Harvest of Empire

by Juan González

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Part 3: Harvest, Chapters 10–11 Summary

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Chapter 10: The Return of Juan Seguín: Latinos and the Remaking of American Politics

In the introduction of the chapter, Gonzalez identifies Juan Seguín as a Latino soldier who fought on the side of Davy Crockett and Sam Houston during the American campaign in Texas. After serving two terms as mayor of San Antonio, Seguín was chased out of town by Anglo “newcomers,” making him the last Hispanic mayor of the city until 140 years later. For Gonzalez, Seguín is emblematic of the way in which American history has largely excluded Latinos from the narrative about the founding of the United States.

Gonzalez shifts focus to the ways in which Latinos have become an undeniably powerful voting bloc by the end of the 2000s. He notes that Latino voter registration increased 460 percent in just over 30 years, relative to a 62 percent overall increase. To explain how this happened, Gonzalez lists several contributing factors: increased legal citizenship, high population growth, cross-cultural Latino unity, middle-class success, and emerging political influence.

Gonzalez addresses each of these factors using five distinct phases of Latino engagement in American politics, the first of which spans from 1950 to 1964. Dubbed the “Integration Period,” Gonzalez explains how Latino veterans returning from World War II felt emboldened to demand equal treatment as American citizens for the first time. Their organizing efforts eventually led to the recognition of Mexican Americans as a substantial group in the US, since their support helped President Kennedy win much of the Southwest during his election. With the passing of the Voting Rights Act, many Latinos gained better access to the vote, in large part due to the Civil Rights Movement’s push to end racial discrimination.

After the infamous Watts race riot, Latinos entered a new period Gonzalez calls “Radical Nationalist.” Lasting until 1974, this stage of political involvement saw Latino youths leading demonstrations and riots, all in rejection of the attempted integration of their parents’ generation. Disillusioned with discrimination by the Anglo community, young Latinos formed radical nationalist groups as the Hispanic community diversified. Eventually, this organizing trend led to the development of moderate civil rights groups that focused solely on Latinos, such as the National Farm Workers Association led by Cesar Chavez.

By 1975, radical and nationalist group membership waned, ushering in the “Voting Rights” period. This stage focused on the goal of political equality. Unlike its predecessors, this new political wave involved the lower-class workers in voter registration while filing an unprecedented number of voting rights suits, many of which enfranchised Mexican and Puerto Rican immigrants who had previously been politically inactive. Simultaneously, a growing backlash from the so-called New Right stoked white fears that Latinos were stealing jobs and upending American values.

Beginning in 1985, Latinos began joining with blacks and liberal whites in support of political candidates. Gonzalez calls this new era the “Rainbow Period,” named after Jesse Jackson’s famed rainbow coalition theory. After several successes using this alliance—like the election of New York City’s first black mayor in 1988—Latinos became associated more heavily with the Democratic Party. Gonzalez says this model’s key to success was the inclusion of poor people of color as part of the movement’s target demographic. At the same time, many suburban white voters left the Democratic Party. By the middle of the 1990s, internal divides between the black leaders of the rainbow movement and other groups of color stalled its political success. Racism and stereotypes hindered blacks and Latinos’ attempts at cooperation. Moreover, many Latinos considered nationality—not race—to be most central to their identity.

After the breakdown of the interracial political alliance,...

(This entire section contains 1209 words.)

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Latinos ushered in a new period Gonzalez refers to as the “Third Force.” Traditionally, American political analysts divided the country into separate white and black voting blocs. However, the burgeoning Latino voter population necessitated a change in this understanding of voter demographics. Gonzalez references the immigrant protests he outlined in his introduction to the book, citing their influence on this new stage of Latino political engagement.

Prior to the 1990s, many Latino immigrants did not apply for citizenship status. New laws that eliminated benefits for legal residents inspired many to seek full citizenship as soon as they became eligible, while peace agreements in Central America encouraged refugees to seek citizenship rather than return to their home countries’ economic hardships. As a result, Latinos began voting at an unprecedented rate, leading to the election of several Latino representatives in Washington. While many analysts argue that the Latino voting bloc is too diverse to uniformly assess, Gonzalez argues that Latinos of various backgrounds have formed a pan-Latino identity in the US that binds them together more than outsiders realize. 

Gonzalez uses California as evidence to support his theory. With nearly thirty-seven percent of California’s citizenry being Latino, the state’s Latino community has banded together to elect Latino politicians. Gonzalez cites the recent election of Antonio Villaraigosa as mayor of Los Angeles. Gonzalez also cites notable elections in Connecticut, New York City, and San Antonio, where Latino politicians captured the attention of the establishment for the first time near the end of the 2000s. From the new Latino Republicans who emerged after 2010 to Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Latino involvement in politics was at its pinnacle by the end of the 2000s. Gonzalez predicts that, moving forward, Latino voters will continue to organize and grow, eventually developing their own “Third Force” in American politics.

Chapter 11: Immigrants Old and New: Closing Borders of the Mind

In the wake of 9/11, American fears about border security coupled with the later economic recession of 2008 contributed to the development of immigration crackdowns. Since Latinos constitute a major portion of immigrants to the United States, they bore the brunt of Anglo suspicion and bias. In response, Latinos protested new legislation that further marginalized them, leading to a nation-wide push for better treatment from Anglo society.

On May Day of 2006, protesters organized “A Day Without Immigrants” to show their influence in Anglo society. Despite some disagreement among protestors, the protests were a resounding success, with millions of Latinos staying home from work or school. Contrary to the political establishment’s belief that the Latino protest organizers lacked resources or experience, Gonzalez argues that many relied on their experiences with political movements of decades past.

Gonzalez then discusses the unique characteristics of Latino migration. He notes that geographical proximity and enduring communication with those who remain in their home countries binds Latinos more closely to their native languages and cultures than other immigrant groups. As a result, Anglos often mischaracterize Latinos as unwilling to assimilate and thus subversive of American traditions.

Because of these factors, a series of myths about Latinos proliferated throughout the 2000s, and ICE raids in workplaces and neighborhood led to an unprecedented number of deportations. These developments stunned the Latino community, stoking fears of and animosity towards the Anglo society that condoned this policy. Gonzalez systematically debunks prominent misconceptions about Latino immigrants’ drain of public resources and lack of economic contribution—falsehoods that many Anglos cite in support of deportation policies.

Gonzalez explains that regardless of immigration crackdowns, Latinos will continue to flock to the US because of economic hardship or instability in Latin America, attractive globalized industries, and increasing labor demand.


Part 2: Branches, Chapters 8–9 Summary


Part 3: Harvest, Chapters 12–13 Summary