Institute of World Affairs

International Programs since 1924

Experiences of the Subsequent Generations: A Salvadorian-American Conversation

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Adrienne Castellón, Program Associate, IWA
Margaret Smith, Director of Trauma Healing and Community Resilience, IWA

  1. Executive Summary

This pilot project convened a group of subsequent generation Salvadorian-Americans (2nd generation and 1st generation who came over as children/adolescents) with strong ties to community work to discuss and better understand the experiences and needs of the Salvadorian-American and Salvadorian community in the DC Metropolitan area.

Needs identified by the discussion group sessions included: increase access to opportunity, destigmatize and promote mental health, and strengthen a sense of community and identity.

Participants shared a concern about the poverty narrative that dominates the portrayal of the Salvadorian community and functions as a self-fulfilling prophecy, reducing expectations of what is possible. They underlined the need for a different, positive narrative that highlights accomplishments and presents stories of success.

They also emphasized that the refugee history of the previous generation points to a legacy of inherited trauma that is still being negotiated.

The group brainstormed projects that could make a difference.  All agreed that the idea of a cross-generational oral history and art project held particular promise since engaging in artistic endeavors can provide a socially acceptable way to express and process trauma.

The proposed follow-up project would consist of oral recordings, written accounts, or artistic renderings of personal stories from first and subsequent generation Salvadorians, particularly in the context of emigration/immigration, the civil war, and acculturation in American society.

This project will piece together a history of collective experiences and exhibit them as an attempt to help heal fragmentation, preserve history, foster shared identity and heritage, and create a more positive narrative for this community going forward.

  1. Project Background

The “Experiences of the Subsequent Generations – A Salvadorian-American Conversation” was conceived as a pilot project that would explore the sense of identity, the aspirations, and the needs of second-generation Salvadorian-Americans living in the metropolitan Washington, DC region. The pilot project was carried out in a discussion group format and endeavored to encourage honest dialogue about how participants viewed their experiences, how they saw their current status and, as consequence, choices made about the future.

The project was supervised by Margaret Smith, Director of Trauma Healing and Community Resilience at the Institute of World Affairs (IWA).  Adrienne Castellón, IWA Program Associate, served as the project manager and discussion facilitator. 

“The expectation projected upon the refugee is that the past is less relevant than the future…”

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Book Review

The Displaced: Refugee Writers on Refugee Lives, Edited by Viet Thanh Nguyen, Abrams Press, 2018.

Viet Thanh Nguyen has become perhaps the most eloquent voice of the past decade of the immigrant experience in the United States.  Nguyen’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Sympathizer (2016) stakes out a very particular angle on the Vietnam war and challenges all Americans who think they know the meaning of that war to think again. Philip Caputo’s 2015 New York Times’ book review described the book as “giving voice to the previously voiceless [in other words the Vietnamese perspective] while it compels the rest of us to look at the events of 40 years ago in a new light.” …  

click here to read more on Dr. Eastman Smith’s monthly blog.

Side By Side or Together?

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Working for Security, Development & Peace
in Afghanistan and Liberia

A Report on the March 30 & 31, 2007 Workshop “Coordinated Approaches to Security, Development and Peacemaking: Lessons Learned from Afghanistan and Liberia” held by the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies (CMSS), University of Calgary and the Institute of World Affairs (IWA), Washington, D.C.

Fall 2022 Internship on Mediation and Violence Prevention

Program description

This internship will support the work of the Institute of World Affairs (IWA), under the direction of Dr. Joyce P. Kaufman, in collaboration with the Alliance of Concerned Men (ACM), a non-profit community-based organization in Washington, D.C. During this period of increased violence particularly in economically and socially challenged communities, it is imperative to develop and implement programs that provide youth, especially, with tools that can help prevent violence while also building life-skills necessary to build productive lives. The target population for this effort is high school age youth from violence-prone communities in the District of Columbia. For the first time starting in the fall, we will also be working with a younger (middle school-aged cohort) at Chester Charter School in Pennsylvania as well. This project draws on IWA’s extensive experience in violence prevention, negotiation and mediation. The workshops are all developed in consultation with our ACM partners, and are presented using a hybrid format, with some of the participants in person, and others connecting via Zoom. With the exception of the final simulation, our work and delivery of the workshops will all be done via Zoom. The capstone simulation uses the University of Maryland International Communication and Negotiation Simulation (ICONS) platform. This system provides ongoing written transcripts of all interactions that can be used for analysis, debriefing and assessment.

