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Ghosts of diaspora: Hauntology, Hip-Hop and diasporic memory in the colonial Anthropocene

Ghosts of diaspora: Hauntology, Hip-Hop and diasporic memory in the colonial Anthropocene

by Sergio Guerra

Sergio Guerra

This paper explores the political imagination and emancipatory potential of the post-war hinge generation of the Salvadorian post-war diaspora. Through the ethnographic narratives of Hip-Hop recording artist Cheko7even, the production of a hauntological album entitled “The Migrant Report” and an adaptation screenplay entitled, “Adrift, the Salvador Alvarenga Story”, we explore hegemonic power over memory and the impact our transmissions have over identity formation in the diaspora. By extracting themes from the lyrical narrative of the album and screenplay, it explores the rhizome-like assemblages of our diasporic imagination through the modalities of hauntology, political ecology, social work and Hip-Hop. It is a discursive weaving of personal stories, fugitive poetry, socio-ecological conundrums, planetary epochs, decolonial scholarship, war, displacement, love and critique. It attempts to creatively thread personal story and global counter-currents to argue for the benefits of diasporic subjectivities in creating emancipatory narratives that bridge the West-South divide and advocate the use of experimental modalities of cultural production to produce counter-subjectivities from the diasporic political imagination.

In this paper, I study the diasporic political imagination through an ethnographic and artistic exploration of my own Salvadorian subjectivity through the modalities of Hip-Hop, Hauntology, Political Ecology and Social Work. I argue that when trying to understand the imprint of historical memory on the political imagination of a diaspora, linguistic technologies like Hip-Hop Lyricism can become a tool for healing, remembrance and preservation. Such lyricism can help illuminate marginalized subjectivities within the fragmented memories of war and migration. I want to capture a glimpse of the growing harmony of echoes and reverbs emerging from the silences of the diasporic psyche to discover precious insight into the political possibilities of the future.

This portfolio centers around the creation of the Migrant Report LP and Adrift: A.S.A.S. The Migrant Report album was inspired by a 1992 CBC Radio interview with my family unit about the right to return after the signing of the 1992 Peace Accords. My father had pulled out the cassette tape 28 years after it was recorded. In the opening sequence of the recording, the reporter states, “For the past year and half, Salvadorian refugees have been watching the Peace process and asking, will it last? Now that the county is heading into elections in March, many Salvadorans are torn between their family friends and careers in Central America and the security that exists here in Canada, Steve Hunt reports, it’s a difficult decision for many in the Salvadorian community”. The album, culminating 30 years of my arriving to Canada, focuses on the issues of race, migration and environmental justice.

The inspiration to make an album based around the recordings inspired an act of mapping the slow processes of diasporic change over time and their impressions on the physical and psychic body. Building text around the interview meant grappling with the presence of a past condition in the recording and having to answer the interview questions again, in the present moment. As the original answers brought us to the present moment, perhaps something can be revealed about a future moment through their re-engagement in the present. Adrift: A.S.A.S is an adaptation of the Salvador Alvarenga story in 2012, a Salvadoran fisherman and author who was lost at sea for 14 months adrift in a fishing boat in the Pacific Ocean. He is the first person in recorded history to have survived in a small boat lost at sea for more than a year. This screenplay, along with Salvador’s real life struggle, serves as an empty vessel for the transposing of the Salvadorian condition and the “adrift-ness”, that is characteristic of historical memory in post-war post-colonial societies.

Cheko7even aka Cheko Salaam aka Hyf the GypsySun aka Hyfidelik has gone through many metamorphosis. Every version of Sergio are all part of the world-making that Hip Hop allows. They are a testament that Hip-Hop and poetic life is a constant process of self discovery and transformation. Sergio began rapping in high school, forming a rap group with friends, Mauro and Dj-T-wrecks called Fonetiks. This was the beginning of Chekos education into the world of music. He was a part of the infamous Presswon Collective, a rag-tag band of musicians and emcees. Continuing with Cheko's collaborative approach, he was also part of the versatile Missing LinX, a collective of four unique and multi-talented poet-emcees, Just Jamaal, Prufrock Shadowrunner and Cannon2x. They performed a brand of spoken-word and rap like a team sport, combining their profound and insightful poetic ideas with their unmatchable performance energy. He is also one-third of TAPAS, featuring prolific Jeepz on production alongside scribe, G.Grand, performing at Bluesfest three times, Ottawa's largest music festival. 

My memories of my childhood and my family’s history in El Salvador have had a massive influence over the formation of my subjectivity in my 30 years living in the diaspora. Grappling with them shaped my MES master’s program to feel like a frustrating duel in which I have attempted to untie a chaotic mass of spectral entanglements and temporal assemblages. It is important to remember that the short stories in this paper depend on larger histories of articulation (Ahmed, 1999). These stories are the anchors which drive my investigation, reveal themselves in my work and influence (and probably complicate) my ethnographic process.

