Harvest of Empire Summary

In Harvest of Empire, Juan Gonzalez tells a sweeping history of Latinos in the United States, from the early colonial era to the present day.

  • Gonzalez argues that, contrary to popular opinion and despite their undervaluation, Latinos have been part of the United States since before the arrivals of Anglo colonists.
  • The American government’s exploitative activities across Latin America have resulted in several waves of Latino migration to the states; these consequences of imperialism are what Gonzalez calls the “harvest of empire.”
  • Gonzalez traces the particular paths of different Latino groups, including Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Cubans, and Dominicans.


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Last Updated on June 24, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1473


Harvest of Empire is a nonfiction book by Juan Gonzalez that examines the historical relationship between Latin America and the United States. The book is divided into three sections: “Roots” explores the history of colonialism in Latin America and discusses how different Latin American cultures interacted with their respective colonizers; “Branches” analyzes the history of immigration between Latin America and the United States and discusses the diverse array of Latin American subcultures that now populate the United States; “Harvest” emphasizes the growing importance of Latin Americans in US politics and provides insight into the most relevant sociopolitical issues facing Latin American voters. Juan González is a journalist and political activist of Puerto Rican descent who has worked as a columnist for the New York Daily News. Harvest of Empire is both a work of investigative journalism and a political statement, and it applies a critical lens to the history of United States intervention in Latin America. 

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“Roots” outlines the history of colonization in the Americas. Beginning with Columbus’s arrival in 1492, Europeans began claiming and settling across North, South, and Central America. However, Gonzalez notes that the interactions between colonizers and native residents varied by region. Whereas North America was primarily settled by the French and British, who typically avoided interaction and cultural blending with the natives, Central and South American were colonized by the Spanish, who took a more aggressive approach. Gonzalez defines the colonial approach of the Spaniards as one of “social inclusion” and “political exclusion,” whereas the British and French maintained a more strict segregation in the North American colonies. 

Gonzalez notes that the United States’ bid for independence from Britain transformed them from a series of disjointed colonies into an Empire. Many Latin American countries tried to ally themselves with the United States in the wake of the revolutionary war, but the United States often proved to be a fickle ally. Rather than supporting the revolutions of their Latin American neighbors, the United States often took advantage of political turmoil in order to expand its own territorial holdings. 

As the twentieth century began, the United States had solidified its power over much of Latin America. In order to maintain its economic hold on Latin America, the United States interfered in the internal politics of various nations. Gonzalez cites US support for dictators such as Fulgencio Batista in Cuba and Rafael “El Jefe” Trujillo in the Dominican Republic as examples of US interference. He also notes that the designation of Puerto Rico as an unincorporated Commonwealth of the United States is a form of political and economic disenfranchisement. Gonzalez identifies the political instability caused by United States intervention as the cause for the increase in Latin American immigrants to the United States during the twentieth century. 


“Branches” discusses the various different groups of Latin American...

(The entire section contains 1473 words.)

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