Review by D.W. Jefferson (El Salvador 1974–76; Costa Rica 1976–77)
If you are interested in a more in-depth discussion of immigration from Central America, its causes and effects, I highly recommend this book. Though, like the author, I was a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) in El Salvador (1974-76), and have followed events there since, I learned a great deal about the country’s current situation from this book.
Jim Winship first lived in El Salvador from 1970 to 1972 as a PCV. He returned there in 2005 as a Fulbright Scholar and has been visiting at the rate of about twice a year since then. This book is based upon research Winship and his colleague Virginia Quintana of the Panamerican University of El Salvador have done, and upon other research conducted in both El Salvador and the U.S.
Coming of Age in El Salvador includes chapters on the geography and history of El Salvador, to provide context for the discussion of young people currently entering into young adulthood. The author’s voice alternates between that of an academic reporting study results, and that of a narrator discussing case studies and other stories. Twelve chapters in the “Stories” section recount the experiences of individuals, including that of the author himself and those of young Salvadorans from a variety of backgrounds.
The book contains many interesting statistics about El Salvador, including:
- At the end of its civil war in 1992, 30% of Salvadorans over the age of 14 had never attended school. Only a third had more than a 6thgrade education.
- Today the percentage of children who attend primary school is close to 100%. But only 60% of those who start primary school get to the 6thgrade, and only 30% graduate the equivalent of high school.
- The annual dollar amount of remittances sent to their home country by Salvadorans working in the U.S. was $3.97 Billion in 2013. This was 16% of El Salvador’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for that year.
- The age of first marriage for Salvadorans was 23 years in 2012; in 1996 it was just 18.2 years. This compares to about 27 years for the U.S.
- El Salvador’s murder rate puts it in the top third of the most dangerous countries in the world, and in 2011 it was ranked 2nd for most homicides per capita.
Dr. Winship discusses the root causes of the pervasive violence, and Salvadoran government attempts to stop it, which have so far failed miserably. The situation is more complex than is commonly portrayed in the U.S. media, and our government shares responsibility for creating it.
Profits from the sale of this book are being donated to Glasswing, a non-profit that provides education and inquiry-based afterschool programs for youth, and for scholarships at the Panamerican University of El Salvador.
D.W. Jefferson was a Peace Corps agriculture volunteer in El Salvador (1974-76) and Costa Rica (1976-77). Dean maintains a blog about his Peace Corps years. He is currently retired from a career in computer software engineering.