This program was initially implemented as a pilot in November 2021 with another iteration of the program run in spring and summer 2022. Based on what we learned, we made modifications to the program which will be run again in fall 2022 and spring 2023 with students in three public high schools in DC, and also with a group of middle school students in Chester, PA. These two groups of students will require that the program be modified still further, and also that stronger evaluation methods be put into place. The intern(s) will be an important part of that implementation going forward.

Position description

The internship will directly support the work of IWA and the Alliance of Concerned Men in a number of ways. It is important to note that all work will be done remotely with the exception of the capstone simulation which comes at the end of the program. That has been done in person at ACM headquarters in Washington, D.C. The internship will involve an average of 15-16 hours a week, with the understanding that there will be more time required in some weeks than others. The exact schedule and timeline will be determined by the intern in conversation
with Dr. Kaufman. This is an unpaid internship, but can be applied for credit toward AU graduation requirements.

Position responsibilities include:

  • Learning more about “triggers” that lead to violence in community settings in general, and particularly in the communities of interest
  • Reviewing materials on mediation, especially in conflict-prone communities
  • Help prepare the power point presentation for the workshops and be prepared to lead some of the workshops (all held on Zoom)
  • Meet weekly or biweekly with Dr. Kaufman to review the materials and prepare for upcoming workshops
  • Participate in meetings of the project team
  • Based on the transcript of simulations, help with the evaluation and assessment of the interaction and the learning that took place during the pilot
  • From that evaluation, help make recommendations on next steps going forward
  • Assistance in drafting the reports on the pilot and grant proposals for future work


  • Interest in mediation, conflict resolution and violence prevention
  • Outstanding research skills
  • Basic understanding of community violence, the causes of such violence and impact of mitigation efforts
  • Understanding of, familiarity with, and sensitivity to cultural issues pertaining to the target group of participants
  • Basic familiarity with simulations, what they are designed to do, and their effectiveness for teaching and learning
  • Organizational skills and ability to work independently
  • Excellent oral and writing skills (most communication is in writing)

Application process

Interested applicants should send a resume and a cover letter documenting your interest in this internship to: In the cover letter, please focus on any experience you have had in the target areas, both academic and practical, why this internship appeals to you, and what you bring to the position. All applications will be screened upon receipt, with likely candidates invited to do a Zoom interview. The application process will be open until the position(s) is filled. There will be at least one and perhaps two interns hired.


This internship will immerse the participant in the application of a Conflict Resolution Manual to teach “real-world” skills about violence prevention and mediation focusing on economically underserved youth. To get the most from it, the intern will learn about the demographics of various areas in DC, and the ongoing causes of violence. The intern will be involved in developing and helping to teach workshops on conflict resolution, and will be part of developing and implementing the simulation that is the capstone experience for the participants. Part of the intern’s responsibility will be helping in the assessment of the program as we move into larger-scale implementation with a range of participants. Through this project, the intern will also learn valuable skills in mediation, negotiation, conflict resolution and violence prevention.

The U.S. Needs to Look to Iran’s Youth and Future

An iconic image from 2015 is of young Iranians dancing in the streets of Tehran when news of a preliminary framework agreement with the West on Iran’s nuclear program was announced. There was genuine hope among a younger generation of Iranians that the nuclear deal, formally called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), would usher in a new era of economic improvement and greater people-to-people contact between Iran and the West.

Although much has happened in the intervening years, particularly during the Trump presidency, which saw US withdrawal from the nuclear deal and an overall decline in US-Iran relations, a 2019 poll showed that 57 percent of Iranians were dissatisfied with their own government’s performance on improving ties with the United States and the West.

At the same time, there has been growing opposition among Iranians to the country’s political system. In one poll, some 79 percent of respondents said they would vote “no” if a free and fair referendum were held on a continuation of the Islamic Republic. In another poll, taken shortly before the March 2020 parliamentary elections, 68 percent of respondents said they did not plan to vote.

