cover image Inventing Latinos: A New Story of American Racism

Inventing Latinos: A New Story of American Racism

Laura E. Gómez. New Press, $25.99 (256p) ISBN 978-1-59558-917-0

In this lucid and economical chronicle, UCLA law professor Gómez (Manifest Destinies) explores “how and why Latinos became cognizable as a racial group” in the U.S. She traces the roots of Latino identity to Spanish colonization of the New World, and the importation of enslaved Africans to make up for labor shortages caused by the decimation of indigenous populations. The legacy of American imperialism in Mexico, Central America, and the Spanish Caribbean in the 19th and 20th centuries, she contends, means that migrants from those regions deserve a path to U.S. citizenship. She examines how geographical separation (Cubans in Florida, Mexican Americans in the Southwest, Puerto Ricans in the Northeast) and cultural differences forestalled the emergence of a Latino civil rights movement until the 1970s, and notes the “seismic reverberations” on American politics and popular culture of counting Latinos in every U.S. census since 1980. Noting projections that Latinos will make up 30% of the population by 2060, Gómez celebrates the rise of political figures including Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, and hopes that Donald Trump’s anti-immigration policies and rhetoric will “galvaniz[e] Latino consciousness.” Though Gómez’s prose tends toward the academic, she exposes the racism that underlies representations of Latinos as “perpetual foreigners” in the U.S. with precision. This incisive survey of Latino history packs a knockout punch. (Aug.)