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Unforgetting: A Memoir of Family, Migration, Gangs, and the Revolution in the Americas

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A timely and no-holds-barred tale of gang life, guerilla warfare, immigration, and intergenerational trauma, Robert Lovato’s memoir and cultural critique reflects on his multifaceted life and examines many of the self-serving myths underlying modern American culture.

The child of Salvadoran immigrants, Roberto Lovato grew up in 1970s California. Joining a gang in his teens, he witnessed a friend take a bullet to the face in a coke deal gone bad and survived his own shooting. He eventually traded the violence of the streets for wartime El Salvador where he joined the guerilla movement against its corrupt, fraudulent military government. 

As a child. Roberto endured beatings and humiliations driven by his father Ramón’s anger—a rage rooted in his own childhood in El Salvador. Raised in extreme poverty in the countryside during the time of La Matanza—in which tens of thousands of indigenous peoples were killed in the span of a few months—young Ramón also spent time in a brothel and as the leader of a small band of thieves on the streets of San Salvador. Roberto looks back to the pain of his father’s youth and examines both how he survived a life straddling intersecting underworlds of family secrets, traumatic silence, and criminal black-market goods and guns, and how these forces impacted his father’s life and subsequently Roberto’s own.

Returning from El Salvador, Roberto channeled his own pain into activism and journalism, focusing his attention on how intergenerational trauma affects individual lives and societies. In Becoming Américan, he makes the political personal, interweaving his story and that of his father with wider social issues, including gang life—notably that of MS-13—and the immigration crisis, to reveal the profound ties between El Salvador and the United States that have fueled the rise of both of these issues.

325 pages, Hardcover

First published September 1, 2020

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About the author

Roberto Lovato

2 books44 followers
Roberto Lovato is an educator, journalist and writer based at The Writers Grotto in San Francisco, California. He is he author of Unforgetting: A Memoir of Family, Migration, Gangs and Revolution in the Americas (Harper Collins). Lovato is also a Co-Founder of #DignidadLiteraria, the movement advocating for equity and literary justice for the more than 60 million Latinx persons left off of bookshelves of the United States & out of the national dialogue. A recipient of a reporting grant from the Pulitzer Center, Lovato has reported on war, violence, terrorism in Mexico, Venezuela, El Salvador, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Paris and the United States. He has also reported on immigration, race and Latino politics in the United States. Until 2015, Lovato was a fellow at U.C. Berkeley’s Latinx Research Center and recently finished a teaching stint at UCLA. His essays and reports from around the world have appeared in numerous publications including Guernica Magazine, the Boston Globe, Foreign Policy magazine, the Guardian, the Los Angeles Times, Der Spiegel, La Opinion, and other national and international publications.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 96 reviews
Profile Image for Sharon Orlopp.
Author 1 book529 followers
February 18, 2023
Roberto Lovato's memoir, Unforgetting: A Memoir of Family, Migration, Gangs, and the Revolution in the Americas, is a powerful story of his childhood in El Salvador with gangs and violence.

He uses the reference and analogy of a machete throughout the book with passages such as,
"The machete of memory can cut swiftly or slowly," and "We're all dismembered by the ultimate machete of memory: borders."

Lovato recounts acts of violence in the US and in El Salvador: August 3, 2019 El Paso Walmart mass shooting to "prevent the Hispanic invasion of Texas," the killing of 80,000 El Salvadorans when President Regan drew a line in the sand and condemned the FMLN, and the mass graves in Texas during the migration wave in 2014.

Some of the powerful passages in the book include:

* Violence moves in spirals as the innocent choose between becoming the violent or the violated

* Terror and tenderness that alter destinies

* Double helix of death

* Reductions of crime at the expense of a continued disrespect for life

This book is not for the faint of heart.

