This year for Hispanic Heritage Month we’ve decided to focus on the Latinx electorate in the United States. Latinx voters make up roughly 12% of the nationwide electorate, and much larger percentages in states with significant Latinx populations like Texas, Florida, and California. To understand American democracy and political sentiment in 2020, one must consider Latinx voters’ diverse range of concerns and desires, as well as the ways and whys of Latinx voter suppression, disenfranchisement, and activism.
Interestingly, one way that this kind of information gets sidelined is by being routed through academic publishers instead of mainstream presses with large budgets and a commercial presence. This isn’t malicious; most books on the Latinx electorate are being written by academics with niche audiences and are being published by small publishers with even smaller purses. What is problematic is that nonfiction books by and about Latinx Americans, who comprise over 18% of the U.S. population, are still considered niche and academic. Combined with the larger problems of undercounting by the U.S. Census and immigration policies, it can be difficult to access serious, affordable books about Latinx America.
Here are eight such books. They range from U.S. history to a survey of Latinx Millennials, and all provide necessary insight into an overlooked, undervalued, and pivotal constituency.
Ortiz places African American and Latinx struggles for political and labor rights front and center in this award-winning, paradigm-shifting history of the United States. Both radical and reasonable, An African American and Latinx History is a bracing corrective to the incomplete historical narrative still dominant in education and popular culture.
Journalist Ed Morales provides a comprehensive, accessible breakdown of the term “Latinx” and the politics and histories of the many ethnicities it encompasses. Latinx examines how Latinx self-identity is informed by the plethora of Indigenous, Central American, South American, and Caribbean communities in the U.S., with a particular focus on the long history of Puerto Rican, Mexican, and Cuban involvement in developing U.S. politics and popular culture, especially music; an early chapter on the modern repercussions of the Spanish colonial mestizaje, a race-based hierarchy that prioritized light skin and European ancestry, is particularly fascinating. Importantly, Morales closes the book with a discussion of the political disenfranchisement and potential power of Latinx voters, whose cultural and socioeconomic diversity make them challenging and key players in the formation of a healthy, functioning future America.
While Morales’s Latinx illustrates the lack of cohesion within the Latinx voting bloc, Benjamin Francis-Fallon’s The Rise of the Latino Vote explores how, since the 1960s, Latinx activists and politicians have successfully created a collective political identity, while at the same time failing to mobilize different Latinx communities to vote in a unified fashion. Francis-Fallon’s history and analysis of how this bloc was formed, and why it consistently fails to motivate the Latinx electorate, is a vital contribution to ongoing discussions about the best ways to capture this influential constituency.
Lázaro Lima uses Sonia Sotomayor’s appointment to the Supreme Court as a lens though which to explore symbolic versus actual acceptance of the Latinx community within American democratic institutions. Without minimizing Justice Sotomayor’s accomplishments, Lima questions whether accepting an individual as an icon or representative of “the possible” harms minority communities by shifting the burden of enfranchising everyone to a vague future date. An intriguing blend of biography and cultural theory, Sonia Sotomayor and the Latino Question is both a tribute to the Justice’s career and a compelling analysis of the systems — both structural and cultural — that allowed for her rise.
Author Nilda Flores-González draws on almost 100 interviews with Latinx Millennials, creating a comprehensive and riveting portrait of the Millennial generation’s sense of alienation and racial otherness despite their U.S. citizenship status. Lauded for its groundbreaking analysis of how Millennials see themselves as racialized subjects, Citizens but Not Americans is a valuable resource for readers seeking a clearer and more empathetic understanding of the youth demographic within the American Latinx population.
In this excellent introductory book, Latino Studies Professor and Mexican American writer Ilan Stavans dispels the popular notion of a homogenous Latinx identity. Taking an individual look at the many subgroups within the Latinx community (Dominican Americans, mainland Puerto Ricans, Cuban Americans, etc.), Stavans examines what he calls an emerging mestizo identity, a blend of American and Hispanic traits that is changing both Latinx communities across America and mainstream American culture.
Chris Zepeda-Millán’s still-timely Latino Mass Mobilization marks the nationwide immigration reform protests of 2006 as the catalyst for a new and increasingly influential form of Latinx group consciousness and grassroots activism. Immensely hopeful in its argument that nativist ideology and cruel immigration policies are and will continue to drive Latinx Americans to large-scale collective action, Zepeda-Millán illuminates a difficult but real path to equity. Though challenging, Latino Mass Mobilization is well worth the effort for anyone who wants to better understand recent immigration policies and their impact on Latinx political identity and focus.
As we head into the final weeks before the 2020 presidential election, Cadava’s highly readable history of Latinx Republicans reminds readers — especially Democrats — not to take the Latinx vote for granted. Trump garnered 26% of the Latinx vote in 2016 despite having a racially charged, anti-immigration platform, and Cadava explores how, rather than being the exception, Trump’s relative success among Latinx voters is a logical continuation of historical support for right-leaning politicians, especially among older voters. A fascinating and topical read, The Hispanic Republican is a thoughtful counter to popular political assumptions that deserves a spot on every Trump and Biden campaign aide’s pre-election reading list.