Culture

Arm Your Mind With 2019’s Best Latino & Latin American History Books

Lead Photo: Art by Alan Lopez for Remezcla
Art by Alan Lopez for Remezcla

The year 2019 has been deeply challenging for Latino communities. With several countries in Latin America and the Caribbean in political revolt, hate crimes against Latinos on the rise in the U.S., families being separated in their homes and at the border and leaders and advisers in the White House who are worsening, rather than easing, our plight, it’s time to turn to books about our history to find a way forward.

From explorations of the issues that Latino communities are facing today – such as immigration, racial profiling, colonialism and poverty – to issues we will encounter in the future – including climate change and water shortages – to inspiring portrayals of our resiliency throughout history, here are some academic and historical titles published in 2019 that focus on Latinos and Latin Americans.

1

Solito, Solita: Crossing Borders with Youth Refugees from Central America, edited by Steven Mayers and Jonathan Freeman

Solito Solita

Solito, Solita fills a deeply important gap present in so much news coverage of immigration. The anthology, edited by Steven Mayers and Jonathan Freeman, is made up of 15 first-person accounts from young people who crossed the border on their own. It shares the wide spectrum of experiences that someone undergoes to make the trek north, including a mother trying to give her children better lives and boys fleeing gang violence. With an introduction by Javier Zamora, a poet who has written about his own experience crossing the border as a child, Solito, Solita is a thoughtful collection of urgent stories.

2

A Future History of Water by Andrea Ballestero

A Future History of Water

When it comes to the impact of climate change, the question is more “when” rather than “if,” and for countries that don’t already have heavily developed infrastructure, the answer is “soon.” After extensive fieldwork in Brazil and Costa Rica, Andrea Ballestero has written about the struggle to make water not just a commodity but a human right. A Future History of Water illuminates the ways that the substance we have taken for granted must increasingly be reconsidered in a time of shortage and change, and it uses Latin America as the proving ground. 

3

Aftershocks of Disaster: Puerto Rico Before and After the Storm, edited by Yarimar Bonilla and Marisol LeBrón

Aftershocks of Disaster

The Aftershocks of Disaster: Puerto Rico Before and After the Storm is an anthology by Yarimar Bonilla and Marisol LeBrón that catalogs the ongoing effects of 2017’s Hurricane María and the disastrous federal and local responses to it. From the voices of Puerto Ricans, the book discusses the environmental, social, emotional and spiritual catastrophes the Category 4 storm dealt the archipelago. 

4

Barrio America: How Latino Immigrants Saved the American City by A. K. Sandoval-Strausz

With research based in two Latino strongholds in the US, Chicago’s Little Village and Dallas’ Oak Cliff, scholar A. K. Sandoval-Strausz’s Barrio America argues that when Latinos settle down in communities, they start a process of reinvestment and reinvigoration in cities that were emptied out by white flight into the suburbs. Additionally, the book shares some difficult truths about how non-Black Latino communities have benefitted from anti-Black discrimination and how that has shaped and exacerbated issues of segregation in cities.

5

Racial Migrations: New York City and the Revolutionary Politics of the Spanish Caribbean by Jesse Hoffnung-Garskof

Zooming back 130 years to another urban setting, this time New York City’s deeply segregated Greenwich Village, Racial Migrations: New York City and the Revolutionary Politics of the Spanish Caribbean by Jesse Hoffnung-Garskof looks at how Black Puerto Ricans and Cubans settled near one another and blossomed. From this tiny enclave, educational societies, art, music and political discourse sprouted that prefigured the kind of interracial democracy we’re still trying to figure out. It’s a fascinating history of an often-forgotten community.

6

Separated: Family and Community in the Aftermath of an Immigration Raid by William D. Lopez

Back in 2013, when former President Barack Obama was still in office, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) conducted a raid on an auto body shop in Washtenaw, Michigan. Compared to the shakedowns that have occurred under President Donald Trump, including the massive bust this year in Mississippi, this raid was relatively small, affecting dozens rather than thousands of people. However, it still devastated communities and individuals alike. Separated is the result of hours of interviews with those affected, offering gumshoe FOIA-heavy journalism and a deep, empathetic understanding of community. 

7

In the Red Corner: The Marxism of José Carlos Mariátegui by Mike Gonzalez

José Carlos Mariátegui was a philosopher whose thought was deeply influenced not only by Karl Marx but also by the history of his native country, Peru. The social thought that emerges is deeply influenced by Indigenous ways of knowing, thinking and relating to one another. In the Red Corner: The Marxism of José Carlos Mariátegui by Mike Gonzalez, the author shares how Mariátegui argued for a kind of anti-capitalist future that wasn’t just predicated on imported European models but that drew on the long, pre-capitalist history available in the Americas. Gonzalez’s biography of Mariátegui serves as a fantastic introduction to his thought and shows how his thinking is still applicable today.

8

Graciela Iturbide's Mexico: Photographs by Graciela Iturbide

Graciela Iturbide is a black-and-white film photographer who, in the course of her career, spent significant amounts of time with Indigenous and rural communities. This book is a collection that includes some of her best-known work. It is accompanied by the photographer’s musings on her own career, from her fixation with the funerals of “angelitos” after her own daughter’s death to her lifelong fascination with birds. Beautifully printed and bound, the book serves as a fantastic introduction to the work of an artist who sees Mexico not through the lens of a National Geographic explorer or an anthropologist but through the eyes of family.

9

Policing Life and Death: Race, Violence and Resistance in Puerto Rico by Marisol LeBrón

Policing Life and Death: Race, Violence, and Resistance in Puerto Rico

When the U.S. invaded and colonized Puerto Rico, it also forced its western-style punitive policing, tamping down on social unrest, reinforcing societal divides and ensuring that the status quo remained active. In Policing Life and Death: Race, Violence and Resistance in Puerto Rico by Marisol LeBrón, the author tracks the rise of policing, as well as the incline in resistance that followed, in Puerto Rico and searches for more just and tranquil alternatives. 

10

El Norte: The Epic and Forgotten Story of Hispanic North America by Carrie Gibson

“El Norte: The Epic and Forgotten Story of Hispanic North America” by Carrie Gibson

We all know about the pilgrims, the Alamo and the whitewashed history of the United States pretty well, but the legacy of Spanish colonialism in the U.S. goes back further. In El Norte: The Epic and Forgotten Story of Hispanic North America by Carrie Gibson, the author traces out this history, somewhat known but not always acknowledged, and argues that it’s foundational to the U.S. we experience today.