The Latino Threat Narrative posits that Latinos are not like previous immigrant groups, who ultimately became part of the nation. According to the assumptions and taken-for-granted “truths” inherent in this narrative, Latinos are unwilling or incapable of integrating, of becoming part of the national community. Rather, they are part of an invading force from south of the border that is bent on reconquering land that was formerly theirs (the U.S. Southwest) and destroying the American way of life.
Leo Chavez, The Latino Threat: Constructing Immigrants, Citizens, and the Nation
I will present my synopsis of the book The Latino Threat today at noon at the Urban Engagement Book Club. Confession time – this was a tough book to read. Tough because there is such ugliness and hostility by so many against Latinos.
I have been reading and presenting books on social justice and poverty issues for quite a few years for this unusual book club. I find reading these books, at times, to be wearing. There is so much injustice!
As I read this book, I thought of an ethical argument that I was first exposed to years ago. It went like this: when people reduce a group of other people to “objects,” “things,” then normal ethical considerations can seemingly be ignored. The “other” can become practically invisible. Here’s the argument:
People are called to love people, and use things. But when people are reduced to objects, we are using people. And that is a violation of the basic ethical undergirding of a society. A society is to value people, love people – not use people.
This book is filled with examples of this problem. From the book:
Through objectification (the process of turning a person into a thing) people are dehumanized, and once that is accomplished, it is easier to lack empathy for those objects and to pass policies and laws to govern their behavior, limit their social integration, and obstruct their economic mobility.
Portraying Latinos as objects or things makes it easier to see immigrant marchers as a chaotic mass rather than as people struggling to be recognized as contributing members of U.S. society, or Latinas represented in advertisements as beer bottles—literally things—rather than human beings.
Mr. Chavez, the author, uses the phrase “The Latino Threat” as the dominant narrative of the era. He proposes shifting the narrative, to that of “The Latino Contribution.” He chronicles many of the ways that Latinos have had a positive impact on our society (as with other immigrant groups over time).
If you fall into the “let’s be more accepting” camp, this book will help you reinforce your thinking. (Though, be prepared for some tough stories…). If you are in the “I don’t know how to think about this” camp, then read this to get an overview of the “threat” arguments, and how they are probably not all that accurate. And if you are in the “I don’t want to welcome the Latinos” camp, then read this to at least get a broader perspective.
I wouldn’t say that I enjoyed reading this book. But I am glad I read it. And, considering the border news this week, it was rather a timely read.
And, maybe the counter-narrative should be considered. Maybe it really is not a “threat,” but a “contribution.” Here’s the final word for this blog post, from the book:
What about the Latino Contribution Narrative? For over four hundred years Latinos have been contributing to the social, economic, and cultural life of what is now the U.S. Southwest.
In a sense, those who worry about U.S. culture being changed by Latino immigrants and their descendants are correct. Latinos are changing U.S. culture and will continue to change it even as they themselves change, which is a strong argument for Latino cultural citizenship.