American Value: Migrants, Money, and Meaning in El Salvador and the United States (Chicago Studies in Practices of Meaning)

American Value: Migrants, Money, and Meaning in El Salvador and the United States (Chicago Studies in Practices of Meaning)

David Pedersen

Language: English

Pages: 304

ISBN: 0226653404

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

Over the past half-century, El Salvador has transformed dramatically. Historically reliant on primary exports like coffee and cotton, the country emerged from a brutal civil war in 1992 to find much of its national income now coming from a massive emigrant workforce—over a quarter of its population—that earns money in the United States and sends it home. In American Value, David Pedersen examines this new way of life as it extends across two places: Intipucá, a Salvadoran town infamous for its remittance wealth, and the Washington, DC, metro area, home to the second largest population of Salvadorans in the United States.
Pedersen charts El Salvador’s change alongside American deindustrialization, viewing the Salvadoran migrant work abilities used in new lowwage American service jobs as a kind of primary export, and shows how the latest social conditions linking both countries are part of a longer history of disparity across the Americas. Drawing on the work of Charles S. Peirce, he demonstrates how the defining value forms—migrant work capacity, services, and remittances—act as signs, building a moral world by communicating their exchangeability while hiding the violence and exploitation on which this story rests. Theoretically sophisticated, ethnographically rich, and compellingly written, American Value offers critical insights into practices that are increasingly common throughout the world.

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Eventually Calixto comes roadmap for remittances 43 to stand in front of a McDonald’s restaurant on the corner of 18th Street and Columbia Road, NW, and asks a friend whether he knows of any job opportunities. At this moment in the conversation, the fictive character in Bencastro’s book recalls his hometown of Intipucá and all the people, including his family, who live there and rely upon the remittances that he and other Intipuqueños send them from Washington, DC. Like the photograph of

(millions of US dollars) 1200 1000 800 600 400 200 0 1979 1981 1983 Exports 1985 1987 Remittances 1989 1991 1993 US Aid figure 6.  Immediate sources of US dollar inflows to El Salvador, 1979–93. Adapted from table 8.4 in Elizabeth J. Wood, “Agrarian Social Relations and Democratization: The Negotiated Resolution of the Civil War in El Salvador” (PhD diss., Stanford University, 1995). immediate objects presented in these charts are aggregate quotients of money within El Salvador,

large cotton and sugar plantations in the lowlands. They swept into towns in several departments across eastern El Salvador as part of a plan to weaken the economic foundations of the Salvadoran state. The high-profile attacks on towns and government barracks were meant to appear as signs of a conventional territoryoriented project of warfare. Less apparent at the time was the more significant objective of shutting down the cotton and sugar production system, especially in the departments of

is directly connected to the DC suburbs of Maryland and Virginia in ways that can be seen better by following with considerably more detail the story of Marvin Chávez and his motorcycle. The Significance of the Motorcycle At the time of the photograph, Marvin had traveled to Intipucá and shipped his motorcycle via ground transport. When it arrived, he picked it up at the customs office in Cutuco, the same place where the coffee picked by Miguel forty years before had been shipped out to the

studies in the book was one based on research conducted with university students in Intipucá. The Ford Foundation supported some of Montes’s research in the United States, and as discussed in chapter 4, a version of the book was published in English supported with funds from the US State Department. In the context of the 176 chapter six Salvadoran war and US involvement at this time, Intipucá and the success story of the bank owners served as an important positive symbol of US relations with

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