Este informe no está disponible
THE NEW YORK TIMES
BOOK REVIEW DESK
The Real Multinationals
Behind a common language, Hispanics are as various
as people can get.
by Linda Robinson
March 5, 2000
Copyright © 2000 NEW YORK TIMES COMPANY. All Rights Reserved.
BOOK REVIEWED: HARVEST OF
EMPIRE - A History of Latinos in America. By Juan Gonzalez
346 pp. New York: Viking. $27.95.
The hit songs of Ricardo Martinez, better known as Ricky Martin,
are unlikely to remembered a decade from now, but the recent boomlet
of Latino pop stars in this country appears to mark the start
of a more generous appraisal of Hispanics in the United States.
For the most part they have been treated as unwelcome interlopers
or ignored altogether, even though their swelling ranks constitute
the most dramatic demographic transformation the United States
has ever undergone. For a country long used to seeing itself as
black and white, it will be something of a shock when Hispanics
become the nation's largest minority group in five years and fully
one-quarter of the population by midcentury.
Even Americans who are aware of the statistics generally lack
a fuller appreciation of what the country's Latinization portends.
But now, with ''Harvest of Empire,'' Juan Gonzalez has made a
serious, significant contribution to understanding who the Hispanics
of the United States are and where they come from. This ambitious,
well-researched book highlights positive traits that are often
overlooked, like Hispanics' high rates of employment and business
formation, and underscores how their struggles have been compounded
by an anti-immigrant climate and the disappearance of high-wage
union jobs that helped earlier arrivals climb up the socioeconomic
The defining feature of United States Latinos, which poses
the main challenge in writing about them, is their tremendous
diversity. Although joined by a common language (Spanish), they
come from 20-odd countries with distinct histories, customs and
blends of European, African and indigenous stock. Gonzalez takes
the sensible approach of devoting separate chapters to Mexicans
(two-thirds of United States Hispanics), Puerto Ricans, Cubans,
Colombians and Panamanians, Dominicans and Central Americans.
Though he gives short shrift to the uniquely American Latino hybrid
forming in cities where several nationalities cluster, interact
and intermarry, his multigenerational stories of immigrant families
in New York, Texas, California and Florida endow his text with
depth, detail and emotional resonance.
The book's unifying theme, as the title suggests, is that the
United States caused this wave of immigration by two centuries
of neocolonialism, imperialism and economic exploitation. The
author, a Puerto Rican and a columnist for The Daily News in New
York, hammers away at this argument, recounting the military interventions
and heavy-handed, self-interested Washington policies that certainly
did exacerbate the region's troubles. But his insistence that
the United States is the sole culprit behind the poverty and turmoil
propelling so many people northward ignores equally important
factors -- beginning with the anti-entrepreneurial, anti-individualistic
bent of Spanish colonialism -- that restricted economic opportunity
and political liberty. His sustained broadside against Uncle Sam
does help make the point that what happens down there affects
what happens up here, and more specifically that the one realistic
way to curtail immigration to the United States is by improving
people's lives at home.
Unfortunately, Gonzalez is so convinced that the United States
can be only an unremitting force for evil that he cannot see a
good thing if the gringos are behind it. He labels free trade,
which Washington has promoted, an economic disaster for Latin
America and for Mexico in particular. But free trade has in fact
spurred huge job creation there, and Mexico's economy has averaged
five percent growth since 1996, although one would not know it
from reading this book. The United States has a great deal to
be ashamed of in its historical treatment of Latin America, but
the region's development today is hampered less by United States
competition than by its own practices that favor monopoly, discourage
investment and allow vast sums to end up in overseas bank accounts.
Gonzalez explains his point of view in a rich and touching
portrait of his family. An urban New York leftist, he got an Ivy
League education and helped found a militant Puerto Rican group
called the Young Lords, but success did not make him forget his
parents' struggles with racism, violence and poverty or his own
memories -- for example, of the teacher who wanted to call him
John -- that still rankle. His thesis best applies to Puerto Rico,
which was and still is the United States' sole Latin American
possession. Its anomalous, quasi-colonial status has played havoc
with Puerto Ricans' social stability, economic fate and national
identity. But whereas Gonzalez's personal politics would seem
to make independence the logical solution for him to embrace,
he instead takes the awkward position that Puerto Ricans should
gain full autonomy but retain their coveted United States citizenship.
Such conflicted stances are exactly what has kept the island on
the fence, unwilling to give up the benefits of tax-free welfare
and open access to the mainland despite the political humiliation
of limited suffrage and subjection to wartime draft.
The book's final section tackles the issues that will determine
whether the Latinos of the United States are successfully integrated
into the mainstream: immigration, education and political enfranchisement.
Gonzalez makes a persuasive case that newcomers and natives alike
ought to be able to agree on certain common-sense goals, among
them that the federal government should help areas hardest hit
by immigrant influxes, that English fluency is a critical asset
for economic advancement and that foreign-born residents should
become legal citizens, with a voice in the system. Recent elections
show that the Latino vote has become key in critical states, and
most presidential candidates now on the stump are at least trying
to speak a few words of Spanish.
Gonzalez has high hopes for a future Latino-led, multiethnic
coalition that will inspire new political activism. And he suggests
that non-Hispanic Americans might grow more accepting of the Latino
presence if they recall earlier fears of Irish, Italian and Jewish
immigrants. They might remember, as they get used to pop tunes
with a Latin beat, that some of the most quintessentially American
songs were written by Israel Baline, a working-class man from
Siberia better known as Irving Berlin.