Four samples -- 1) Hauntology Rap: The Lost Desires of Revolution; 2) The Commodity Form, World-eating Capitalism and Hip-Hop Critique; 3) The Urban Political Ecology of Migrant Lyricism; and 4) Illicit Economies, Gang Society and the Silence of the Fugitive -- are taken from the narrative structures of the Long Play (LP) album. These cover a wide range of issues revealed in selected passages of the album and aims to join them with my personal history, revolutionary historical narratives and currents of theory learned during my (me completing) masters. In the question of emancipatory potential from these hauntological sites of creation by the hinge generation, I propose that the four samples extracted from the Migrant Report LP is a result and example of this alternative transmissions that helps to amplify marginalized or fugitive subjectivities that within them, hold the keys to an alternative future. The 4 samples are stretched into a non-linear sequence of investigating a series of hunches, uncanny moments, spectral stories from a fragmented family history and theoretical interactions that present yet another set of fragments that point to what may be invisible to the norms and values of modern society, but felt real and palpable by many with a shared sense of loss. Diaspora is a crypt of communion and it is the manner of our transmissions that determine the possibilities of future generations to interact with their history, that is, their ancestry, heritage and lived culture. (Please refer to the full paper for a full reading of the four samples of lyrical ethography).

This movement of intention has been germinating ever since I was extracted from a place you would never have wanted to leave until it became what Warsan Shire called, the mouth of a shark. Since that moment of rupture, I have resisted the slow violence of forgetting: whether by the taxidermic tendencies of modern nostalgia; the pressures of assimilation within Canada’s colonial settler state; or the psychological colonization by the commodity form due to global capitalism’s domination. I believe, as Nayyira Waheed stated, that memory is the cure for apathy. Our displacement from homeland threatens to make us feel like we are no longer a part of our heritage simply because we no longer walk on its territory. It is a force that says, in order to be a complete person in the West, you must learn to forget and forget to become. It is this force that I choose to resist and this instruction which I aspire to disobey. Behind the narratives of war, gangbangers, migration caravans, scarcity and dictatorships, is an inheritance brimming with love and care, knowledge and wealth, resistance and resilience. We are an extension of our people’s history into the future. We do not have to forget, even if we don’t remember, and we don’t have to become, because we already are.

What I hope the Migrant Report LP and ethnographic narrative analysis convey is that the diasporic political imagination depends on the transmission of the hinge to be hauntologically attuned to its spectral transmission of trauma and nostalgia. The diasporic subject, especially those facing the largest force of metaphysical capitalism and displacement, to contribute an important piece to the fight against total extraction and its logics. I hope this essay enrichens the debates the grammars of immigration and settlement in Canada and offers a wider range of subjectivities a chance to be included in authoritative texts regarding lived experiences. I also consider this text as a starting point for further investigation into areas such as diasporic cultural production, transnational imaginations between cultural producers, or work connected to finding decolonial ways to build projects or organize communities. This can be a step wards more identify formation practices that foster remembrance of historical memory for 2nd or 3rd generation diaspora.

In many ways, processing a master’s degree through the aesthetics of first sound, urgency, dub, (in)visibility, The Break, sampling, style, and magic and ritual as well as my own personal narratives was a haunting experience, akin to finding a magical flower at midnight due to a long prayer and fast from having to know it all. Using these rogue techniques to finding the fruit of the hinge and hauntology was like folding the flower in right pattern to bring the fortune of insight and memory. Encountering the beast, was like the words written in Miguel Angel diary, a dance with the devil.

I conclude with weaving back to the hinge as a site of transference that can be best understood by cultural production as per aesthetics of a hauntological culture like Hip-Hop. This essay is threaded with passages from previous songs or songs from the Migrant Report LP to weave between scholarship, theory making and cultural production.


Sergio Guerra aka Cheko Salaam (Cheko 7even), is an artist of the global diaspora. Of those whose hearts were split in half by migration. Of those always in between things. Those who speak from the darkest part of night, who build the web of relations between distant lands, who learn to love and be loved in a time of war. Cheko Salaam is a Salvadorian Born Canadian raised poet, rapper, producer and educator, focusing on themes of migration, spirituality and the environment. Growing up in Ottawa, he was part of many community initiatives, often combining art and social justice as a tool for collective action. Cheko formed groups like Missing LinX, Nationless Minds, and most recently the Broken English Music Collective, a development program for newcomer or 1st generation youth to gain skills and access to resources to support their artistic dreams. He currently works as Coordinator for an Immigration Partnership (Toronto West Local Immigration Partnership) where he builds capacity and helps steer the sector to a more equitable position. As a social worker within the settlement sector, he runs the Women Against Violence Initiative which seeks to raise capacity in the settlement sector to respond to gender-based violence.

This master’s (MES '21) portfolio, which includes a 13-track Hip-Hop album entitled “The Migrant Report, a screenplay for “Adrift: An Adaptation of the Salvador Alvarenga Story” and accompanying production ethnography, is dedicated and written for all the Salvadorians displaced outside of their homeland during or after the Civil War. Those who are working to stitch the pieces of home back together from a fragmented history. Our past is full of dark and violent moments that has left our sense of self fragment and disjointed. Our future(s), in the hands of a beast that is too large to see all at once, leaving us with a feeling that can’t be translated with words alone. If you are the door to a new way of being that is liberated from the clutches of the beast, I am the hinge to facilitate your travel back and forth between the past and the future, so you can continue with a richer, fuller and more emotive view of your heritage. In poetic terms, I want you to map how the beast was coronated in our minds and on our territories, so that we can live to reverse its sorcery and choose otherwise.

My hope is that this study will contribute to creating diverse avenues to access the past and to enliven emancipatory and creative energy around what the future looks like. My move as the hinge comes from a desire to communicate alternative transmissions of a diasporic history that are liberated from the power that benefits from a monopoly on memory and our forgetfulness. Our transmissions will determine the health of our historical memory as a diaspora and it is in these stories where we may find medicine to help us heal and transcend our historical and collective trauma.