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Latino History in the New Millennium George J. Sanchez
Recently I became involved in a series of fascinating conversations with students enrolled in a Mexican American history class I teach at the University of Southern California. About eighteen of the twenty-one students enrolled were Latino, and the entire class was focused on the similarities and differences between the present-day status of Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans in the United States and that of people of Mexican origin in the past. What captured our attention was the census form that all U.S. families had been asked to fill out and in particular, the questions regarding race and ethnic identity. All Americans were asked whether they had "Hispanic ancestry" and then, in a separate question, what their own racial background was. This second question allowed (for the first time) for multiple responses, but it did not include a category for Mexican or Latino as a race, even though separate "racial" categories were included for specific Asian countries, such as China, Japan, and the Philippines.
My Latino students and their families found these questions puzzling and inconsistent with their own sense of ethnic and racial identities. Unlike many Anglo Americans, who now take offense at having to answer any question regarding their racial background, my students were perplexed by the odd positing of a "Hispanic" category that was not considered racial and by the implication that people of Mexican origin fell comfortably into another racial category, or multiple categories, or the ubiquitous "other." One student, in particular, explained that all the members of her family had answered the racial question differently, depending on their own self-identities. Her father checked "white" under the racial question, whereas her mother checked both "white" and "Indian." She herself had checked the "other" category and filled in "Mexican" as her racial designation. Other students in the class reported similarly wide-ranging decisions among their family members about how to fill out the racial categorization.
I raise the issue of the census form to highlight the way in which the Latino population's sense of self and its collective history are still far from having a definitive impact on the understanding of race, ethnicity, and nationhood in the United States. The same disjuncture that appears on the census form persists in studies of race and nation in U.S. history, my own field. Although the Harvard conference celebrated the demographic explosion of the Latino population of the United States, the intellectual transformation necessary to accord the Latino condition its rightful prominence in U.S. history is just beginning and will be the centerpiece, I believe, of the work of Latino historians in the twenty-first century. In this chapter, I will outline several critical areas of development in the field of Latino history that I see emerging in recent work, particularly work by younger scholars. In short, I use a different meaning for the abbreviation "Y2K." Rather than a pesky computer bug, I want to make it mean a call to Latino academicians to answer the query, "Y tú, ¿que?" with a resounding attempt to move Latinos to the center of our academic specialties and interdisciplinary discussions.
Let me begin by noting two general tensions that have marked the late-twentieth-century development of Latino history and that will continue to have a profound impact on the field in this twenty-first century. The first is the difference in outlook and direction among historians of Latinos in the United States, depending on whether their training was rooted in Latin American or U.S. history. Most Latinos who entered the historical profession in the 1960s trained in Latin American history, mainly because the study of U.S. history totally ignored the Latino presence in this nation's past. It was only the hiring of Latino historians to teach in U.S. history programs, primarily in the western states, that made it possible to train in U.S. Latino history at UCLA, the University of Texas at Austin, and other institutions. This second wave of Latino historians in the 1970s and 1980s, led by individuals such as Albert Camarillo at Stanford University and Mario García at the University of California, Santa Barbara, institutionalized Latino history solidly within an American historical framework. It also fueled efforts to legitimate the study of the Latino past by vigorously pursuing archival collecting, building a cadre of Latino graduate communities in American history programs, and contributing to interinstitutional efforts such as the IUP, the Inter-University Program for Latino Research.
The results of this change of emphasis have been both positive and negative. The scholars who emerged from the 1980s era of graduate historical training tended to place their work solidly within frameworks of U.S. history, particularly the reinvigorated subfields of the new Western history, urban history, labor history, women/gender history, and immigration history. According to Alberto Camarillo, Mexican American history went from "a nascent, relatively unknown subfield of mainstream U.S. history" to a growing, respected body of scholarship, which "has served as the springboard for studies that pose new, provocative questions and open new areas of inquiry." On the other hand, as Yale historian Stephen Pitti has recently acknowledged, "graduate students in Chicano history today probably know less about Latin America than those that entered the field in the 1960s and early 1970s." Although this situation is certainly a result of a strategic choice by many Chicano historians to get solid training in U.S. history, it is also a sad result of the bifurcation of most history Ph.D. programs, which have tended to train students in largely isolated regional contexts.
