On November 16, 1989, I was a sophomore at the Jesuit-run Regis High School in New York City. I was in my guidance counselor's office when we first found out about the massacre of the six Jesuits priests at the UCA in San Salvador. Over the next several months, we learned more about their work through an alumnus who had been working with Salvadoran refugees across the border in Honduras.
Oddly enough, I was already familiar with El Salvador when I first heard of the Jesuits' murders. Sr. Maura Clarke, one of the American churchwomen killed in December 1980, was from my neighborhood. We went to the same grammar school in Rockaway Beach, NY. While I have no recollection of her death (I was six at the time), I do remember seeing her plaque in the school hallway. When I arrived at the Jesuit-run Fairfield University for my undergraduate studies, I made friends with the dean of students. It turned out that she had known Jean Donovan very well, a missionary killed alongside Sr. Clarke. One of the other Churchwomen killed in El Salvador, Sr. Dorothy Kazel, was an Ursuline nun as is my aunt and godmother.
The murders of the churchwomen and those of the Jesuits heavily influenced my decision to apply for a Fulbright to study in El Salvador following graduation from Fairfield University (major in political science with minors in Latin American and Caribbean Studies and Peace and Justice Studies). I spent 1997 in El Salvador studying the development of the political party system in the postwar period. I took sociology and political science classes with Rafael Guido Bejar and Joaquin Aquilar at the University of Central America and a history course at the University of El Salvador. I taught an ESL course to a few former guerrillas and other terrific people at the Centro de Intercambio y Solidaridad. I also volunteered as an election observer in Apopa (Berlin in 2004). I carried out several interviews of journalists, politicians, and academics that year as well.
After returning from Central America in mid-1998, I applied for graduate school in political science and ended up at Florida State University in Tallahassee. In graduate school, I hoped to study the transition of former rebel movements to political parties in El Salvador and Guatemala. Unfortunately, very few faculty thought it was a good idea. No one was really studying such transitions in 1999 when I started school. It took awhile, but I eventually convinced enough of them (I only needed four + one outside member) that I was on to something. It turned out to be a good experience as I dabbled in political parties and institutions, political violence, and Latin America-based courses.
I didn't go to a school known for producing Latin Americanists and I didn't study under Latin Americanists who were well known so I am somewhat of an enigma in certain circles. There aren't too many political scientists who study Central American politics.
For the last seven years, I have been teaching Latin American politics at the University of Scranton in Northeast Pennsylvania. Scranton, of course, is another Jesuit institution. Given that I am from New York and my wife is from Boston, we lucked out with location. The weather's not great but there's not much we can do about that.
I have been in Guatemala since December on a faculty Fulbright. On this trip, I have two papers under review - one on the URNG and another comparing the splinter groups of the FMLN, FSLN, and URNG. I am still working on a book about the URNG but have been sidetracked a bit with another book on United States - Central American relations in the post-Cold War period. This book is based on a series of lectures that I am giving at the Rafael Landivar University. The second one is this Wednesday. I probably have two-thirds of a book on the FMLN complete, but I'm not sure when I am going to get around to it.
As you can tell from my research and my blog writing, I am interested in Central America, especially El Salvador and Guatemala where I have spent the most time. I spent February to December 1997 in El Salvador and a few weeks in 1998. I also made trips there in 2004, 2008, and 2012. For Guatemala, I spent one month backpacking in 1998 and then research trips in 2004, 2007, and 2010. I arrived again on December 29th of last year and will be here into mid-August, so another eight month trip. I am here with my wife and two young children.
In terms of some of my other experiences in Latin America, I took a two week trip to Mexico in 1991. I studied abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1995. I then spent a about two months traveling through parts of Bolivia, Paraguay, Brazil, Uruguay, Peru, and Chile. While in college, I also did one- to two-week volunteers trips in Kingston, Jamaica (twice) and Oaxaca (as well as Robins, Tennessee and Morehead, Kentucky).
After my 1997 Fulbright, I spent the first four months of 1998 backpacking through Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Belize, and the Yucatan of Mexico. I then spent three months backpacking through Venezuela in September. In 2001, I taught comparative government to US college students in San Jose, Costa Rica. I spent about ten days in Cuba that summer too.
Most of my travel and research is on El Salvador and Guatemala but teaching-wise, I offer the intro Latin American politics (mostly Mexico and South America) course every fall and then rotate Central America and US-Latin American Relations each spring.
I hope to bring students down to Central America next year and then in 2015 or 2016, I am planning to hit Panama and Nicaragua with a stopover in Costa Rica where my wife was a Peace Corps Volunteer.
So my writing is based on my experiences having lived, traveled, and studied in Central and South America, research, reading of academic and non-academic materials, and just some good conversations with really smart people about the region. If I weren't an academic, I'd like to think that I would be working with the State Department, the Agency for International Development or a similar organization. Now, I might look into opportunities there when I retire. I don't want to spent my last breath teaching in the classroom.
I hope that answers some questions. Please feel free to ask more. If I don't know the answer, I'll try to find someone who does.