“What is Unforgetting—a coming of age story, a thriller, a slice of hemispheric history? All I can say for sure is that it’s both gripping and beautiful. With the artistry of a poet and the intensity of a revolutionary, Lovato untangles the tightly knit skein of love and terror that connects El Salvador and the United States. This book is an eye-opener into a world Anglo-Americans have been taught is enemy territory.”
— Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Natural Causes and Nickel and Dimed
An urgent, no-holds-barred tale of gang life, guerrilla warfare, intergenerational trauma, and interconnected violence between the United States and El Salvador, Roberto Lovato’s memoir excavates family history and reveals the intimate stories beneath headlines about gang violence and mass Central American migration, one of the most important, yet least-understood humanitarian crises of our time—and one in which the perspectives of Central Americans in the United States have been silenced and forgotten.
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. 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.
Providing a powerful counternarrative directly ahead of the Fall 2020 elections, UNFORGETTING by Roberto Lovato explores the still little-known and very violent world of MS-13 and other gangs, child refugee’s immigration and extreme violence related to Central Americans that are suddenly at the center of the political calculations of President Trump and the Republican party.
Praise for UNFORGETTING
“There has never been a book about the Latinx experience quite like Roberto Lovato’s Unforgetting. Here is a voice that is outraged, philosophical, thoughtful, blunt, emotional, and, above all, fiercely independent. In this illuminating and insightful memoir, Lovato journeys into the underworlds of the fraught history of El Salvador, and his own California upbringing, and finds injustice, resistance, and hope.”
— Héctor Tobar, author of Deep Down Dark and The Tattooed Soldier
“Journalist and activist Lovato delivers a memorable indictment of the civil war in Central America that drove a wave of migration to the U.S.—and spawned gang warfare in the new country…A provocative, revealing work of journalism that explains gang behavior but does not idealize it.”
— Kirkus Reviews
“For generations, from McKinley to Trump, the United States has cast a shadow of exploitation and counter-revolution over Central America. In this stunning tale of love and horror, the journalist Roberto Lovato recounts how his own family history, from the indentured Salvadoran countryside to the burning streets of Los Angeles, has been shaped by resistance to yanqui violence.”
— Mike Davis, author of City of Quartz and Set the Night on Fire: L.A. in the Sixties
“Mainstream media and U.S. political discourse have perpetuated a single message about Salvadoran men: they are irredeemably violent criminals. Such simplistic portrayals not only uphold the myth of U.S. innocence, but also deny Salvadorans’ complex moves to resist and battle injustice. In Unforgetting, Roberto Lovato dives with eyes wide open into his family history, taking readers through a painful labyrinth of violence that lays bare the profound multigenerational consequences—individual and collective—of state terror. The memoir’s complicated truths that shine through in moments of trauma, sorrow, strength, and tenderness provide glimpses into more authentic versions of Salvadoran masculinities. In a moment when Salvadorans are still fleeing their country only to be separated from their children and caged in U.S. detention centers, we cannot afford to ignore the critical lessons in Unforgetting.”
— Leisy J. Abrego, award-winning author of Sacrificing Families and Chair of UCLA’s Department of the Cesar E. Chavez Department of Chicana, Chicano and Central American Studies
“Veteran journalist and co-founder of #DignidadLiteraria writes a combination of memoir and reportage, exploring his upbringing in California and connecting the threads of his experience with the ongoing American project of destabilization and depredation in El Salvador and elsewhere in Latin America.”
— A “Most Anticipated” 2020 title in The Millions magazine
“Salvadorans are ‘a people in the constant motion of overcoming,’ Roberto Lovato writes in his pivotal debut Unforgetting. In it, he runs a machete through himself and his family’s history—the 1932 Matanza, the 1980s civil war, and our present-day struggles with gang-violence and migration. With raw honesty, Lovato partakes in a much-needed excavation of what it means to be ‘Salvadoran’—and ‘American’—in this world. Unforgetting is an opening, a tear in the cloth, we Salvadorans must speak through.”
— Javier Zamora, author of Unaccompanied