Profile Image for Shawna Alpdemir.
219 reviews7 followers
September 7, 2020
One of the best books I've read this year. Lovato weaves together his story, his father's story, his father's father's story, and of course, the stories of the women who loved them, seamlessly into this novel that is part memoir, part history lesson, and part social criticism. There are several important messages - about generational trauma, American imperialism, and so much more - that are very relevant given today's climate. I speak no Spanish and I've never been to El Salvador. I went into this book with no understanding or inclination of what I was about to read. As the daughter of immigrants who has felt the tug between the country I was born in and the countries of my parents, though, I could understand so much of Lovato's inner struggle. As an International Relations student and lover of all cultures and travel, this book took me on a journey from my home in California to El Salvador and back in the midst of a pandemic. There are a lot of heavy topics covered, so I hesitate to call the book an escape, but it was an adventure. I almost guarantee you will walk away with new knowledge or perspective. Highly recommend. Give it a try.
Profile Image for Lupita Reads.
106 reviews168 followers
October 10, 2020
UNFORGETTING: A memoir of family migration, gangs, and revolution in the Americas by Roberto Lovato is probably one of the most in-depth & ground shaking memoirs I have read in a while. Lovato peels through the history of El Salvador, the country from which his parents are from, exposing how the roots of that history have dug deep within his family. How that history contributes to their family dynamics all while meticulous detailing how his country of birth, U.S.A, has contributed to that history. As a journalist, Lovato does not withhold any details of the systemic violence in El Salvador and provides a deeply full & often disturbing depiction of it. The way he writes about the dual cultures he belongs to and loves is not only admirable it will be healing for anyone to read that lives in that in-betweenness.

There’s so much this book left me with & that I want to praise. What I mainly connected with was Lovato’s ability to connect with his history & how it’s molded his upbringing, the ways it’s hurt his family, and the trauma it’s built that he tackles through in this book. It’s a reminder that genetics can’t tell us about the stories and trauma passed down from generations. Lovato’s memoir to me is an opening for Latinx readers to seek out more knowledge of the countries our parents once called home. Having that knowledge might create the ability to break through cycles of trauma.
Profile Image for Mikey B..
1,007 reviews373 followers
May 20, 2022
I found this book very disjointed, with 29 chapters bouncing back and forth in time – from the 1930s to the present day. I much prefer a chronological sequence. There was also a lot of reconstructed dialogue with many characters.

I suppose I was expecting a journalistic work with a logical historical background. It just seemed like snippets of scenes and conversations that had little cohesion. It gave a superficial aspect to the writing. I was getting no sense of time and place in this book.
93 reviews1 follower
January 2, 2021
I was a little thrown off by the opening anecdote about Lovato's father coming at him with a machete in the first chapter (his father was suffering from dementia at that point), but after finishing the book it struck me as a brilliant way to open a memoir that eventually stitches together -- re-members -- pieces of his own life, and describes how he eventually comes to understand his father's personal history and its connection to traumatic historical events.

My own recollection of the book is already a bit choppy. But a few things :

* I finally learned that many words I've learned in course of my own travels through Central America (althought I never made it to Salvador) actually came from Calo - a once secret insider lingo first developed by the Roma people. ("orale" "vato" etc.)

* The "Mara" in "Mara Salvatrucha" (MS-13) -- the infamous gang -- originally had nothing to do with gangs. It actually came from "marabuntas," a fictitious species of flesh-eating army ants that director Byron Haskin invented for "The Naked Jungle," a movie starring Charlton Heston.

In the 1970s and 80s, a small clique of heavy metal listening Salvadoran youth in the Pico Union Westlake district of L.A. started calling themselves "maras." When they started using machetes to defend themselves against other gun-wielding gangs (Crips, Bloods, Mexican Mafia) the media that -- as the gang itself became more violent -- gained its own sinister infamy.

The way Lovato bounces around (chapter-by-chapter) between differtent places and times in his life (along with a few historical interludes) kind of makes the point that history often has to be pieced together to make a coherent whole. Memories -- personal and historical -- are so often hacked up (macheted) into so many seemingly separate pieces that its obscures the connections and throughlines, making it so difficult to amend or heal.

