From Threatening Guerrillas to Forever Illegals: US Central Americans and the Cultural Politics of Non-Belonging

From Threatening Guerrillas to Forever Illegals Cover
Primary Author: 
Padilla, Yajaira M.
Binding Type: 
Publication Date: 
Tuesday, June 21, 2022
List price: $29.95

The experience of Central Americans in the United States is marked by a vicious contradiction. In entertainment and information media, Salvadorans, Guatemalans, Nicaraguans, and Hondurans are hypervisible as threatening guerrillas, MS-13 gangsters, maids, and “forever illegals.” Central Americans are unseen within the broader conception of Latinx community, foreclosing avenues to recognition.

Yajaira M. Padilla explores how this regime of visibility and invisibility emerged over the past forty years—bookended by the right-wing presidencies of Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump—and how Central American immigrants and subsequent generations have contested their rhetorical disfiguration. Drawing from popular films and TV, news reporting, and social media, Padilla shows how Central Americans in the United States have been constituted as belonging nowhere, imagined as permanent refugees outside the boundaries of even minority representation. Yet in documentaries about cross-border transit through Mexico, street murals, and other media, US Central Americans have counteracted their exclusion in ways that defy dominant paradigms of citizenship and integration.