Harvest of Empire Analysis

  • Harvest of Empire explores the complex history of various Latino groups in the United States today—from the colonial activities of Spain and Britain, to the foreign policies of the United States in Latin America, to the northward migrations movements.
  • Gonzalez’s thesis concerns the causes and effects of the US involvement in Latin America. The US has selfishly meddled in Latin American politics by backing anti-Communist dictators and exploited those nations’ land and labor for profit. The resulting wreckage has driven several generations of Latinos from numerous nations to the US in search of better lives.

Analysis

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Last Updated on June 24, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 864

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Juan González traces the histories of various Latin American countries from colonization by the Spanish and the English to their evolving relationship with the United States in order to explain the complex circumstances that spur Latin Americans to migrate to the United States. Though Gonzalez does discuss Latin Americans on a broad scale, he also devotes great attention to ensuring that readers understand the unique histories and values of each migrant group. 

Though Latin American immigrants share many things in common, they are not a homogenous population; understanding the contemporary attitudes of migrant communities towards various issues requires an understanding of the complex histories of various Latin American countries. For instance, Cuban Americans are typically wealthy and generally vote more conservatively as a result of their Catholic roots. By contrast, Mexican immigrants are often impoverished and face a high degree of prejudice as a result of anti-immigrant propaganda. Gonzalez also devotes special attention to the plight of Puerto Rico, and he asserts that the current relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico cannot continue unchecked. Though Puerto Ricans undeniably benefit from having United States citizenship, Gonzalez contends that their tax-exempt status and citizenship rights are merely a means of appeasing them so that they ignore their lack of political representation within the US government.

González explains that the nations that colonized Latin America brought parts of their own culture with them, which then blended with and influenced the cultures of the native inhabitants of the region. The majority of Latin American was colonized by the Spanish, who brought their Catholic faith and Spanish language with them. Unlike the British, who maintained cultural separation from the North American natives, the Spaniards made a concentrated effort to convert and assimilate the native inhabitants. Many Catholic monks and missionaries settled in Latin America, and the Catholic faith became a vital instrument of colonial suppression. Furthermore, the Spaniards often married and had children with the natives, resulting in generations of mixed-race individuals who had ancestral ties to both Spain and Latin America.

After the United States successfully declared independence, many Latin American colonies hoped to do the same. However, they did not receive the support that they hoped for from the United States and were instead subject to the United States’ increasingly aggressive efforts to gain territory. The Spanish, who continued to control major parts of Florida and the southeastern United States, reluctantly ceded the territories to the United States in the hopes that it would satisfy the new empire’s quest for land. This was not the case, and the United States continued to pursue expansion into previously Spanish-controlled territories.

Gonzalez then explains how Latin America functioned politically against the growing power of the United States. The United States' focus on expansionism and gaining power led to political upheaval and instability in South and Central America. In some cases, the United States subverted the political will of citizens of other countries in order to install governments that were sympathetic to the United States’ economic interests. Corporations, such as the United Fruits Company or the Standard Fruit Company, gained monopolistic cropland holdings in various Latin American countries and economically crippled them by establishing limited, export-based economies. These corporation-controlled countries, often referred to as “banana republics,” were unable to develop economically or politically, as their economies disproportionately benefited and relied on foreign-owned corporations.

The combined forces of economic disenfranchisement and manufactured political upheaval encouraged mass migration from Latin America to the relatively prosperous and peaceful United States. Latin American immigrants often settled in large groups and maintained a sense of cultural unity thanks to their shared linguistic and religious backgrounds. Though immigrants to the US often face racial bias and unfair legal treatment, especially in the wake of the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks, they continue to be a vibrant and politically active population. Latin American immigrants have come to be regarded as a passionate and important voter base, and their influence over US political elections is only growing. Gonzalez encourages white Americans to embrace the history of Latin American influence on the United States and recognize the diversity and strength of immigrant communities. 

On a structural level, Gonzalez makes the journey from colonization to the present clear by breaking Harvest of Empire into three parts. The first explores the history of Latino people and establishes the ways in which early exploitations and cultural influences undermined Latin American regional power and cohesion. The second breaks down the cultural differences that have resulted from the unique histories of the countries and the ways in which those differences impact modern immigrant communities. The third describes their modern-day effect on the political and social landscape of the United States. By breaking his analysis into three separate sections, Gonzalez enables readers to follow his logic more clearly and establishes a clear sense of cause and effect across history. This structure helps show that the current economic and political disenfranchisement of Latin America did not arise from a series of isolated incidents or random geopolitical disadvantages, but is rather the direct result of centuries worth of influence and interference by other powers who have sought to exploit the region. 

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