What connects La Matanza (the infamous 1930 massacre) to El Mozote (the 1980 massacre under the dictatorship of General Martinez) -- and the current FMLN's cover-ups and enabling of modern death quads (the opposite of the FMLN of the 1980s and 1990s, when so many men and women died in the fight against the death squads and fascist dictatorship that deployed them) is a cycle of violence: "Forgetting begets forgetting begets ongoing mass murder."

It is a matter of choice and law (a legacy of colonial genocide?) and not some inevitable result of national character. "Unforgetting" is an early step in trying to breatk the cycle.

Which will not be easy. It was shocking to learn how FMLN government officials and gangleaders perpetuate the cycle, living "in a garden of immunity" thanks to a 1993 amnesty law originally intended to protect right-wing ARENA Party members who had committed atrocities during the civil war. And as Lovato points out -- that erasure of responsibility for crimes against humanity goes back to La Matanza: In 1932 General Martinez signed his own law granting "unconditional amnesty to those functionaries, authorities, employees and agents of the state and any other civilian or military person that appears esponsible for infractions of the law."

In a country that literally buries its own history in mass graves, forensic anthropologists may be among the country's most important historians.

Journalists like Lovato, too, are critical to the process "unforgetting" (re-membering). If the profession weren't an act of resistance and courage then why are so many journalists assassinated every year?

Otra cosas:

* We have our own historical forgetting that is also connected to violence, including America's role in training Salvadoran death squads. And the blowback that has occurred when the military not only offloads its surplus weaponry on local police departments, but brings its failed theories of counter-insurgency home, applying them to the poor and especially immigrants. (For the full treatment see Stuart Schrader's "Badges Without Borders: How Global Counterinsurgency Transformed American Policing" and Radley Balko's "Rise of the Warrior Cop"). I don't think I knew until Lovato pointed it out that after the 1992 L.A. Riots precipitated by the police assault on Rodney King, Bill Barr (Iran-Contra Bush's attorney general) was instrumental in the shifting treatment of gangs as inner city insurgencies in need of a more militarized response. Is it an accident of history that the protests against police brutality erupted into a full-blown movement while Barr was once again AG for a white supremacist-backed mobster president?
140 reviews1 follower
September 11, 2020
The Saving of a People

Just a few days ago I read a two-part interview of Roberto Lovato by Amy Goodman via Democracy Now - one the most trustworthy news online outlets from the US and thought immediately of one of my old middle school students in Australia from 30+ years ago who had married someone born in California of exiled El Salvador background - I had been told something of gangs and displacement - worse than most immigrant or refugee exile experiences with which I am in some ways familiar. This book is a chronicle and is both sad and uplifting - from a growing understanding of being somehow broken - the author tracks aspects of his own life and that of his parents and before them, the treatment of the first peoples of El Salvador, of the children born out-of-wedlock to the country’s landed first families - the land theft and massacres - the involvement by the US in training and supervising those doing the massacring - and worst of all the criminalising upon entry into the US of those fleeing the death and violence aided and supervised - and the ugliness of the present US Attorney-General BARR in militarising police forces... the telling shifts across periods of time back-and-forth over almost a century - reflecting the manner in which the author was coming to understand events, going back in the light of more and more recent knowledge to reinterpret. It is masterful. In Australia - we see similar ugly things happening - a Homeland Affairs Minister demonising particular more recently arrived immigrants groups - locking up asylum-seekers -and children - seemingly without censure from his political buddies - and from the so-called opposition - apart from point-scoring in parliamentary debate - it’s all a game, apparently - and these things include torture, murder, and suicide. It is happening! This is a powerful snd moving testament of how one man put back together all the fragments and redeemed a national reputation. Bravísimo, Roberto! Bravísimo. Éste libro es muy, muy importante! Vea!
1 review
September 23, 2020
As a high school kid I would ask my family to take me to bookstores while on summer trips to El Salvador, whether it was La Ceiba or the bookstore at the UCA campus, eager to get my hands on history books on the civil war, 1932, or Monseñor. I wanted to get more of a context for the stories I had heard from my relatives. I found a few along the way, but what I noticed was that most were pretty dry academic texts. The color was missing, I couldn’t see the scenes inside my head. The info was there, yet still slightly out of reach.

