Chapters 1–3 encompass the first part of the book, “Roots,” which is an apt description of the early beginnings of Latin American societies, whereas chapters 4–5 form part of the second part, “Branches,” and help to distinguish more individualized groups from these original societies. I would strongly recommend that, since each chapter begins with an epigraph, you pay close attention to what these epigraphs might reveal about the chapters’ themes. Below is a breakdown of each chapter and some important aspects worth noting:
- Chapter 1 - Conquerors and Victims: The Image of America Forms (1500–1800)
Here, the author discusses the impact of European explorers (specifically those from England and Spain) on the native American populations of the time and how this impacted Latin American and Anglo American cultures moving forward from the 1500s to the 1800s. Gonzalez highlights the native populations and their infrastructure as compared to the Europeans and the issues European settlers brought with them to the Americas due, in part, to the upheaval of their societies because of illness and war (Gonzalez 4–8). Gonzales then discusses the impact of Spanish conquerors, such as Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca and how he changed the cultural and physical landscapes of indigenous American tribes, and then moves into describing the religious and racial influences the English and Spanish effected on the areas they colonized. He ends the chapter by comparing and contrasting the roles of the two countries, England and Spain, in the beginning of Anglo and Latin American societies.
- Chapter 2 - The Spanish Borderlands and the Making of an Empire (1810–1898)
This chapter argues that “the Anglo conquest of Spanish-speaking America” is responsible for the Latino presence in the modern United States and describes the contrast in colonial and national development (Gonzalez 27). This moves to a discussion of various annexations and settlers across the Americas and how American leaders acted as a model for “Latin American patriots” despite American apathy. Gonzalez then describes various invasions and Spanish uprisings called filibusters from the period of 1801 to 1860 and then the American and European involvement during this time period. Following a discussion of American involvement in Mexico, which would eventually lead to the Texas War of Independence (which Gonzalez details), the author discusses various settlers, such as William Walker and Henry L. Kinney, as well as a move toward Central America because of trade opportunities.
- Chapter 3 - Banana Republics and Bonds: Taming the Empire’s Backyard (1898–1950)
This chapter breaks down how American “gunboat diplomacy” and “financial domination” of the Caribbean economy led to a “huge influx of Latino immigrants” during the twentieth century (Gonzalez 58). This is demonstrated across five separate discussions, of the nations of Puerto Rico, Cuba, Panama, the Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua. The Puerto Rico section describes the various legal issues that the Foraker Act and the Insular Cases created, as well as briefly describing the economic issues that followed. The Cuba section describes American occupation as the economic manipulation and turmoil that came with American involvement in Cuban government, infrastructure, and lawmaking. The Panama section depicts how the Panama Canal came into existence and the interactions between the American and Panamanian government, which resulted in a negative impact on economic opportunities. The Dominican Republic section details Ulises Heureaux’s refinancing of the nation, which ultimately led to an American presence that resulted in an irreversible dependence on the United States and the subsequent manipulation and corruption brought on by sugar companies and Rafael Leónidas Trujillo (Gonzalez 70). Lastly, the Nicaragua section describes similar corruptions and hostilities while also pointing out the various points of economic instability that eventually caused Latin migration into the United States.
- Chapter 4 - Puerto Ricans: Citizens Yet Foreigners
This chapter takes on a more personal narrative style, as it is a retelling of the author’s family history. Gonzalez talks about his grandparents during the early military occupations up to the point of the Palm Sunday Massacre. He then describes his family’s move to New York and their various jobs. He also describes Puerto Rican migration and champions of Puerto Rican representation, such as Vito Marcantonio. Gonzalez then describes his own childhood and the oppression and racism he encountered during the time, as well as people that inspired and empowered him. He explains the additional hurdles that Puerto Ricans, both immigrants and citizens, had to face in terms of identity, representation, and education.
- Chapter 5 - Mexicans: Pioneers of a Different Type
In this chapter, Gonzalez emphasizes the impact of Mexican immigration on US culture and economic sustainability while also highlighting how this negatively impacts Mexican economic and social foundations. Gonzalez explores the story of pioneers such as José Francisco Canales and his family and how these stories can help people to understand the identity crisis of Mexican Americans (Gonzalez 97). From here, the author explores violence against Mexican Americans and the conflicts between Juan Cortina and Texas forces. He then shifts to a discussion of the empowerment of Mexican Americans because of their participation in World War II and groups such as the Mexican American Youth Organization. The chapter ends with the assertion by the author that until “Anglo America [learns to accept] how much [of] the social, cultural, political, and economic reality of the West and Southwest has been shaped by Mexicans, this crisis in identity and heritage will continue as a blight on American and Mexican-American identity” (Gonzalez 107).
Now, please keep in mind that while this does function as a general overview, this is not an exhaustive list of everything featured in the first five chapters, nor is it a substitute for reading the actual work. However, I do believe that this is a good foundation to work off of in terms of looking for the important themes and ideas that the author depicts.