Harvest of Empire Characters
Harvest of Empire does not feature traditional characters. Instead, the book traces the histories of various countries and ethnic groups.
- Spain: The Spanish colonials arrived before Great Britain, bringing with them their Catholic faith and monarchical leanings.
- Britain: British colonials were Protestants and preferred democratic governance.
- The United States: The US swallowed up territories from other powers and exerted distant control over Latin American nations.
- Puerto Rico: A territory of the US, Puerto Rico struggles with its ambiguous, state-less status.
- Mexico: A significant source of labor, Mexico has been exploited by the US through trade deals like NAFTA.
- Cuba: Cubans have long enjoyed special treatment by US policies.
Last Updated November 3, 2023.
As a work of nonfiction, Harvest of Empire does not have characters in the traditional sense. Instead, it discusses the relationships between various countries over the course of several centuries.
As a colonial power, Spain settled many regions of South, Central, and North America. These regions make up the majority of what is now collectively known as Latin America. The Spanish took an aggressive approach to colonization, forcibly converting the native inhabitants of the region to Catholicism and imposing the Spanish language onto them. This, combined with generations of intermingling and intermarrying, resulted in a much stronger cultural tie between the inhabitants of Spain and the Spanish colonies. The Catholic faith continues to be prominent in many parts of Latin America, and the widespread adoption of Spanish language and customs has led to a decline in traditional cultural knowledge amongst native Southern and Central Americans.
Unlike the Spanish, the British did not intentionally intermingle with the native inhabitants of the Americas. Furthermore, the British colonies were settled with significantly less centralized planning and authority than the Spanish colonies, and most of the North American colonies had no binding religious or linguistic ties to Britain. However, the expansionist mentality of Britain did influence the behavior of the United States in the wake of the revolutionary war, leading to the establishment of the United States as a major regional power.
The United States
Once a group of British colonies, the United States won its independence and became the major hegemonic power of the Western Hemisphere. Rather than supporting its Latin American neighbors in their pursuit of independence, the United States took an opportunistic approach and accumulated large sections of land for itself. As the twentieth century began, the United States stopped its pursuit of territorial expansion, but it continued to leverage its economic and militaristic power over Latin America. More specifically, the United States helped dictators who supported its economic interests maintain power in their countries, leading to the development of politically unstable and financially dependent “banana republics” such as Guatemala and Honduras. The United States also granted Puerto Rico commonwealth status, which gave Puerto Ricans citizenship within the United States but also gave the United States greater control over Puerto Rico’s political landscape.
The United States’ one major failure as a hegemonic power is Cuba, which became a communist dictatorship under Fidel Castro in 1959. In response, the United States offered favorable incentives to Cuban refugees in the hopes of undermining the Cuban government.
Though there has always been racism and anti-immigrant sentiment in the United States, Gonzalez notes that it escalated in the wake of the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks. The subsequent restrictions on immigration and enhanced xenophobia from white Americans has resulted in a tense and divisive relationship between the United States and its Latin American population. However, Gonzalez also asserts that Latin American immigrants in the United States are becoming an increasingly powerful political entity.
Puerto Rico is classified as an unincorporated territory of the United States. Its citizens are able to move freely between the United States and Puerto Rico. However, as Puerto Rico is not recognized as a state, it does not receive representation in Congress, despite being subject to United States political control. Gonzalez is of Puerto Rican descent and he believes that Puerto Rico’s status must change. However, what form that change takes continues to be debated by Puerto Ricans and the United States alike. Some believe that Puerto Rico should receive full statehood and political representation within the US government. Others believe that Puerto Rico should sever its...
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relationship with the United States and become fully independent. Gonzalez advocates for a third option, which he dubs a “voluntary association.” Under this plan, Puerto Rico would continue to have a relationship with the United States but would receive a greater degree of local political autonomy.
Mexico is the United States’ immediate southern neighbor, and the history of Mexican immigration is arguably the most fraught. When the United States was accumulating territory and establishing its southern borders, many Mexican communities were split up, with some being incorporated into the United States while others remained in Mexico. As a result, the culture of the southwestern United States has been heavily influenced by Mexican culture. Mexican immigrants are also one of the largest immigrant populations in the United States. However, despite the closely linked histories of Mexico and the United States, anti-immigrant and anti-Mexican racism are pervasive in the US.
Cuba is an island nation located to the south of the United States. The rise of communist dictator Fidel Castro in Cuba represents a major loss for the United States as a hegemonic power. In the wake of Castro’s coup, the United States welcomed the largely wealthy and upper-class Cubans who emigrated to escape Castro’s regime. This relatively positive reception was largely influenced by the United States’ desire to undermine communist power in the Western Hemisphere. However, this welcome was short-lived, and the United States began detaining prospective Cuban immigrants once Castro started exiling his political detractors, many of whom were poorer and darker-skinned than the first wave of Cuban migrants.
The Dominican Republic
After failing to prevent the communist uprising in Cuba, the United States took an aggressive approach to preventing what they feared would be a second communist uprising in the Dominican Republic. However, when the defeated rebels began facing violence from the United States-backed government, the United States was forced to set up an immigration plan for the persecuted Dominicans. However, despite the United States sponsoring the mass immigration of Dominicans, Dominicans were not granted refugee status and were therefore exempt from the social and economic benefits given to refugees. As a result, Dominican immigrants were often poor, and they faced prejudice in the regions that they settled in.
Many regions of Central American were transformed into “banana republics” that were set up to financially benefit American-owned corporations rather than the countries themselves. Countries like Honduras and Guatemala were essentially owned by major fruit distributors, who bought the majority of the nations’ farmland in order to produce export crops. Furthermore, in order to maintain these economically beneficial conditions, the United States often intervened in local elections and funded violent uprisings in countries like Guatemala and Nicaragua. These uprisings resulted in widespread violence and instability, which encouraged mass immigration.
During the US-sponsored construction of the Panama Canal, many West Indian migrants were brought to the region as cheap laborers. After the canal was finished, West Indians continued to face discrimination from both the native Panamanians and the white settlers in the region. Many of the West Indians workers’ descendants immigrated to the United States in hopes of escaping the social and economic disenfranchisement they faced in Panama.
Colombia is a South American country that has become violently embroiled in the drug trade. The first wave of Colombian immigrants to the United States were primarily wealthy and educated, and they became relatively prosperous. However, as the drug cartels fought to control the American drug market, violence escalated in Colombia, and more and more Colombians entered the United States without the proper documentation.