Reading “Unforgetting” was another type of experience. Not only do you get a crash course in Salvadoran history in the 20th Century, but you get a social, personal, and familial context for each time period described in the book.

I could see parallels to my own family: broken families, hijos ilegítimos, indigenismo and the erasure of our roots and identity during Martínez, as well as the strength of matriarchs, the resilience of our people to keep moving forward and find stability whether within or outside El Salvador’s borders.

This book is an invitation to meditate on the fact that our lives are impacted by actions and decisions and events that transpired well before our own births, and how by looking back and “unforgetting” them, we can heal, grow, understand ourselves and our loved ones better.
62 reviews2 followers
December 31, 2021
The most disappointing book I’ve read all year. After reading Coffeeland and What You Have Heard is True, I was excited for another great recent book about El Salvador. Instead, I found masturbatory, whiny mess. The first issue to jump out at me was the author’s clumsy and forced use of 90s homeboy street vernacular, which coming from a college educated 40 something NGO worker and journalist from San Francisco, was really grating. Another constant annoyance is the book’s use of disconnected story lines all told in medias res that add nothing to the narrative of the book, only making it harder to maintain interest. However, the greatest issue with this book is it’s attempt to blend memoir and journalism. The author gives equal dramatic weight to his daddy issues and the mass execution of civilians at the hands of death squads. I had to give up on the book 2/3 of the way in when the author, literally standing before the graves of murdered Salvadoran children (!), went into a long diatribe about his problems with his Salvadoran-American identity. Jesus Christ dude, get over yourself.

2 stars because his father’s story was interesting and a good way to tie together the events of the 30s and 80s, though it would have been a lot better if he didn’t break it up into 50 small chapters.
February 22, 2023
This book was slow-paced and reflective (put me to sleep many times) but I learned a lot about the history of El Salvador and Salvadoran Americans in California from the personal story of Roberto Lovato. I recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of the Americas or of El Salvador specifically.
Profile Image for Jeanette.
3,394 reviews584 followers
January 22, 2023
Poorly written. Too many base stories jumping in time and primes. Miserable to follow.

Very worthy subject that deserves a much clearer voice. And a better communication in direct paths for the various witness eyes. Some of the language grates beyond any attempt at authenticity.
Profile Image for Melissa Espiritu.
96 reviews11 followers
December 21, 2020
In order to understand immigration issues in the United States, you have to read this book. This poetic memoir weaves history and biography to give you a whole picture of the factors that impact Salvadoran lives both in El Salvador and in the United States. Sometimes it is hard to read, but these very facts are important to understand the context of the third largest population of Latinx living in the United States.

I have a deep appreciation for this book for personal reasons. I feel so much gratitude toward Roberto Lovato for giving a piece of my Salvadoran history back to me by writing this book.

I often feel so cut off from my family history and there are a lot of gaps in the history I do have. Even the last name that I grew up with was not my family's real last name. My great grandmother changed her indigenous name when she was young. And unfortunately, I will never really know the story of why it was changed. After reading this book and talking to several Salvadoran Bookstagrammers raised outside of El Salvador, I realize that not knowing is a common experience for a lot of us. A big reason for that is that a lot of the history has been purposely suppressed.

Enter the theme of the book which is about how important it is to stop the process of forgetting and to begin unforgetting.

Another important feature of this book is that he equally weaves together the history of El Salvador and the narrative of Salvadorans in the United States because there is a legacy that continues for people even when they move away from the homeland. This narrative is linked. In the case of El Salvador, the policies of both countries and the people in both countries have deeply influenced current events in both places.

In tracing his family history and finding some healing in the writing process, Lovato helped me understand more of my own history and find some healing as I processed this read.

