Wait! Before you let the idea of reading a history book scare you away, hear me out! First of all this book is fascinating, well written, and totally deserves a chance. If you shudder at the thought of reading a history book or a nonfiction book or reading in any form, I’ve got you covered! There is a documentary version of Harvest of Emipire: A History of Latinos in America by Juan Gonzalez here! It’s on youtube so, minus the opportunity cost of having to watch a few ads, it’s totally free! The book and documentary cover the same topics. The book goes more in depth but the movie gives you a solid idea of the topics covered and is totally worth your time. Of course, I’m going to talk about the book, because, well, that’s just what I do.
Full disclosure I read this for a class. I really think that’s part of what makes it awesome, this is the first history related reading assignment that I’ve been excited to get back to reading each week. The book is split into three sections entitled Roots, Branches, and Harvest. That alone is a fascinating lens through which to view history. I think we often see the past as a movie that we can watch because those things all happened then and we are living now. The connections are loosely there, but for the most part we get so bogged down in the present we forget to think about how we got here. Which is kind of a big deal because we are creatures of habits and patterns and there are some things that we’ve done that need to be acknowledged, remembered, and studied so we don’t repeat them. This point is particularly relevant with this book and the United States current political climate (I am so sick of hearing that phrase I want to take a moment and apologize for using it… blegh).
The first section, Roots, goes deep into American history, primarily Central and South American history but it occasionally touches on North American history to make a point. I think what really drew me in was the question asked from the get go. Why is North America so incredibly different from South America? How did that happen? This is something that had been on the periphery of my mind for sometime, especially after having read Sudden Death which went into some South American history that intrigued me, but I can’t say I remember learning any of what this book was going over in high school or middle school. The perspectives of the overlapping bits of history were so vastly different that I had to really search my memory for the connections between what I was taught back then and what I was reading today.
The perspectives that are being ignored are what we are faced with when we talk about immigration these days. I’d like to say that I could give a well articulated argument about why building a massive wall and kicking anybody of Latin@, Hispanic, or non Euro decent out of the country is an awful terrible idea and I do think it is a terrible idea for many many heartful reasons. Heartful reasons simply aren’t enough, facts about how we’ve gotten to where we are, are essential. Heart needs to be mixed into the facts in order for policies, laws, and countries to be changed for the better. Juan Gonzalez does an excellent job of combining the facts with personal narratives from people who lived the facts. He did this country by country which, unfortunately, got a little redundant because bad patterns were forming in the United States behavior towards it’s Southern neighbors. As critiques go this one is weak, if anything the redundancy makes Gonzalez’s point about the cause and effects of our actions abundantly clear.
The truth is until I read this and really studied the hows and whys of who we are as a country today I was living in a constructed reality. It is so important to dissect what we are learning and make the effort to learn about other perspectives on the same topic because, ultimately decisions are being made based of the lens we’re looking through. No matter where you stand on immigration, politics, or books make and effort to learn as much as possible. Even if it means watching the documentary instead of reading the book.