Popular disaffection has continued right up to the present. In the run up to the June 18 presidential elections, only 34 percent of Iranians indicated they would vote. In the end, voter turnout was reported at approximately 37%, the lowest recorded in the Islamic Republic’s history. This, perhaps, is not surprising since the Council of Guardians, which vets presidential and parliamentary candidates, approved only 8 candidates for president, 6 of whom are hardliners. The ultra-conservative cleric and judiciary chief, Ebrahim Raisi, who is close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, won.

Iranians are not only upset with their political system and choice of candidates but with their economic status. The cost of food and housing is prohibitively high when compared with an average wage earner’s salary. Even for middle class Iranians, who earn on average $400 to $700 a month, income cannot keep pace with inflation. Many are falling into poverty.

Favorable views of the United States have decreased largely because of the imposition of sanctions, yet a majority of Iranians support US-Iranian talks if the US returns to the JCPOA and lifts sanctions. Moreover, anecdotal evidence suggests that Iranians blame their own government more than the United States for their predicament, noting the loss of resources due to corruption and foreign adventures. In a 2019 poll, some 57 percent of Iranians voiced the opinion that the economy is run by “a few big interests.” During anti-regime protests in the 2017-2019 period, the protestors refused to step on American flags that the regime placed as props. Some of the protestors chanted: “Our enemy is right here; they lie when they say it is America.”

That Iranians, particularly of the younger generation, want interaction with the United States is evident by their use of technology. About 57 million Iranians (out of a total population of 80 million) are internet users, with 47 million active on social media. Persian is the 9th most used language online in the world, all the more revealing when one considers that this language is spoken by just 2 percent of the world’s population. The high-rate of internet and communication technology (ICT) suggests that Iranians want greater exposure to and interaction with the West. Moreover, with many Iranians, especially middle-class young people, getting their news from sources outside the country, regime narratives fall on deaf ears or are accepted by elements that are undereducated or who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.

Approximately 60 percent of Iran’s population is under the age of 30. Young Iranians are educated and technologically-savvy. They are Iran’s future and should be supported by foreign policy influentials who want to see change and political liberalization in the country. It would be prudent for US policymakers to pursue a course of action that separates the regime from the people and to think about a long-term strategy that capitalizes on opportunities presented by changing demographics. To be sure it is not in the interest of the United States to alienate the very people who yearn for better ties.

Getting back into the JCPOA is a start. Should the talks currently being held in Vienna succeed, Trump era sanctions would be lifted, and bilateral relations improved. But the Biden administration needs to do more. Promoting and not just giving lip service to business deals between American and Iranian firms after a nuclear deal is reached would bring more jobs and technology to Iran and have the added benefit of more people-to-people interaction. In addition, there should be more cultural and athletic exchanges between the two countries (some of this was done several years ago but has since been in abeyance) as another way of improving public diplomacy. For example, Iranian filmmakers and artists should be granted visas to come to the United States to interact with American counterparts, which could result in reciprocal visits by Americans. Museums in the United States should be encouraged to showcase Iran’s rich cultural heritage. Virtual tours of the exhibits should be made accessible to Iranians demonstrating Americans’ appreciation of their culture, which would reap enormous benefits in good will.

These measures would improve the image of the United States in Iran, increase the hopes of millions of Iranian young people for a better economic and, potentially, political future, and underscore the value of more amicable relations with the west.


Gregory Aftandilian is an Adjunct Professor in the School of International Service at American University.

Dr. Michael Lund Presents Findings in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

IWA Senior Associate, Dr. Michael Lund, gave two talks recently at a high-level conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The conference was attended by two hundred influential Ethiopians from the government, political parties and civil society. The conference was held to discuss how Ethiopia can build on the Prime Minister’s initial reforms to transition from its top-down political system to a more pluralistic and stable democracy. Lund presented findings from his recent research on how multi-ethnic developing countries can avoid the possible hazards of attempted political transitions, such as political violence, repression, civil war, mass atrocities, and state breakdown. The new President of Ethiopia, Sahle-Work Zewde (the first woman to hold that position), gave the opening speech, and former President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, was the conference keynote speaker. Several follow-up activities are planned to build momentum behind the reform effort. About this unusual opportunity, Lund noted, “I’m very grateful I could apply my research on peaceful transitions to help this great and beautiful country of 103 million people at this immensely critical moment in its history!”