I highly recommend to everyone who is connected to this history, everyone interested in understanding modern immigration issues, and all educators who work within immigrant communities in the US.

Profile Image for Adam.
200 reviews4 followers
January 17, 2021
Well-written and very original memoir by a second generation El Salvadoran, coming to terms with the violence that has shaped his ancestral land, his home country, and his own family, for generations. Lovato takes a non-linear journey through his own life and his father's life, starting with the "la matanza" ethnic cleansing massacres of 1932, through the El Salvadoran civil war of the 80s and 90s, up to the present day. The author himself goes through dramatic and unexpected changes as he slowly reconciles his U.S. upbringing with his El Salvadoran heritage and discovers that "unforgetting" is the best way forward.
Profile Image for Arcelia.
110 reviews1 follower
May 13, 2021
I had a hard time rating this book. While I felt the content was fascinating and made me want to learn more about El Salvador’s history, I felt he was telling too many stories and so it was a bit disjointed. He is basically telling three stories- history on El Salvador, his father’s story, and then his. If he had stuck to one or done it in a more linear fashion, then it would have been easier for me to follow, especially in a digital format where you can’t as easily flip back and forth between pages and chapters. But all in all, I am glad I read it and glad that these stories are being told.
3 reviews
August 5, 2020
I won this book through a giveaway, and I read it because I am personally interested in this subject matter. I also do a lot of research on gangs for work. I was hoping this book could offer me some new insight and perspective into the situation with violence into El Salvador.

I thought this book was well written.
It offered the perspective of a US citizen with immigrant ties and family. I found this to be interesting in terms of figuring out his identity.
The author offered a very raw and real view of the relationship he had with his father. I found this relationship to be an interesting part of the story since the author used his father’s history to understand their relationship.
The book had a lot of data and research woven into it, but it didn’t feel too difficult to read.

I thought the way the book was organized made it somewhat difficult to read. For some reason, it didn’t flow well for me. I think the author did a good job distinguishing between the time periods since there is a lot of back and forth. Yet somehow it was difficult to follow at points because of this.
I felt that some parts of the book needed more context. It seems that the author references a lot of historical events and often times I would have liked more information surrounding the event.
Finally, my biggest criticism of the book is that I felt the author didn’t really answer my questions. I felt that his research of the violence in the country was not really broken down into a clean and precise explanation. This could be because it is a memoir, but I still felt I was left with more questions than answers. Maybe this was the author’s intention.

Overall, I would recommend, specifically if you have an interest in learning more about El Salvador, or if you would like to hear a story of someone who struggles with their identity due to their family’s ties to another country.
Profile Image for Brendan.
135 reviews2 followers
December 6, 2020
Unforgetting provides a witness's perspective of the violent history of El Salvador. Lovato goes back and forth between his own life in El Salvador and the United States and that of his parents, who grew up in El Salvador right before the 1932 "La Matanza" massacre that initiated a cycle of violence between the government, revolutionaries, gangs and revolutionaries-turned-authorities and that continued into America in the form of the notorious MS-13 and other gangs.

The objective of the book is to provide a new perspective beyond that provided by the American media on the gangs and Salvadoran migrants. Lovato's point is that the gangs grew out of broken families and originated as groups who wanted to defend against oppression before evolving into today's well-known violent criminal gangs.

While I sympathized with the plight of those who suffer in this system, there are no real solutions proposed. Worse than that, a major theme of the book is that the UNITED STATES is at fault for, among other things, demagoguing MS-13, cracking down on illegal immigration, and supporting the Salvadoran government's war on gangs. While the USA's actions may not have been effective at preventing the violence, here, too, Lovato doesn't propose what the USA should have done. Apparently, the USA needs to understand the self-inflicted trauma of El Salvador, accept that MS-13 gang members are victims of the trauma of their country's violent history and allow them to run amuck unchecked in the USA. I can accept that the violent history of El Salvador and gang violence in America is more complicated than often presented. But I don't accept that the USA bears great responsibility for failing to solve El Salvador's problem or taking aggressive action designed to prevent Salvadoran violence from embedding itself in America, too.
Profile Image for Esta Montano.
274 reviews4 followers
August 23, 2020
In the late 1990s, I taught a class of Latinx students, most of whom were born in the US to Salvadoran parents who had left war torn El Salvador, either as young adults or teens. My students knew nothing about Salvadoran history; their parents simply did not discuss it. They knew terms like "guerrilla" but had no idea what it meant - to them, all people who fought were "guerrilla".

