In Latinos: Remaking America, the editors — anthropologist Marcelo M. Suárez Orozco and educational researcher Mariela M. Páez — have brought together some of the leading minds in the study of the U.S. Latino population. The book has twenty-one chapters, organized in two parts. Part One addresses Histories, Migrations, and Communities, and Part Two discusses Health, Families, Languages, Education, and Politics. The book contains a thought-provoking epilogue by Silvio Torres-Saillant, an English professor at Syracuse University and director of CUNY’s Dominican Studies Institute, and an afterword by Doris Sommer, professor of Latin American literature at Harvard University. The book presents landmark research on Latino histories, education, health, language, and politics. It is to date the best and most comprehensive book systematically examining major aspects of the Latino population in the United States, now the nation’s largest minority.
One of the gems of the book is the introduction by Suárez-Orozco and Páez. In just a few pages, they cover an impressive historical and current territory. The introduction frames the book and provides invaluable background and demographic information about Latinos in the United States. The editors present a compelling perspective in analyzing the pan-ethnic Latino construct. The introduction also raises some of the critical issues and broad questions that will frame the future research agenda for the study of Latinos in this country. Some of these issues are the state of Latinos’ mental health in the process of immigration, access to health care, the consequences of family separation during immigration, and the study of anti-immigrant attitudes.
In the first three chapters of Part One, the cultural and sociopolitical history of Latinos is unfolded. Historian George Sanchez takes the historical approach of defining Latinos in the context of the current racial discourse. Cultural theorist Juan Flores analyzes the Caribbean Latino diaspora through a cultural interpretation of music and literacy tradition. Anthropologists Alex Stepick and Carol Dutton Stepick examine the extraordinary journey of Miami Cubans from a dynamic cultural and historical perspective. These authors bring to the forefront the development of the Latino identity in a transnational context.
Chapters four through six address Latinos’ identities in the United States and in the midst of labor negotiations in the new millennium. Anthropologist Diego Vigil describes the continuum of Mexican American history in the Southwest and its implications in the dynamics of identity formation through racialization and multiple marginalities experienced by Mexican and Central American youth. Sociologist Robert C. Smith examines the evolving dynamics of the Mexican immigrants on the East Coast as he describes the privileging of girls in school performance in that region. John Trumpbour and Elaine Bernard, directors of the Harvard Trade Union Program, present their analysis of the role of labor organization in the context of the new millennium’s politics of international labor.
The last three chapters of Part One broaden our understanding of how geographical and historical lines are merged by immigrants’ experiences in the United States. Sociologist Peggy Levitt describes how the transnational boundaries are erased by the religious organizational skills that immigrants bring with them and that transcend the lines of race and language. Political scientist Wayne A. Cornelius examines the factors influencing anti-immigration sentiments, especially in California, where the impact of Latinos has transformed the U.S. context. Sociologists Jacqueline Hagan and Nestor Rodríguez present their documentation on the impact of immigration reform laws at the community and family levels in the Texas border.
The second part of Latinos: Remaking America presents the theoretical and empirical work that have defined Latinos’ experiences in the United States. In chapters ten through twelve, David Hayes Bautista presents an overview of Latinos’ health, which reveals a paradoxical relation between Latinos’ access to more wealth and the worsening of their health due to their living conditions in the United States. Health policy researchers Richard Brown and Hongjian Yu also present a saddening summary of Latinos’ access to the health-care system and forecast the devastating consequences on their health and on the cost of intervention measures.
The next three chapters provide an overview of the major issues presently impacting the experiences of Latino immigrant families transnationally and in the U.S. context. Sociologist Piarrette Honagneu-Sotelo addresses the Latina female role in the U.S. economy and integrates the interacting effects of the economic desirability of domestic workers and their role in the U.S. gender movement, as well as the effects of these roles on the family due to immigrant women leaving their children behind. Psychologist Celia Falicov discusses the cross-cultural adaptation of immigrant women and the psychological constructs that their new experiences provide. Psychoanalyst Ricardo Ainslie presents the psychological aspects of adaptation from a psychodynamic perspective and other innovative approaches to illuminate the complexity involved in studying Latino families, immigration, and cultural change.
Chapters sixteen to eighteen are devoted to the study of language and linguistic variation that Latinos bring with them and invent in the context of the U.S. politics and cultural dynamics. Psycholinguist Barbara Zurer Pearson brings forward the importance of studying Latinos’ language acquisition in a report of her research on bilingual children’s language acquisition trajectory. Sociolinguist Ana Celia Zentella confirms the importance of this research and expands upon it by looking at the role of identity in linguistic varieties of Spanish and “Spanglish” as embedded in economic, political, and social forces. Educational researcher Patricia Gándara reports on the implications of the post-antibilingual movement in California by analyzing the statistics related to changes in bilingual educators, demonstrating the demoralizing effects of antibilingual political movements.
The last four chapters of Latinos: Remaking America describe the educational trajectory of schooling for Latinos in the context of standardized testing and other new policies. Educational researchers Luis Moll and Richard Ruiz present an overview of the various indicators in the schooling experiences and outcomes of Latino youngsters and the impact of policies around bilingualism and language instruction. Demographer Jorge Chapa dismantles this argument in the context of the same policies in the Texas educational school systems and presents a compelling argument for affirmative action in the face of the gap between the number of Latinos and the total U.S. population in acquiring a bachelor’s degree or pursuing graduate studies. Historian Oscar Handlin comments on the role of Latinos as a demographic entity in the political arena and points to the important role of this population in influencing this country’s political future. Political scientists Louis DeSipio and Rodolfo O. de la Garza continue this discussion with actual patterns of Latino participation in political elections and point to the role of elites and institutions in guiding the political processes for this population. In the last chapter, political scientist Lisa Montoya examines the factors that influence political participation, such as gender, citizenship, and institutions, and that determine the pattern of Latino political involvement.
The clear strengths of this book is the commentaries written by a variety of Harvard scholars from different fields. While not experts in Latino issues, they were invited to comment on a group of chapters related to their research work. Thus, the authors provide an outsider’s perspective and place the particular work within the larger context of their academic field. These commentaries offer rich and thoughtful ideas and add to our understanding of the theoretical and empirical work on Latinos.
This book is an essential read for students, educators, scholars, and policy-makers who are trying to understand the Latino experience in the United States. The comprehensive focus of the book will surely attract a broad audience of students and academics.