This development also highlights the uneven quality of progress in diversifying the historical profession with Latinos of various ethnic groups. Overwhelmingly, the group discussed above that was trained in the 1980s and 1990s has consisted of historians of the Mexican American experience in the United States. Puerto Rican and Cuban American historians, much fewer in overall numbers, continued to emerge primarily from programs that stressed Latin American and Caribbean history. Yet, in none of these subfields of U.S. or Latin American history did Latino historians come close to dominating the ranks of practitioners. For example, according to a study conducted by Rubén Rumbaut, historians of immigration to the United States continue to be almost entirely of European origin, unlike the more substantial percentages of Latino and Asian American immigration specialists working in sociology and political science. Indeed, as the numbers of Central American and South American immigrants to the United States increased in the 1980s and 1990s, new scholars of these groups tended to enter social science fields in which they could investigate these recently formed communities; the field of history continued to seem quite distant from the experiences of these Latino newcomers.
This brief history of the uneven generations of Latino historians in terms of national origins leads to the second critical question that marks the development of the field in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries: Is there such a thing as Latino history? Clearly, the vast majority of monographs and essays that fall comfortably under the rubric of "Latino history" are, upon closer inspection, focused on one particular national group, be it Cuban American, Puerto Rican, Chicano, or another. Historical writings about Latinos have tended to concentrate on one particular geographic area at one particular time, and given the spatial concentration of national-origin groups within the nation, this has led to a body of work in which ethnic specificity still reigns supreme. Other fields in Latino studies, such as literature, have been much more able and willing to stretch across national boundaries and periods of time. Several of the social sciences, especially sociology, have developed comparative approaches, which have allowed for greater pan-Latino efforts than history. Even in areas where more than one Latino group lived in close proximity, such as Chicago, the tendency of historians has been to write about only one of those groups.
Recently, however, younger scholars have begun to write dissertations or first books that take comparative historical approaches quite seriously. John Nieto-Phillips has broadened his historical work on ethnic identity formation of New Mexicans at the turn of the twentieth century by comparing the policies and postures of New Mexicans with the colonial discourse surrounding Puerto Rico after 1898. His work illuminates the important role that colonialism played in decision making about language policy, citizenship, and race in both areas at a time when U.S. lawmakers determined the proper direction of acquired colonial possessions and their populations in a wider framework. Similarly, Adrian Burgos investigates the meaning of race and the color line in the world of professional baseball by looking at the lives of Latino ballplayers as they negotiated among the U.S. major leagues, the Negro leagues, and several venues in the Caribbean and Latin America. Concentrating on the period before Jackie Robinson "broke the color line" in major league baseball, Burgos is able to show how Mexican, Puerto Rican, Venezuelan, Dominican, and other Latino ballplayers were engaged in fluid discourse on race in which their placement was not necessarily predetermined by their appearance but instead was socially constructed to meet the needs of teams and players alike.
Indeed, as a teaching practice, Latino history-as opposed to Mexican American history or Puerto Rican history-is taught only at a few schools in the Midwest and Northeast where both the student population and the intellectual climate justify that framework. On these campuses, the dilemma is how to structure a course that can deal with the wide diversity of experiences that mark the various ethnic histories within the Latino population, while equipping students with enough grounding in each group to understand the larger narrative trajectory of Latino history. I was able to do this by concentrating on two characteristics that nearly all Latino groups in the United States share: having experienced a colonial relationship to the United States as a people and having come to the continental United States as an immigrant/migrant group. The colonial background is critical to an understanding of the incorporation of various Latino groups in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; the migrant experience becomes the basis for comparative understandings of all groups in the twentieth century up to the present.
by first focusing on the varied colonial relationships between Latino groups and the United States, one invariably focuses on the nineteenth century wars that brought Latin American countries into direct contact with the growing power of the United States. Beginning with the Monroe Doctrine of 1820, the United States launched a foreign policy committed to eventually replacing European powers as the major colonial overloads among Latin American nations throughout the American continent. Through the Texas Rebellion of 1836, the Mexican American War of 1848-1850, and the Spanish American War of 1898, the United States positioned itself as the dominant power in the Western Hemisphere, both adding physically to the U.S. land base and developing neocolonial economic ties throughout the region. It was this colonial relationship that shaped the incorporation of the earliest groups of Latinos in the United States during the nineteenth century, installing U.S. governmental powers as direct overseers of Mexican, Cuban, and Puerto Rican populations, now incorporated to varying degrees into the American orbit.