I decided to teach them Salvadoran history through novels by Salvadoran writers. The experience was eye opening for them, but also traumatic, as they started putting pieces together in terms of their families' behaviors and stories that they had heard. This book brought me back to that time. Lovato tells a poignant narrative of what Salvadorans went through not only in El Salvador, but as Salvadorans in the US. He tells the reader what it is like to live on the border - with a foot in each country, yet without really understanding what this means, just like my students. He underscores the nature of keeping secrets, and how once revealed, can be painful yet freeing. The explanations (and misconceptions) around gangs, namely the "Mara" are compelling and further illustrate how pain can be translated into action, albeit not always for good.

The writing in this book sometimes is too much telling and not enough showing. Nonetheless, it is a powerful read which I highly recommend,.
264 reviews
May 12, 2021
Had this book not come recommended by a good friend, I wouldn't have picked it up, but she has steered me to other excellent books in the past, so I took a chance.

This memoir deals with very serious issues (see the subtitle), but it is personal as well as political, and Lovato is a great storyteller, who put himself very much in harm's way to uncover the story.

The son of immigrants from El Salvador, he knew very little of his family background and in reaction to the secrecy, he got involved in stealing, drugs, and general bad actor stuff in San Francisco, where his family had settled, involved to some extent in their own illegal activities. Unforgetting refers to learning about the things that have been hidden away and the understanding and freedom that comes from that pursuit.

The details of the random massacres of the indios (indigenous) people and anyone suspected of communist leanings in El Salvador are stomach-churning, but it was well worth it to learn far more than I had known about the trials and graces of Salvadorans at home and in the U.S.
Profile Image for Briayna Cuffie.
190 reviews14 followers
October 14, 2020
A personal, raw, and detailed read. An eye-opening learning experience. The Spanglish was a bonus for my ears.

It’s a bit graphic (possibly triggering for some) sometimes, but the details are important. I appreciated the parsing out of his Indigenous heritage, and how they were specifically persecuted. He goes through his life of being in the US, going back to El Salvador, and returning to the US. There are many layers about community, the complexity of livelihoods, why people flee/seek asylum, and how some get caught up.
Profile Image for Jalinne.
29 reviews6 followers
September 5, 2020
Being Salvadoran American (whatever that means) I have never read a book that honors our history quite like this book.

I see so many parallels between Hector’s family and mine. illegitimate children left to fed for themselves, absentee fathers, the resilience of Salvadoran women.

Profile Image for Rosi Reyes.
3 reviews1 follower
October 28, 2020
A personal account of how intergenerational trauma, the politics of civil war and ultimately love bridge the divide between the author and his father.
Profile Image for Ari.
951 reviews41 followers
March 17, 2021
“‘Without realizing it, our own families help create these monsters putting them in our bodies’, she said in her powerful, soft voice. ‘The state helps create this monster in our families and then calls on it when it needs us to destroy ourselves.” (159)

