Guest post by Dr. Roberto Haro. Roberto is a retired professor and university senior administrator with career service at major research universities in California, Maryland and New York. He holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from UC Berkeley.

Review of Defending Latina/o Immigrant Communities: The Xenophobic Era of Trump and Beyond, by Alvaro Huerta (Rowman & Littlefield, 2019).

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Dr. Álvaro Huerta has crafted an impressive and valuable book that speaks directly and poignantly to the long-lived biases against Latinos in the United States. His collection of carefully selected essays and their key sources proffers a strong testimonial about the prejudices against this community. The book begins with two significant commentaries about Dr. Huerta’s purpose in preparing the book. The essay by Dr. Juan Gómez Quiñones is a tightly written erudite account of the formation and existence of negativity toward Latinos. The foreword by Dr. José Z. Calderon blends key aspects of the dilemma posed by this prejudicial phenomenon, drawing upon Dr. Huerta’s thoughtful, and at times, mirthful approach in presenting this theme.

What sets this book aside from other accounts concerning the bigotry against Latinos is the way Dr. Huerta blends scholarly documentation with poignant anecdotal information. Too often scholars engage in scrupulous documentation to underpin their narrative presentations and prepare sanitized treatises that are better suited for their academic colleagues than a broader readership. The detachment of most academics in preparing their books result in a lifeless chronicle of attitudes and events. Dr. Huerta has, instead, injected much of his keen observations and personal experiences to underscore the problems and challenges.

Mexicans were here long before white Americans traveled to the Southwest. After the Mexican American War of 1842 and the resulting Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Mexicans were conquered people, forced to adopt the victors’ different economic, political and social structures. From 1848 onward, waves of immigrants from Mexico and other parts of the Americas immigrated to this country, and especially to the Southwest. Each new wave would be the result of a “push – pull” dynamic. Tragic conditions—famine, revolutions, suppressions and personal danger—that forced Latinos from their countries matched the enticements from those who needed Latino labor in the US. This duality has enveloped Latinos in America, and erroneously justified abuses, hatred and negative stereotypes. And, as Dr. Huerta accentuates, it has marginalized Latinos in this country.

Dr. Huerta carefully examines the negative perceptions and biases against Latinos in two ways that are commendable. He has done extensive research to prepare a series of essays that meticulously focus on negative stereotypes of Latinos in American society. At the same time, he has provided an important introspective and personal account of what Latinos face and endure. Subjugation leads to personal and economic disenfranchisement, and in many cases, poverty. The schools, the police and the media are examined to reveal their complicity as elements that force undesirable and unwanted conformity on Latinos. Dr. Huerta discusses from a personal vantage point how, as a result, counterforces in the Latino community develop to challenge and resist abusive assimilation tactics. Yes, gangs and illegal activities arise, but so do positive mores by which Latinos and their families cope with the challenges they face, often from a hostile larger society. Relying on his upbringing, Dr. Huerta presents family life as strong, healing and supportive. Despite the barriers the larger society places in the path of Latinos, Dr. Huerta, through family, friends and mentors, succeeds. His success is critical and important to share with a broad audience.

Part of the marginalization of a minority is a forced type of segregation that results in ghettos. For Latinos, it is the barrios and colonias in which they live and thrive. The barrios are a refuge, a place where the minority culture exists, nurtures and even protects its members. Dr. Huerta gives readers a wonderful trip through these places through his accounts of growing up there, discussing how different elements in the Latino family and culture influence his ambitions, determination, and eventual success. In some essays, he presents the harsh life experiences Latinas and Latinos endure. But he also shares tender moments of self-analysis evoking feelings of rebuff, insecurity, and frustration. He tells the reader what it is like to experience poverty and rejection and still find a path to succeed.

Dr. Huerta builds into the book the structural problems that condition and perpetuate the dangers to Latinos. To this day, the American president’s xenophobic and malicious rantings contribute to the injustice’s Latinos encounter. Such bigotry continues to infect the minds, attitudes and behavior of too many people. Dr. Huerta is to be admired for confronting these unpleasant attitudes that result in prejudicial, including violent behavior, toward Latinos and other minorities. Moreover, he offers different ways to overcome these challenges and find common ground among the various groups in our society. Huerta proposes some positive and constructive ways to achieve an encompassing societal compact that benefits all. And to do this, he offers ideas that are valuable heuristic methods for learning and classroom use.

In his essays, Dr. Huerta uses terms that are not just descriptors, but also speak to the character and ideology of this minority group. Terms like Mexicans, Mexican Americans, Latinos, Latinx and the politically charged Chicano play an important role in his analysis. He often uses the terms separately, but also finds ways to integrate them to form a composite of the people about whom he cares and writes. His definitional perspectives add to the richness of the stories and engender a sense of shared experiences that transcend geographical location and subcultures within the Latinos of America.   

Mentors are a critical part of a person’s life, and Dr. Huerta identifies a few who made a profound difference in his life. Most obviously, Dr. José Z. Calderón and Dr. Juan Gómez Quiñones come to mind. However, directly and indirectly he calls attention to others, like the brilliant UC Berkeley scholar Dr. Ronald Takaki and UCLA scholar Dr. Leo Estrada—both deceased. Mentors played a critical role in his intellectual and moral development, and helped open his mind to not just exploring, understanding and rationalizing the abuses visited on Latinos, but the conceptualization of portable strategies that can combat these negative biases. Along the way, Dr. Huerta has morphed from mentee to mentor; this valuable and seminal book in which he moves from acolyte participant to the role of intellectual town crier and change agent serves as proof. Dr. Huerta has written a well-crafted and scholarly book that provides a plethora of insights, perspectives and well-documented research on the persistent prejudices that challenge Latinos in our country.

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style) 

Haro, R. (2020). Book Review: Defending Latina/o Immigrant Communities: The Xenophobic Era of Trump and Beyondn. Available at: https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/research-subject-groups/centre-criminology/centreborder-criminologies/blog/2021/03/book-review [date]