‘Unforgetting’: A Story of Two Countries Inextricably Bound
In his memoir, Roberto Lovato delves into El Salvador's harsh past and his own California upbringing.
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The child of Salvadoran immigrants, Roberto Lovato grew up in 1970s and 80s San Francisco as MS-13 and other notorious Salvadoran gangs were forming in California. His personal life experience led him to become a journalist and today he is considered one of the country’s leading writers and thinkers on Central American gangs, refugees, violence and other issues.
In 2020 he published ‘Unforgetting: A Memoir of Family, Migration, Gangs, and Revolution in the Americas’ (Harper Collins) in which he excavates family history and reveals the intimate stories beneath headlines about gang violence and mass Central American migration.
Lobato’s life wasn’t easy. In his teens, he lost friends to the escalating violence, and survived acts of brutality himself. He eventually traded the violence of the streets for human rights advocacy in wartime El Salvador where he joined the guerilla movement against the U.S.-backed, fascist military government responsible for some of the most barbaric massacres and crimes against humanity in recent history.
Roberto returned from war-torn El Salvador to find the United States on the verge of unprecedented crises of its own. There, he channeled his own pain into activism and journalism, focusing his attention on how trauma affects individual lives and societies, and began the difficult journey of confronting the roots of his own trauma. As a child, Roberto endured a tumultuous relationship with his father Ramón. Raised in extreme poverty in the countryside of El Salvador during one of the most violent periods of its history, Ramón learned to survive by straddling intersecting underworlds of family secrets, traumatic silences, and dealing in black-market goods and guns. The repression of the violence in his life took its toll, however. Ramón was plagued with silences and fits of anger that had a profound impact on his youngest son, and which Roberto attributes as a source of constant reckoning with the violence and rebellion in his own life.
In ‘Unforgetting’, Roberto interweaves his father’s complicated history and his own with first-hand reportage on gang life, state violence, and the heart of the immigration crisis in both El Salvador and the United States. In doing so he makes the political personal, revealing the cyclical ways violence operates in our homes and our societies, as well as the ways hope and tenderness can rise up out of the darkness if we are courageous enough to unforget.
Lovato is also a co-founder of #DignidadLiteraria, the national movement formed to combat the invisibility and silencing of Latinx stories and books in the U.S. publishing industry.
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