The second experience of commonality between Latino groups is the largely twentieth-century experience of migration to the continental United States from the various nations of Latin America. Although stories of immigration to the United States often portray ambitious immigrants crossing the seas to take advantage of opportunities for advancement, the picture of migration from Latin America is complicated by ongoing neocolonial economic ties to the United States and the varying categories of immigrant status that mark different Latino groups in the twentieth century. The differences among the illegal and extralegal status of many Mexican immigrants to the American Southwest, the refugee status of Cuban migrants in the post-Castro period, and the citizenship status of Puerto Ricans in the continental United States must have far-reaching implications for the nature of these groups' entry and incorporation into U.S. society, but few studies have directly addressed this issue. The overriding historical reality of the twentieth century for all Latino groups, however, is that communities in the United States have been profoundly enriched and transformed by migrants from Latin America.
A third critical area, which I believe needs to be explored to enhance our understanding of Latinos' place in U.S. society, is the complicated role of race and racial formation (see Suarez-Orozco and Paez, this volume). The racial identities and ascriptions of Latinos present an often confusing picture to most U.S. citizens because of the particular history of race in the United States, where a strict dichotomy between black and white governed law and politics. The racially mixed background of most Latinos in the United States, coupled with more fluid ascriptions of racial categories in Latin America, has left Latino understanding of race at odds with U.S. racial descriptions. Moreover, issues of race in the United States, and the contribution of Latino history to a new understanding of race, stand as a critical arena that can potentially bridge the division between Latin American and U.S. history, as well as serve as an important point of comparison between the histories of various Latino groups in the United States. Because growth in the field of Latino history and recognition of the demographic realities of the twenty-first century have much to contribute to changing intellectual understandings of race in the United States, the remainder of this chapter is devoted to these issues of racial formation. In particular, it addresses the question of the 2000 U.S. census and the place of mestizaje in contemporary racial discourse in the United States.
During the 1990s, this nation prepared for its decennial census in a unique and important way.
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|Introduction: The Research Agenda||1|
|Pt. 1||Histories, Migrations, and Communities||39|
|1||"Y tu, que?" (Y2K): Latino History in the New Millennium||45|
|2||Islands and Enclaves: Caribbean Latinos in Historical Perspective||59|
|3||Power and Identity: Miami Cubans||75|
|4||Community Dynamics and the Rise of Street Gangs||97|
|5||Gender, Ethnicity, and Race in School and Work Outcomes of Second-Generation Mexican Americans||110|
|6||Unions and Latinos: Mutual Transformation||126|
|7||Two Nations under God? Latino Religious Life in the United States||150|
|8||Ambivalent Reception: Mass Public Responses to the "New" Latino Immigration to the United States||165|
|9||Resurrecting Exclusion: The Effects of 1996 U.S. Immigration Reform on Communities and Families in Texas, El Salvador, and Mexico||190|
|Pt. 2||Health, Families, Languages, Education, and Politics||207|
|10||The Latino Health Research Agenda for the Twenty-first Century||215|
|11||Latinos' Access to Employment-based Health Insurance||236|
|12||Families on the Frontier: From Braceros in the Fields to Braceras in the Home||259|
|13||Ambiguous Loss: Risk and Resilience in Latino Immigrant Families||274|
|14||The Plasticity of Culture and Psychodynamic and Psychosocial Processes in Latino Immigrant Families||289|
|15||Bilingual Infants: Mapping the Research Agenda||306|
|16||Latin[actual symbol not reproducible] Languages and Identities||321|
|17||Learning English in California: Guideposts for the Nation||339|
|18||The Schooling of Latino Children||362|
|19||Affirmative Action, X Percent Plans, and Latino Access to Higher Education in the Twenty-first Century||375|
|20||Forever Seen as New: Latino Participation in American Elections||398|
|21||Gender and Citizenship in Latino Political Participation||410|
|Epilogue: Problematic Paradigms: Racial Diversity and Corporate Identity in the Latino Community||435|
|Afterword: American Projections||457|
|Notes on Contributors||463|