In Harvest of Empire, the author reviews the history of the people who are known today as latinos in the United States. In the more than five centuries since Spanish ships arrived in the Caribbean, many millions of people have struggled against all five "faces" or kinds of oppression, as formulated by political scientist Iris M. Young.
These five distinct, irreducible types of oppression are exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, cultural domination, and violence.
While these are present and overlapping in all periods, violence and exploitation are most easily observed in the conquest and colonial eras. The European invasion, combined with existing warfare and smaller-scale conflicts, generated a climate of violence as a key type of socio-political interaction. The desire to exploit natural resources consistent with colonial interventions led to harsh treatment of laborers, for example in the silver mines of the Andes.
While a certain amount of shared governance between indigenous and European peoples carried into the later colonial era, the imposition of European norms left even former top indigenous leaders powerless. The institution of slavery was the main force that brought African peoples to the New World. Struggles over power, which fueled the early nineteenth-century independence movements, have continued up to this day.
People of indigenous, African, and mixed-racial heritage increasingly found their interests marginalized in colonies and then nations that were ruled by those of European heritage, which was often justified in terms of race. In the nations dominated by people of European heritage such as the United States, those of Latin heritage are often treated as an inferior "other."
The cultural domination within the US of European-heritage people over those with all other backgrounds has also been a central theme of American history. Appropriation of latino cultural features, for example salsa (both sauce and dance), continues apace as elements of latino cultures make their way into general acceptance and popularity, even as poverty and immigration law disputes disenfranchise people of latino heritage.