Authors Roberto Lovato and Mike Davis discuss violence, migration, and the possibility of revolution, in celebration of the release of Lovato’s gripping new memoir Unforgetting.
Unforgetting: A Memoir of Family, Migration, Gangs, and Revolution in the Americas is 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.
Roberto Lovato is a journalist and a member of The Writers Grotto. He is one of the country’s leading writers and thinkers on Central American gangs, refugees, violence and other issues. 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. He is also recipient of a reporting grant from the Pulitzer Center and a former fellow at U.C. Berkeley’s Latinx Research Center. His essays and reporting have appeared in numerous publications including Guernica, Boston Globe, Foreign Policy, Guardian, Los Angeles Times, Der Spiegel, La Opinion, and other national and international publications. He lives in San Francisco.
Mike Davis is the author of City of Quartz, Late Victorian Holocausts, Buda’s Wagon, and Planet of Slums. He is the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship and the Lannan Literary Award. He lives in San Diego.