CCNY Faculty Wins Mariposa Award
Irina Carlota "Lotti" Silber Wins Award for "Best First Book."
Irina Carlota "Lotti" Silber, an associate professor of anthropology at the Powell School, has won the Mariposa prize for best first book (nonfiction) for Everyday Revolutionaries: Gender, Violence, and Disillusionment in Postwar El Salvador. The Mariposa Award, presented by the International Latino Book Awards, is given annually to best books written by Latina and Latino authors. The awards, presented in New York City on May 30 at the Instituto Cervantes, are the largest in the U.S. celebrating the achievements of Latino literature.
Reviewers have called Everyday Revolutionaries, published in 2011 by Rutgers University Press, a “searing ethnography," and “a beautiful, lyrical, and scrupulously researched and documented,” look at “the hopes for social, political, and economic justice that carried a generation of Salvadorans to mobilize for social change.” The story, Silber writes, is one that moves from the “broken promises and bankrupt dreams of revolution to the broken hearts and new cars of postwar migrations.” We recently spoke with Silber about Everyday Revolutionaries. Here are excerpts of the conversation:
When you started your research in the early 1990s, you were among the vanguard of young anthropologists studying the legacy of political violence. What led you to this research area?
In the early 1990s, El Salvador was considered the model and ultimate success story of how to negotiate a revolution and how to get people to lay down their arms in the midst of civil war. All of the accounts were from the top down. Very few told what reconciliation meant in everyday life; fewer discussed the role of women and their importance as social activists. I wanted to know what happened to their roles in peacetime—and not for the leadership of these movements, but rather for the everyday, rank-and-file member who had sacrificed so much during the war.
I learned that the war weighed heavily on women and men, and that expectations for their ongoing cheerful and historic participation jutted up against ongoing inequalities in uncertain economic times.
What’s behind your interest?
I was born in Argentina but grew up in an immigrant home. My Argentine parents hadn’t planned a life in the U.S., but came here to study and ended up staying as a result of the Dirty War during the 1970s. My interest in Latin America started from this lived experience. As an undergraduate at George Washington University, I became interested in what was called “Hispanic” migration to the U.S. An incredible professor suggested that I design a capstone project on the Salvadoran Diaspora. Salvadorans are the fourth largest Latino group in the U.S.
In my research I became interested in exploding the political assumptions about migration through the experiences of the Salvadoran Diaspora. I did my master’s and doctoral work at NYU, and the project really developed there when I realized I couldn’t talk about my subject without understanding how the nation was rebuilding itself after war.
What challenges did you face?
My major challenges were about the ethics of war and how you address the romanticism surrounding revolutionaires. It’s complicated. My book tries to intervene on the romantic depiction of the fighters to show the sacrifice and joy that this life has entailed. The people I worked with didn’t see themselves as victims. They had been displaced continually, bombed in the mountains, have had to flee their communities, and in the postwar period many felt obligated to migrate to the U.S. in order to support their families. As I wrote I tried to represent their intellectual capacity to theorize about their own trajectory. I also tried to humanize their story as much as possible.
Who are you trying to reach through Everyday Revolutionaries?
The book is intended to reach people interested in Central America, the general public and scholars alike, but I also wanted to write a book that inspired my students and opened their eyes, not only about El Salvador, but also about making meaning in the aftermath of war. When I ask my students whether they know there were civil wars in Central America, very few students do, so I wrote for their understanding. I felt this was a form of activism, too.
What does this award mean to you?
I was truly moved to have received the International Latino Book Award because it recognizes and celebrates the lives of so many Salvadoran men, women, and children whose stories can teach us about that search for a dignified life after wars, across borders and through generations. So that we don’t forget and we continue to work for a deep democracy and a just immigration policy so that folks can have una vida digna.