Rising Tension in the Gulf Could Have Dire Consequences

There is real fear that the current face-off between Iran and the United States in the Persian Gulf can lead to war. While seemingly unthinkable, as was war in the heart of Europe roughly a century ago, many of the same ingredients are present. The mistrust and hate each side harbors inevitably lead to fear, which can lead to violent confrontation. All that’s necessary is a spark to ignite a destructive conflagration.

Do not underestimate the potential for disaster in the region.  Once again, the antagonists are at it accusing one another of violations of treaties and agreements and finger pointing in all directions. Despite all the reporting about recent events, we still don’t know for certain who is behind the attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman. The US and Israel accuse Iran, who in turn accuses them. The Iranian downing of a US drone has just raised the tension level several degrees.

Perhaps we should examine which countries stand to benefit and which stand to lose from mayhem and escalation of tension in the region.

The list of usual suspects is long, and includes the United States, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Russia, the United Arab Emirates, Israel and France, and to a lesser degree Iraq. These are all key actors with vital strategic, political and economic interests in the Gulf region. They all stand to gain, to a certain extent, from escalating the tension and possibly even going to war. Yes, one more war in the Middle East, regrettably, is a possibility.

Some in the region believe that another war might well provide the American president with a golden opportunity to escape his ever-growing problems at home and deflect attention from the issue of Russian interference in the 2016 elections. Iran too might find that going to war with the ‘Great Satan’ will allow the mullahs to clamp down on those calling for greater reform. Additionally, with substantial war fighting experience in Iraq and Syria, hawks in Tehran might be tempted to put hard learned lessons to the test.

When asked by a reporter on Monday if he thought the United States would be going to war with Iran, President Trump replied, “I hope not.”  Both sides have good reason to be wary.

Anyone with knowledge of the region can guarantee that another violent conflict will be highly destructive and very costly.

Saudi Arabia has been telling anyone willing to listen about the dangers that Iran presents to the stability of the Gulf. The Saudis, along with the United Arab Emirates, see themselves as the only real deterrent to Iranian aspirations in the region, albeit with the US playing a central role.

Russia would like to see the US embroiled in another Mideast conflict because it would further drain US resources and ultimately weaken Washington’s standing in the Middle East, leaving the field wide open for Moscow to step in, as was the case in Syria.

The regime in Israel can only benefit from a US war with Iran because it would relieve political pressure on the current leadership and potentially boost its standing among voters in a new round of elections. And, finally, France is making a killing selling arms to Saudi Arabia and to the UAE, amongst others. According to figures released this week, France’s weapons sales to Saudi Arabia rose 50 percent in 2018 despite the government calling for an end to the “dirty war” in Yemen.

As happened in the Balkans a little over a hundred years ago, a seemingly small incident can set off an unanticipated chain of events with calamitous consequences.


Claude Salhani is a regular columnist with The Arab Weekly and a senior associate at the Institute of World Affairs



Erdogan Looks At Cyprus to Boost Standing In The Polls

There is always potential trouble when rulers sense their position weakening, given the possibility they will resort to drastic measures to divert the public’s attention and boost their standing.

In Turkey’s case, where President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s popularity has been declining for several months, there is a fear among Middle East observers that he may be looking at intervention in Cyprus to serve just such a purpose.

Tehran Tangled in Web of Disinformation

When the mullahs took control of Iran, they banned dancing, music and much of the social contact between the sexes, among a slew of other activities that are generally considered normal behaviour in the rest of the world.

Since then the situation has somewhat improved, though the country remains very much under the control of the theocracy, which, though somewhat more lenient, continues to frown on anything even remotely resembling what they refer to as “Western decadence.”

IWA President Hrach Gregorian and Senior Associate George Irani present study on Lebanon’s displaced at ISA meeting in Toronto

IWA President HG and Senior Associate GI present study on Lebanon's displaced at ISA meeting in Toronto.

Peace Through Commerce: Tourism and Development in Eritrea


Tourism is increasingly becoming recognized as one of the assets towards promoting diversified economic growth and contributing to poverty alleviation efforts, particularly for developing countries. In 2015 alone, the UNWTO also registered that 1,186 million international tourists generated $1,260 billion in the consumption of entertainment, food and drink, accommodation, shopping and other services. Combined with the travel and transport services utilized by nonresident passengers, tourism exports accounted 1.5 trillion in 2015, approximately $4 billion/day. Tourism also accounted for 1 in 11 jobs worldwide, and is recognized as a leading sector that promotes women and youth employment.

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