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In Salvadoran Imaginaries, Cecilia Rivas analyzes in great detail the ‘Departamento 15,’ a section of La Prensa Gráfica, a Salvadoran daily newspaper that “constructs Salvadorans as model transnational citizens in the global division of labor” (21). An advertisement for ‘Departamento 15’ published in 2000 opens with a large-type statement that “our country doesn’t end at the border.” The advertisement invites Salvadorans who still live in the country to appreciate those who emigrated for “their successes, their achievements and the entrepreneurial initiatives that the cultural exchange has created” (Rivas 33). The advertisement fails to mention that the ‘cultural exchange’ which, according to the newspaper, has created these feats of entrepreneurialism is both uneven and exploitative. The equality that the term ‘exchange’ presupposes is absent from the relationship between the United States (the recipient of the largest share of Salvadoran migrants) and El Salvador, in which the larger and the richer country exports the economic practices that produce immense levels of inequality in the countries of Central America and, in return, absorbs the easily exploitable labor force that is excluded from productive life at home by precisely these economic policies. The ad does not ask what prevents many Salvadorans from being successful and capable of undertaking entrepreneurial initiatives at home. Instead, the neoliberal vocabulary of entrepreneurialism and achievement masks the reality of many Salvadoran immigrants to the US who experience marginalization and poverty in the receiving country.

The language of the ads in ‘Departamento 15’ is curiously similar to that of capital holders who make extraordinarily large amounts of money by exploiting the transformation of tens of millions of people worldwide into economic migrants. For instance, Michael Kent, the founder of multi-billion companies Small World Financial Services Group and Azimo that facilitate off-line and online money transfers, uses similar vocabulary to present emigration as a sign that one is a higher-quality human being: “The thing that people often forget is that people who migrate are the brightest and best of their generation. It takes guts and determination to leave family and friends for what can be a tough and sometimes hostile new environment. Migrants are very entrepreneurial” (Mavadiya n. pag.). Kent has made a fortune by creating one of the largest remittance-processing companies in the world, and his enthusiasm for large-scale migration is hardly surprising. As it affirms the idea of a ‘borderless nation’, the advertisement belies its message of borderless inclusion through the vocabulary it uses: “The use of the pronouns ‘their’ (‘their accomplishments’) and ‘our’ (‘our people abroad’) construct semantic borders—in this case, emigrants are outside, and not only literally. They are not among the imagined audience for this advertisement” (Rivas 33-4).

The paradox of the ad lies in its suggestion that a model Salvadoran is the one who left the country and no longer is part of ‘us,’ insinuating that the newspaper’s readers are deficient by virtue of not having yet joined the ranks of the high-achieving, entrepreneurial émigrés. In its avoidance of any mention of the objective conditions that force many people to leave the country, the ad mimics the neoliberal vision of migration as an expression of an unmediated individual choice that entrepreneurs of self pursue in order to maximize their opportunities. In the receiving countries, there is very little interest as to what drives Central Americans to “choose” migration and the majority of political battles around migration is fought over the legal status that is to be assigned to the human capital extracted from the region.

by virtue of being undocumented, lacking the cultural and linguistic competence needed to feel at ease in the new country, and living in isolation from the support networks they could rely upon in their countries of origin, migrant workers represent an easily exploitable pool of laborers. White-collar immigrants who do not have to live in constant fear of deportation and who enjoy a variety of educational and professional advantages still experience a plethora of traumatic effects that ensure their greater compliance and exploitability in the workplace.[1] At the same time, the political and economic elites of the countries that provide migrant labor to more developed and secure economies greatly benefit from ensuring that migratory flows never cease growing


[1] Castellanos Moya’s Moronga, which is analyzed later in this chapter, demonstrates the differences and the similarities between the immigrant experiences of a college professor and a part-time blue-collar worker who, in spite of the disparities in their economic status and educational background, find themselves similarly alienated and confused by the reality of living in the US.

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