Retorno is a series of photographs made in collaboration with a community of former refugees and their children in rural El Salvador.
In 1981 thousands of families fled the scorched earth policies being carried out by the Salvadoran military in rural El Salvador. After years of living in refugee camps in Honduras and long negotiations with authorities, repatriation to their former communities began on October 10th, 1987. Upon returning, they found their homes and land destroyed.
By holding back half of the money they received for provisions they were able to purchase their first parcel of land. With international assistance, another 500 acres was purchased after the war ended in 1992. In 2012 the communal lands were split equally among community members to facilitate the transfer of lands to their heirs. This is the first time that the majority of the community has ever owned their own lands.
Over a 3 year period I have traveled 5 times to Santa Marta and Valle Nuevo, two of the repatriated communities that are connected by a soccer field. Throughout this time, I have followed the thread of return that runs through their narrative.
The first is the return of the parents from the refugee camps in Honduras. Exploring re-presentation, I would often ask people to take me to places that were significant to their stories and photograph.
Second, I photographed a group of youth that run a small sustainable farm producing organic produce that is sold below market value to members of the community. They have moved away from the conventional farming methods of their parents and returned to the sustainable practice of their ancestors.
Third, I have been working with 39 youth from Santa Marta that are living together in two houses studying at the National University in San Salvador. All are struggling with the question of whether they will be able to return to their homes after graduation due to lack of employment opportunities.
Lastly, I am exploring my own return. My father is from El Salvador and I lived in San Salvador in 1989-90 during the most intense fighting of the Civil War in urban areas. My father was the head of the US military in El Salvador at the time.