Race to the Future: Emerging Civic Identities of Salvadoran Youth

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 08:50
Oral Presentation
Nelsy GUTIERREZ, McGill University, Canada
El Salvador experiences fourteen gang-related murders each day (World Bank Report, 2011). The looming presence of gangs is the daily smog that suffocates Central America’s smallest nation. Like the mythological Hydra, gangs have been gifted with eternal reproduction—more members keep appearing as more members are imprisoned (Arana, 2005). What is it like to enter adolescence in El Salvador? Political and police forces have declared war against gangs, turning the gang member profile into one that targets all those who fit the age and socioeconomic background deemed threatening, applying Achille Mbembe’s (2003) necropolitics to dictate the fate of young Salvadoran bodies. Who lives, who dies, and who reaps the benefits of security (Seelke, 2011)? Using Paulo Freire’s (1968) Participatory Action Research and the Interagency Working Group’s theory on Youth Positive Development, I have designed a mentorship program grounded in long-term commitment and civic visibility to encourage Salvadoran youth to pursue their fight against symbolic and structural forms of violence by exploring post-high school opportunities—acknowledging their right to imagine a future. In spite of the discriminative profiling surrounding potential gang members, young people’s abilities, dreams, and skills are necessary assets to Salvadoran society. This program actively challenges the violent necropolitics of both governmental institutions and gangs towards Salvadoran youth. The program design explores how educational institutions have failed their future generations by neglecting long-term mentoring that teaches civic visibility and validation, areas that gangs excel at when courting potential members (Hernández, 2015). Shaped by existing local youth development programs, and narratives of students recruited or courted by gangs, the project fosters community action under the belief that Salvadoran youth are currently, and constantly, pushing back against their violent environment, and it is every Salvadoran’s civic duty to provide aid throughout their struggle.