American peace and solidarity movement
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This study examines the representations of Salvadorans and other Central Americans in film, visual, and written texts used by the Dallas chapter of CISPES during the eighties. Drawing from Susan Sontag’s scholarship on the ideological workings of war photography and Elizabeth Barnes’s work on sentimental literature, I show that pamphlets created and distributed by CISPES relied on over-saturated images and written descriptions of state-sanctioned physical violence inflicted on Central Americans in order to generate sympathy for the other. While the representations of Central Americans in CISPES pamphlets as feminized and docile subjects were strategic in showing the oppressive conditions that the U.S. helped fund, these images also overlooked the fact that Central Americans played essential roles in their fight against their countries repressions and U.S. foreign policies. As such, I turn to a medium where Salvadorans had the opportunity to speak out about their own experiences during the U.S.-backed civil war. I analyze the Dutch documentary film El Salvador: Revolution or Death? (1980) and argue that individuals showed their subjectivities and agency even when introduced as victims of state-sanctioned violence. This documentary did not solely rely on over-saturated images of violence on the Central American other—it provided peasants with an international platform to represent themselves, albeit still through a mediated form. In-between harrowing scenes showcasing dead and brutalized bodies were also instances where Salvadorans challenged assumptions of their political ineptness and reminded U.S. residents of their own prominence within the Central American solidarity movement.