Reimagining Categories

Currently, the only thing that keeps Salvadoran economy viable is the money that is sent back by émigrés in the form of remittances (Wade, “Civil War” 395, 408). As Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano famously said in 1971, “Latin America is the region of open veins. Everything, from the discovery until our times, has always been transmuted into European—or later United States—capital, and as such has accumulated in distant centers of power” (20). The veins of Latin America are still open, and the resource that is being extracted from countries such as El Salvador is their biggest treasure: the people or, to use a neoliberal term that perfectly reflects the way in which human beings participate in the neoliberal economy, human capital. El Salvador pays for this form of postcolonial resource extraction with a dysfunctional economy, extraordinarily high crime rates, and crushing inequality. In the meanwhile, large parts of US academia are dedicated to fashioning a justification for this dispossession as they celebrate border crossing, transnationalism, and the weakening of the nation-state by globalization.

The poorly understood concept of ‘borderlands’ has given rise to an entire sub-genre of academic writing that treats any phenomenon which undermines the nation-state model as an unalloyed good. While it is undeniably true that “the permeability of these Borderland spaces opens up possibilities for reimagining our categories and creating new paradigms” (Decker and Winchock 12), the enthusiasm that scholars naturally feel towards an exploration of new paradigms often distracts us from the suffering caused by the collapse of familiar categories to those who lack the economic and educational capital needed to enjoy the process of reimagining categories and rethinking paradigms.

Another crucial issue is that the paradigms that emerge in the ‘borderland’ spaces tend to co-exist quite comfortably with the goals of neoliberal profit accumulation. In El Salvador, the transformation of the country into a borderland nation with a remittance economy has assisted the post-war administrations—be they ARENA or FMLN—in obscuring from view some of the more egregious measures of neoliberal austerity:

“The large presence of remittances has allowed the government to pursue policies that would have otherwise been met with widespread resistance. The urban working class and rural poor, the sectors that have been hit hardest by neoliberal policies, comprise the majority of the recipients of remittances. Thus, cuts in social spending, unemployment, and inflation have been partially ameliorated by the influx of remittances” (Wade, “Contradictions” 25).

As the dismantlement of the already weak welfare system continues, the country’s government will need a growing flow of remittances to mask its abandonment of its role as a guarantor of the citizens’ basic well-being and safety. It will—if not necessarily encourage—then at the very least not actively oppose the intensification of the conditions that make it imperative for an ever-growing number of Salvadorans to abandon the country and enter what often equals serf-like conditions of working abroad in order to buttress the country’s failing economy.

9 thoughts on “Reimagining Categories”

  1. Wanted to thank you for the wonderful post which helps to rise above the current events by providing general analysis of where we are going. Is it from your edited volume? Would love to read your entire chapter and/or introduction.


  2. Clarissa, this is a very interesting read and I will definitely buy your book when it comes out.

    I have always been of the mind that Europe and US siphoning off the brightest minds of those countries are setting them back tremendously by denying them the human capital they need to get out of poverty. This seems like something you address here.


    1. Thank you!

      I’ve found some really fascinating stuff in my research as to how this process is encouraged, who’s behind it, etc. It’s all going to be in the book.


    2. It can go the other way too. Even the poorest countries can afford to pay expat engineers or teachers high salaries if they really want to develop.


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