This is a stunning and emotional read about family history, the 20th century history of El Salvador and the history of Salvadorans in the United States. I am so glad I got to read this as part of a Bookstagram buddy read where we unpacked two sections at a time. I appreciated Lovato's creativity in opening the book with his father and then preceding to detail their complicated relationship and the root of that complication. But I also found the time jumps confusing even with each chapter starting with the year. I normally appreciate a nonlinear narrative but I found it distracting here. I think because this was a history I was so unfamiliar with, every time I managed to wrap my head around an aspect of Salvadoran history (such as La Matanza) we were jerked back into Lovato's family history or 2015 (when he made a trip to the border) which made it harder for me to retain information. There were also a few instances where he would mention an incident and fail to provide further detail (such as burying his mother's ashes in El Salvador) but you would be led to believe that the incident would be discussed further. But I really admired and applauded Lovato tracing his familial roots and the history of his country. He grapples movingly with the identity crisis brought about by being American born but not feeling American as the child of immigrants and subsequently wanting to learn more about his Salvadoran heritage. I was particularly moved by his thoughts on being an American but forced to confront the havoc and terror America has wrecked on your homeland, “As a result, the awkward, sometimes awful sense of what it meant to call myself American intensified to the point of bursting the bubble of illusion to give me an insight: that far from protecting me from being half dead, being American actually also had a numbing, painful zombie-like quality about it, because being American meant I belonged to the country that has overtly and covertly supported the governments, militaries, and death squads most responsible for our half death” (187). Like so many other Central Americans I strongly identified with the confusion and frustration that comes from the United States' constant meddling in Central American affairs, often with violence results. I have long felt similarly but been unable to articulate it as eloquently as Lovato does.

Lovato writes searingly of the United States intervention efforts and how their failed immigration policies further harmed El Salvador, “The wave of government anti-immigrant policies that began with California’s Proposition 187 had gone national with these mass deportations of Central American and Mexican immigrants. Ironically, these deportations are what brought these gangs to Central America in the first place.” (250). This will surprise absolutely no one if they've been paying attention to the mess America makes when it inserts itself and its foreign policy interests into other countries, especially countries that aren't majority white. American intrusion often has devastating consequences and we rarely stick around to see or deal with those consequences. So it wasn't shocking to learn the U.S. was the primary culprit of the destruction of El Salvador. Lovato draws a direct connection to the genocide and trauma endured by Salvadorans and the seemingly endless cycle of war, militarization and gang violence El Salvador currently endures. Lovato comes to this realization in part because of G, who makes the connection for him about trauma, broken families and the violence of the state (see opening quote of this review). As an aside, G was an electrifying character and compelling person to read about, this is one of the first times I remember wishing this memoir would combine with fiction because I wanted more G. But alas Lovato is committed to representing his life as factually as he can which means we don't get much more time with G. Also to my great relief, Lovato makes sure to include indigenous people into the story of El Salvador, not focusing only on the Spanish/white passing elites, their treatment by those elites was despicable.

UNFORGETTING is a challenging work of creative nonfiction about the dual history of El Salvador and his family. Through his story we learn about the Salvadoran diaspora, displacement and his family. Lovato's tone is derisive and occasionally cocky, he injects dark humor into the book even while recounting brutal acts of violence. He also manages to explain aspects of Salvadoran culture such as commonly used slang (caliche) and food without dumbing it down for a non Spanish speaking/white audience or making it feel pedantic. He also includes Salvadoran poetry that greatly enriched the book, at least for me as I was mesmerized by Roque Dalton's poetry. And while some of Lovato's relationships are complex and difficult, I loved G and the affectionate way he wrote about Mama Tey. The name of 'unforgetting' (it comes from a Greek word) may be new or initially unfamiliar to readers but the concept of unforgetting is not although Lovato attempts to argue otherwise. The book echoes many other works (usually by authors of color) that stress the importance of memory, urging us to remember our history no matter how traumatic in order to ensure it doesn't happen again, to break the cycle of intergenerational trauma. An intergenerational trauma that in the case of El Salvador (and the U.S.) is tearing the country apart along with a refusal to focus on reconciliation. I was unclear on how Lovato viewed unforgetting as different from remembering (and honoring) and I struggled with the structure of the book which at times was threatened by the weight of all the topics Lovato was trying to cover. These things only slightly detracted from my experience while reading this book, overall I found it a very emotional read. What is notable and different is Lovato's journalistic focus on El Salvador and a particular facet of the Central American immigrant experience.
Profile Image for Celeste Miller.
240 reviews8 followers
February 1, 2021
This entire book is jaw-dropping. I don't know how else to describe it.

