Harvest of Empire

by Juan González

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Part 3: Harvest, Chapters 12–13 Summary

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Chapter 12: Speak Spanish, You’re in America!: El Huracán over Language and Culture

Gonzalez disputes the historical myth that the United States has always been a monolingual nation, pointing to the annexation of non-English speaking people in the Southwest states, Louisiana, and Puerto Rico. While some of the newly annexed citizens retained their native languages without intervention, others were forced to learn English. For Gonzalez, the fear that English will be eclipsed by Spanish as the dominant language in the US is the foundation of all Anglo anxieties about Latino immigration.

He explains how various pushes to eliminate Spanish instruction in schools contributed to illiteracy and low education among American Latinos into the twentieth century, in addition to a cultural devaluation of Spanish-language arts.

Gonzalez discusses the various contributions of Latino artists to the worlds of literature, theater, cinema, and music, the latter of which he argues has had the greatest impact on mainstream culture. Latino musicians and singers across all genres have experienced success among Anglo audiences, from Carlos Santana to Shakira to Daddy Yankee. Furthermore, Gonzalez argues that Latinos helped create entirely new hybrid genres in the US, including reggaeton and Latin jazz.

Despite their many achievements, Latinos are disproportionately excluded as the subjects of social studies, Hollywood films, or television programs. This lack of representation, Gonzalez argues, further contributes to Anglo attitudes about Latinos.

Gonzalez then shifts his attention to bilingual education, which he views as the cure to Anglos’ language anxiety. Favoring the “transitional” model, Gonzalez recommends that Latino students be given instruction in their native Spanish for a limited time while learning English. Gonzalez says that most Latino immigrants see mastery of English as a key to their success in the US, but American policies that forbid Spanish instruction or simply don’t provide it prevent young Latinos from ever gaining proficiency.

Throughout Latin America, schools often teach English as a second language beginning in primary grades, as English is still the global “language of empire.” This fact, Gonzalez says, stands in opposition to Anglo fears about Spanish overtaking English in the US.

Finally, Gonzalez laments that Anglos’ treatment of the Spanish language has caused many young Latinos to internalize negative messages about their native tongue. Gonzalez believes that encouraging Latinos to maintain their Spanish language alongside English and codifying multicultural depictions of literature and music in schools will mitigate the negative public perception of the Spanish language.

Chapter 13: Free Trade: The Final Conquests of Latin America

Gonzalez explains how United States trade policies that began in the twentieth century contributed to Latino immigration. After World War II, manufacturers began to move their operations to developing countries in an effort to maximize profits via cheap labor. To curb some of the economic problems caused by this exodus of the manufacturing industry, the US established free trade agreements, including NAFTA. Gonzalez calls this the “Washington Consensus,” which promised to incentivize Latinos to remain in their home countries to fulfill growing vacancies in factories.

As Gonzalez says, however, these policies actually crippled local economies and widened the gap between the rich and the poor at rates higher than anywhere in the world. In turn, Latinos flocked to the US in search of the upward mobility they could not achieve at home. Furthermore, citizens eventually grew tired of this inequality, and democratic uprisings upended the governments who maintained the status quo in favor of foreign businesses.

Because of their heavy investment in Latin American resources—from coffee to rubber—American manufacturers found it financially advantageous to relocate. These new manufacturing towns were called free trade zones (FTZs), and many operated...

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separately from the governments of the nations in which they were located, leading to child labor and abuse of workers. Rural youths looking for work in the wake of industrialized agribusiness flocked to these urban FTZs.

Many of the cities in which FTZs operated lacked the infrastructure to accommodate these population surges, forcing new arrivals to form shantytowns on the outskirts of the FTZs. Gonzalez explains how Latinos in these slums had greater access to American media—including television. As a result, many came to believe that prosperity awaited them in the US, especially compared to the poor conditions in the slums they occupied.

Gonzalez argues against neoliberal economic theories that support global free trade, saying that the system has only served rich multinational corporations. He explains how the majority of international trade occurs between these corporations and their subsidiaries, meaning that little of the wealth these companies generate ever reaches the local economy. He cites the history of import tariffs in Germany, England, and the US that helped grow each country’s industries. Latin American countries who have been encouraged to participate in free trade following decolonization have lacked the same protections to develop their own industries.

The US first attempted free trade policies in Puerto Rico, where factories attracted far more workers to cities than the number of jobs available. US policy encouraged these excess laborers to emigrate to the mainland to avoid social problems on the island. The Puerto Rican system failed, however, after workers demanded equal protection under American labor laws.

The most lucrative of the free trade policies is NAFTA, which has allowed tariff reductions on goods imported from Mexico. Factories called maquilas sprang up along the northern border with the United States, with twin plants on either side. Goods manufactured on the Mexican side were allowed to be shipped to the US side with the tariff applied only to the low-cost Mexican labor—with the eventual goal of eliminating these tariffs altogether. Hundreds of thousands of rural Mexicans flocked to maquilas, creating the same predictable problems: unemployment, poverty, and economic stagnation.

Believing that Mexican men were more difficult to control, most maquilas recruited rural women as workers. Gonzalez explains how this changed social dynamics throughout Mexico, where previously women had been relatively inactive in the labor force. In addition, lax environmental regulations created pollution and illness, which drastically impacted the impoverished shanty-town populations.

The Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI), Gonzalez says, intended to replicate the Mexican model throughout the Caribbean and Central America. This time, the US government actually subsidized American businesses who moved their factories overseas, the fact of which caused a political scandal when it was revealed to the public in the early 1990s. Beyond the usual problems, these maquilas also allowed rampant sexual harassment and abuse of its largely female workforce.

Refocusing on Mexico, Gonzalez shows how neoliberal trade policies aided in the rise of the illegal narcotics industry along the maquila corridor. High unemployment among men led many to work for cartels as smugglers, while the decline of traditional agriculture enticed former farmers to cultivate opium and marijuana on thousands of acres. FTZ protocols also made it easier for narcotics to be transported across the border, which were easily concealed in the legal shipments from maquilas.

In the final section of the chapter, Gonzalez discusses the ways in which Latin America began to rebel against the Washington Consensus in the wake of increased income inequality, unemployment, poverty, and immigration. Gonzalez asserts that, unlike the historical movements of radicals, many Latino groups have emerged as moderate coalitions in service of the common citizen. These new movements, primarily in South America, have helped improve conditions within their nations’ borders, helping to reduce poverty and bolster local industries.

Finally, Gonzalez notes that Latinos will continue to immigrate to the US despite recent trends toward economic improvement in their home countries. At the time the book was published, Latinos in the US were sending roughly $64 billion annually to their relatives back home, an export that has stimulated local economies far more than any neoliberal trade policy over the past thirty years.


Part 3: Harvest, Chapters 10–11 Summary


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