Growing up in the US as a child of Central American immigrants definitely has its challenges. The major one has always been being misidentified as Mexican; though, as a child it really didn’t seem that big of a deal. Once I got older though I was able to clearly see that the misidentification usually wasn’t just an innocent mistake but rather ignorance deeply rooted in a culture of Central American erasure.
I’ve lived in a major city for almost my entire life so I’ve pretty much always had access to the food and customs of my countries, but once I moved away for college, I realized that many people do not have the same luxury. In most small towns, it’s hard to find Latinx foods and other cultural items, and when you do, they’re usually Mexican.
Molly Myers, Salvadoreña, shares with me her experiences with erasure: “In my experience, everything gets lumped in with Mexico. Even when I specifically state that my mom is from El Salvador, people will sometimes ask ‘What part of Mexico is that?’
Some people really think that all of Latin America is literally Mexico, which is extremely offensive because it shows how little people actually care about us and our culture.
They believe that our cultures are all the same when they’re actually vastly different in many aspects.”
Monoculturalism refers to one single ethnicity/nationality being prioritized. In the United States, it is very clear that Mexican representation is prioritized over any other Latinx nationality. Much of this erasure is rooted in the categorization “Hispanic”, which allows for the clumping of all Latinx Spanish-speaking people into a single colonialist identification. Most of the time, “Hispanic” is equated to “Mexican”. This can be seen in the way that “Hispanic” representation in the media is very often just Mexican representation.
Gesselye Mejia, Salvadoran and Guatemalan, shares the impact of Central American erasure in the media: “It was always strange growing up seeing Latinx channels like Univision and Telemundo never talk about El Salvador or Guatemala. I’ve always felt as if everyone believed that my people and culture weren’t important enough to even mention, and at some points in my life, it became a burden to continuously have to correct people when they assumed I was Mexican.”
Mexican culture is often celebrated through Chicano studies, museums, scholarships and so on. This is amazing, but it also results in other Latinx people feeling isolated and erased. As a Central American, I have never felt welcomed into “Hispanic” spaces on my campus since they are for the most part Chicanx.
The issue of erasure expands further than just mass media and into our history as well. Many Central American countries have been exploited and attacked by the US government, but that usually isn’t in your US history book. The United States is infamous for its imperialistic tactics, many of which have been imposed on Central American countries. In 1952, the United States CIA coordinated a coup d’état against the Guatemalan president, Jacobo Árbenz, a socialism-leaning, democratically-elected president. Árbenz’s platform was based on confiscating land owned by large corporations and redistributing it to the rest of the population. One of these corporations was the United Fruit Company, a US owned company. This coup led to the imposition of a right-wing government causing a civil war that eventually led to a genocide of the indigenous people of Guatemala.
This constant erasure in both the media and in history creates a sense of identity loss for many Central Americans. The key to stopping our erasure is resisting complacency, and with resistance comes the reclamation of our existence. We belong as much as any other group; our history and culture are important, and we must never let anyone forget that. It’s important to also work on creating our own spaces, because we must completely refuse to be erased.