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University of Virginia Centro de las América/Americas Center Symposium, "From the Mouth of a Shark: Causes and Consequences of the Central American Refugee Crisis"

no one leaves home unless

home is the mouth of a shark 

you only run for the border 

when you see the whole city running as well 

—"Home," Warsan Shire 



1:00PM Introductions

Thomas Klubock (Department of History/UVA Latin American Studies Program)

Micheline Aharonian Marcom (Department of English/Creative writing)


1:15-3:00PM Causes and Consequences of the Central American Refugee Crisis

Anthony Fontes (School of International Service, American University): Moderator

Mike Anastario (Sociologist, El Salvador)

Molly Molloy (Southwest Asylum & Migration Institute, New Mexico)

Victoria Sanford (Center for Human Rights and Peace Studies, Lehman College/Department of Anthropology, Graduate Center, City University of New York)

3:15-4:15PM Journalism and Documentary Work on Migration

Tomas Ayuso (Photojournalist Honduras) will present photos and discuss his project:

 "The Right to Grow Old"


4:30-5:15PM Storytelling in Response

Federico Cuatlacuatl (Department of Studio Art, University of Virginia) will show and discuss his film made with UVA students and Micheline Aharonian Marcom (Department of English/Creative Writing) will show and discuss with Erin Kökdil (Documentary and NASP filmmaker) and videos from the New American Storytelling Project (NASP).


Closing Remarks



Participant Bios


Mike Anastario is a sociologist who conducts research on agrarian worlds and human health in El Salvador. In 2019, he published Parcels: Memories of Salvadoran Migration with Rutgers University Press. This work explores memory and forgetting relative to a rural Salvadoran diaspora. As a 2018-2019 US Fulbright Scholar, he collected data on the implementation of science and technology in Salvadoran agriculture and psychiatry. He is interested in the emerging ways in which remittances and deportations shape everyday life in these contexts.


Tomas Ayuso is a Honduran writer and documentary photojournalist. He seeks to bind the disparate threads of communities into the grand interlinked story of the Western Hemisphere. In covering the different types of violence facing the region’s people, Ayuso hopes to create a record of both continental struggles and local successes. He is a fellow of the Open Society Foundations, and continues to cover the Honduran collapse and its far-reaching consequences as the country's youth struggle for survival in a project called The Right to Grow Old. He is also a National Geographic Explorer developing a semi-autobiographical project about the Palestinian diaspora in Latin America, of which he is a part. Ayuso was recently awarded the 2019 James Foley Award for Conflict Reporting for his unflinching coverage of conflict in Latin America as it relates to the drug war, forced displacement and urban dispossession.


FedericoCuatlacuatl, born in Cholula, Puebla, Mexico, is an indigenous artist based in Virginia. He grew up in Indiana and received his MFA in 2015, specializing in Digital Arts from Bowling Green State University.  Federico's work is invested in disseminating topics of Latinx immigration, social art practice, and cultural sustainability. Building from his own experience growing up as an undocumented immigrant and previously holding DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), Federico’s research is primarily concerned with pressing realities in current social, political, and cultural issues that Latinx undocumented immigrants face in the U.S.  Federico’s independent productions have been screened in various national and international film festivals. As founder and director of the Rasquache Artist Residency in Puebla, Mexico, he actively stays involved in socially engaged works and binational endeavors. 


Anthony W. Fontes is a former immigrant rights advocate and holds a doctorate in Human Geography from the University of California, Berkeley. He writes and teaches about violence, illicit economies, mass incarceration and the politics of security in the Americas. His award-winning book, Mortal Doubt (University of California Press 2018), explores the rise of extreme peacetime violence in Central America’s Northern Triangle, illuminating the blurred boundaries between the underworld, the state and law-abiding society, and the ways the region’s struggle with violence and poverty is intimately linked to its relationship with the United States. He has conducted extensive ethnographic fieldwork in Central American prisons, gang-dominated neighborhoods, and along migration and drug-trafficking routes across the region. Currently, he is engaged in multi-sited fieldwork for a new book on the "Central American migration crisis" and what it means for Central America, the Central American diaspora and US society more broadly. He has received numerous fellowships and grants from the Open Society Foundation, the Andrew Mellon Foundation, and the HF Guggenheim Foundation, among others.  His work has also appeared in Newsweek, Salon, and the New York Times.


Erin Semine Kökdilis an Oakland-based storyteller interested in building solidarity and inciting social change through film. Her work deals with issues of trauma, marginalization, and migration and has screened at IDFA, Hot Docs, and Big Sky Documentary Film Festival. She holds a B.A. in Latin American Studies and Spanish from Smith College and an M.F.A. in Documentary Film and Video from Stanford University. She is the NASP filmmaker.


Micheline Aharonian Marcom has published six novels, including a trilogy of books about the Armenian genocide and its aftermath in the twentieth century.  She has received fellowships and awards from the Lannan Foundation, the Whiting Foundation, and the US Artists’ Foundation. Her seventh novel, The New American, about a DREAMer who is deported to Guatemala and makes his way back home to California, will be published by Simon and Schuster in May 2020. Marcom is also the founder and Creative Director of The New American Story Project [NASP], a digital storytelling project exploring the forces of migration and the lives of new Americans Marcom is a Professor of Creative Writing at UVA.

Molly Molloy first encountered Central American asylum seekers at the Oakdale Federal Detention Center in 1986 after joining the staff of a non-profit providing legal representation to individuals fleeing civil wars and violence in Central America, many of whom had lived for years in the U.S. only to be arrested in INS raids and sent to a giant immigration prison in the pine woods of Central Louisiana. She also worked briefly for El Rescate and other community groups in Los Angeles providing low-cost representation to immigrants after the passage of the 1986 Immigration Reform & Control Act (IRCA) that allowed millions of undocumented immigrants to legalize their status. Molloy then pursued a career as a research librarian for Latin American and Border Studies at New Mexico State University, researching and writing about the development of the internet in Latin America, and more recently on hyper-violence in Mexico fueled by narco-trafficking and government corruption. She curates the Frontera-List for border and Latin American information and has served as an expert witness in asylum cases. She currently works as a researcher, paralegal and translator with the Southwest Asylum & Migration Institute, a non-profit providing pro-bono and low-bono representation for asylum seekers in the New Mexico and west Texas border region. She co-edited with Charles Bowden El Sicario: The Autobiography of a Mexican Assassin (NationBooks 2011) and has recently written for Small Wars Journal the NACLA Border Wars blog.


Victoria Sanford is professor and founding director of the Center for Human Rights and Peace Studies at Lehman College. She is a member of the anthropology doctoral faculty at the Graduate Center, City University of New York. She is the author of Buried Secrets: Truth and Human Rights in Guatemala (2003), Violencia y Genocidio enGuatemala (2003), Guatemala: Del Genocidio al Feminicidio (2008), La Masacre de Panzos: Etnicidad, Tierra y Violencia en Guatemala (2009), and co-author of the Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation's report to the Commission for Historical Clarification (the Guatemalan truth commission). She is co-editor (with Katerina Stefatos) of Gender Violence in Peace and War ~ States of Complicity (2016). She is also co-editor (with Asale Angel Ajani) of Engaged Observer: Anthropology, Advocacy and Activism (2008). In August of 2012, she served as an invited expert witness on the Guatemalan genocide before Judge Santiago Pedraz in the Spanish National Court’s international genocide case against the Guatemalan generals. She is currently completing Bittersweet Justice: Feminicide, Impunity & Courts of Last Resort.

November 8, 2019 1:00 pm to 6:00 pm

Nau Hall 101

Event type: Conference