Roberto Lovato has written a perfect book interweaving his personal family history, the history of El Salvador, of the United States' disturbing involvement in El Salvador's wars and politics, of the effects of US immigration policies on gangs in Central America and the cycle it caused of unaccompanied minors coming to the US, trauma, loneliness, and bicultural identity.  Yes, I know that's a lot of topics but it's true, he did it and this book is excellent.

I knew a little bit about the US backed massacres in El Salvador because of my college professor who everyone thought was radical because he taught us about US imperialism and the atrocities the US was involved in in Central America. But this book made it all way more clear, all while flowing between the 1930s, the 1980s, and 2015 in El Salvador and the US. Towards the end of the book he hits you with revelation after revelation about his family and their places in the history of El Salvador. I very rarely cry, especially when I read nonfiction, but this book brought me to tears at least three times in the last few chapters. 

Oh yeah, he also draws the thread between evil Bill Barr and his terrible policies in the 80s and how they have and are currently affecting El Salvador.

It's a very personal book, which is another reason my jaw dropped while reading. Some of the things Lovato writes about seem very dangerous for him.
Profile Image for Reed Adam.
67 reviews
December 15, 2020
Hard to pick up, impossible to put down. Lovato doesn’t shy away from describing the violence in El Salvador’s past and present, and so parts of this book in particular were very difficult to read. But I kept going and I’m glad I did.

This book jumps around to a few different points in time, rather than following a chronological order, which at times makes it difficult to keep track of the characters. However, I think this structure works very well for the history and the personal narrative Lovato weaves.

The lives of Lovato and his family are really extraordinary and are intertwined with history across the past century. I have some familiarity with El Salvadoran history and culture, having read some books previously, and some involvement with organizations like CISPES throughout the years. I lived in the Bay Area during the 2000s and am familiar with many of the landmarks in the Mission district that Lovato describes, which made this book more relevant and interesting to me.

Would highly recommend Unforgetting and wish more white americans like myself were familiar with the interconnected history of El Salvador and the US which is so relevant to our current political moment
Profile Image for Lissett.
26 reviews
March 12, 2021
I'm both sad and grateful this book exists. A memoir written by a Salvadoran-American that explores the recent political and cultural history of El Salvador including the civil war and gangs and thier impacts in the U.S and ES. In addition to being beautifully written, Lovato sheds light to a lot of topics that have been silenced and "forgotten" including the 1932 massacre of Indigenous people in ES. I learned so much and soaked up every word. Will definitely be re-reading and pushing this book especially to my fellow Salvadoran-American friends and family.
Profile Image for Carlos.
14 reviews
December 13, 2021
I picked this book because it covered the Salvadoran-American experience.

It far exceeded my expectations.

It was a memoir and an examination of generational trauma. The way he weaved his personal story with a massacre that happened before he was born should be studied in writing classes.

This book hit home in a way I wasn’t expecting. Not just because I’m also Salvadoran-American, but because his experience was deeply human.

I couldn’t recommend it higher - whether you’re Salvadoran-American or not.
Profile Image for Magally  Miranda Alcázar.
17 reviews16 followers
January 17, 2023
One interpretation of Lovato's book: a memoir that powerfully shifts the center of gravity of Los Angeles to tell the story of a city with the largest diaspora of people from El Salvador during a time of mass migration wrought with violence and resilience.
Profile Image for Rendz.
373 reviews25 followers
December 7, 2020
A must read.
I'm so emotional right now, will need time to make sense of my thoughts.
But just put it on your lists to start.
I repeat, a must read.
Profile Image for Helen Alonzo.
8 reviews6 followers
August 21, 2021
It took me a while to complete this book because with every chapter I found myself learning about my forgotten history and needing time to process byasking my parents y Abuelitos about their experience. Just like Lovato weaved his family’s story and Salvadoran history into the experiences of his life, I found myself doing the same. I believe this book should be a required for all Salvadorans.
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