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Migration has been an important part of the Salvadoran story for decades. Faced with high population density, few natural resources and high unemployment, migration is sometimes the only route to economic opportunity.

In one recent study, more than one quarter of those surveyed indicated that they would like to migrate in the next year. 1

About one-third of Salvadorans live outside the country, primarily in the United States. Remittances from abroad bring more than $3.5 billion a year into the country. Some observers worry that this flow of cash undermines the work and savings ethic of those who stay behind. Migration often means that families are fragmented, even as one or more family members dutifully send money back to the others at home.

The rise of gang violence in El Salvador in recent decades is in some part a function of migration. Experts say that the gangs were born in Los Angeles, where young Salvadoran immigrants became involved on the streets and in prisons, and were then deported back to El Salvador. Migration north by men in search of jobs has also meant that young men were unsupervised in single parent homes and may have been susceptible to gang recruitment in urban barrios. 

American culture is somewhat evident in El Salvador, in stores, restaurants and malls, and Salvadorans actually use the U.S. dollar as their currency. At the same time, for a country that has had so many of its residents living in the United States, relatively few people speak English. American films in translation are common on TV and at movie theaters, and lean toward the more violent end of the American media spectrum.