Unsettled remains: race, trauma, and nationalism in millennial El Salvador

Access full-text files




Peterson, Brandt Gustav

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



This dissertation explores the sudden and unexpected emergence of indigenous activism in El Salvador following the 1992 peace agreement that ended 12 years of civil war. Salvadorans have long seen theirs as the most thoroughly mestizo or mixed-race country in Central America, an imaginary unity forged through a history of state violence. They have regarded Indians as a vanished part of the past, and the appearance of more than a dozen indigenous rights groups in a few short years has produced significant cultural and political frictions. The rise of Salvadoran indigenous identity politics is analyzed in relation to wider processes of governmental and economic transformation, with a close focus on the particular conditions in which the Indian in El Salvador has been produced as an absence, or a subject of loss. Rather than ask whether there are “authentic” Indians in El Salvador, this essay addresses what is felt as lost in national discourses of the vanished Indian, and by whom. This ethnography shows that while many of the people indigenous activists regard as Indians today reject indigenous identity, they also experience forms of oppression that cannot be fully addressed without recourse to concepts of race and racism. The Salvadoran case points to new possibilities for an antiracist politics that challenges the limits imposed by prevailing models of multiculturalism, at the same time it highlights the risks those models pose to historically marginalized peoples. Drawing on theoretical innovations from feminist, postcolonial, and psychoanalytic cultural theory, this work contributes to the ethnography of Central America as well as theories of nationalism, race, and identity politics.