SÍ, SE PUEDE or, a Latinx history of the U.S.

In Julio Anta‘s forthcoming graphic novel (October, Ten Speed Press) a museum guide/narrator takes a group of Latinx folx through a museum dedicated to “The Latino Heroes Who Changed the United States.” Featuring colorful art by Yasmín Flores Montañez, the book is split into seven chapters with an introduction by Julián Castro (MSNBC commentator, former Mayor of San Antonio & Obama’s HUD Secretary 2014-2017). As Castro says in the introduction, the Latinx population of the US is around 20% and rising. But the history taught in U.S. schools is still very much centering Euro-American narratives. In some states, it’s now illegal to teach the parallel and essential histories of Native Americans, African-Americans, and Latinx. As a historian myself, I’m often frustrated by overly simplified histories and often enraged by histories that erase anyone who’s not white and male. What would it mean for our country if our kids were raised learning the varied and complex narratives that truly make up our problematic history? A history that doesn’t reside in an assumption of exceptionalism and white superiority. While Anta’s history does a lot of good work to highlight the essential part many Latinx leaders played in our history and, course, it’s important to highlight Latinx heroes of the past and present, histories that rely on a “Great Men” or “Hero” narrative are always already flawed. History is built by community – it’s just easier to write about individuals. I’m hesitant to critique Anta’s text – it’s SO important for Americans to read the histories he highlights – especially now when there is so much anti-Latinx rhetoric in the national discourse. But if this is to stand a history of a people, then there should be more about those people and not just famous leaders and celebrities. Over these seven chapters Anta writes about “the Latino Union Soldiers of the Civil War,” “Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta,” “Roberto Clemente,” “Latino Scientists,” “The Latin Explosion,” and “Modern-Day Trailblazers.” In each chapter one or two (or a few more) famous historical figures are higlighted to show the important of Latinx people in American history. [As an aside, I use “Latinx” throughout whereas Anta has an oddly awkward explanation through his museum guide’s mouth about why he chooses to use “Latino” instead. I’m not convinced.] Throughout this quick historical sketches, Anta introduces difficult terms – some with better translations than others: “generational trauma” in connection with colonialism, “intersectionality” in connection with Dolores Huertas, and “colorism” in connection with Roberto Clemente. It’s a difficult task and Anta largely does a good job of summarizing complex historical narratives. The largest fault I found in his historical survey is the total lack of mention of Latinx writers and poets. In the chapter on “Latino Scientists,” he equates “academics” with “Scientists” and cultural figures highlighted include Jennifer Lopex, Celia Cruz, Desi Arnaz, Selena, Rita Moreno, Gloria Estefan, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and a sort of collage of Latinx TV and movie celebrities. The final chapter focuses on “Modern-Day Trailblazers” including AOC, Sonia Sotomayor, X Gonzalez, and more. I kept waiting to read about those major cultural voices like Sandra Cisneros, Junot Diaz, Rudolfo Anaya, Isabel Allende, Julia Alvarez, and so many more. I guess there was only so much room in the book (?) In any case, I do want to lift up this graphic novel as a great resource for teachers, parents, and anyone who wants to learn more about some of the major Latinx names and moments in American history.







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