Documentary Film and Photography

When We Were Young / There Was A War

Digital documentary explores civil wars in Guatemala and El Salvador and their aftermaths.


"A beautiful interactive website... What better was to overcome the invisibility of Central America in the curriculum than with people telling their own stories. Middle school to adult."
Rethinking Schools, Summer 2015
"Highly engaging .... This website can help teachers gain insight into the resiliency of young people who have survived war, and better understand the immigrant and refugee experience. It brings history and the young people and their families into our own lives in an unforgettable way. A more powerful learning tool for developing empathy and historical understanding would be hard to find."
Dana Walker, Associate Professor, Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Education, University of Northern Colorado

“This is an incredibly useful resource for my geography, history and human rights courses. The design is elegant, the content engaging. Well done!”
 Elizabeth Oglesby, Associate Professor, School of Geography and Development, University of Arizona
"Extraordinary student-friendly bilingual website on Central America...powerful invaluable resource."
Teaching for Change



When We Were Young / There Was A War is a bilingual digital documentary that continues the stories of some of the characters from "If the Mango Tree Could Speak." Through the poignant personal stories of these young adults revisiting their wartime childhoods, viewers learn about the armed conflicts that consumed El Salvador and Guatemala, their aftermaths, and the role of the U.S. As the immigration crisis continues to ignite controversy, the site explores the roots of Central Americans crossing the border, and helps viewers connect the dots between U.S. intervention in the region and immigration.

Each character's story begins with a short video (4-7 minutes) interweaving material from two time periods: archival footage of them as teenagers in wartime and new footage of them as adults in their present day surroundings. Drawn in by these emotionally compelling accounts of the human potential to persevere, the user can then delve into a wealth of additional material, including additional short videos, photographs and text, all of which provide contextual and historical information about the wars and their aftermaths.

Director's Statement

Viewers of "If the Mango Tree Could Speak" often wonder what happened to the children portrayed in the film. How did their early experiences of violence and war help shape who they’ve become as adults? Are they bitter? Do memories and nightmares haunt them? How have they each dealt with the enormous losses they suffered at such a young age? I created this follow-up project to answer those and many other questions.

Over the years, I was able to stay in touch with most of the children, but others I had to locate. The four from Guatemala all still live there. Of the six Salvadorans, two stayed in El Salvador, three emigrated to the US and one to Australia. Some are single, others are married with children; some finished college, others never went to school. But all have grappled, in one way or another, with the losses they experienced as children surrounded by war. Finding out how they have done so, what choices they have made, and their thoughts and feelings about their earlier years is the purpose of making the follow up documentary.

The new documentary cannot help but be in part a story about immigration. Each character made a decision: to stay in their home country or to leave. How are each of them coping? Have there been reconciliation, justice, peace in their homelands? Have those in the U.S. been welcomed as immigrants? What will they tell their children about their own childhoods growing up surrounded by intense conflict and their decision to either stay or leave.

In the original film, I asked who was winning in the battle between fear and hope? I wondered if the children’s spirits had been crushed and if their scars would be permanent. Now, with the benefit of time passed, viewers can peer deeper into how individuals are profoundly marked by early experiences, but also how their strength of character allows them to carry on with their lives.