Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Book of the Week


The biggest problem with Americanos: Latino Life in the United States is that the people who most need to read it probably will not read it because they are quite sure that they already know what Latinos are like. Of course, those who are most likely to read the book will undoubtedly have similar notions about what actual Latinos are like but their notions are more likely to be based on fact since they are either themselves Latinos or else have Latino friends, in-laws, co-workers or relatives. So while it would be nice if they read the book too, I suspect that such a book will be doing little more than preaching to the converted.

Then again actor Edward James Olmos once said in response to a photo in this book that portrayed a Hispanic child playing chess, "Who puts chess with Latinos? Nobody. Or water polo? Or surfing? You just don't, in the U.S., put them together."

This quote makes me sad because when I was growing up, neither my Mexican-born father nor any of my Mexican-American cousins had any problem seeing chess as a Mexican-American activity. Indeed, as my father often noted, chess has quite a history in the Hispanic world. Unfortunately that aspect of chess history is rarely recognized here in the United States where chess is presumed to be not only an activity for smart people but an activity for white non-Hispanic people as well. And if I had not grown up with the type of relatives I have, I might have thought of chess in the same way that Olmos alluded to in that quote.

Indeed, as much as I would like to dismiss Olmos's statement as an obvious untruth, I can't help remembering that I had a problem seeing surfing as a Latino thing for many years even though some words of surfer slang -- for example, "chick" -- were derived from Spanish. For that matter, I rarely saw water polo as anything other than an activity for rich WASPs because that was the impression I got from American books, movies and TV shows -- an impression that might not have existed if a book like Americanos had existed in my youth.

So maybe I should not be so hasty about dismissing the importance of Americanos to would-be readers in the Latino and Latinophile communities. After all, it would be nice if would-be Hispanophobes read it too but that does not mean that there is not much in this book that non-Hispanophobes can learn from as well. And if you choose to be one of the few smart people out there who don't believe this book is worth reading, you can always look at the pictures.

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