Elevate Difference

Latino Politics: Identity, Mobilization and Representation

This book is a major contribution to the history of Latino politics in the United States. It is an indispensable reference for historians, economists, and political scientists, as well as any serious reader interested in the Latino political situation in the U.S.

At its core is a series of five parts: each of them consists of approximately three essays that give a thorough analysis of such themes as identity politics, political action and public opinion, coalitional politics, political representation, and the future of Latino politics. Latinos have not yet attained full representation within U.S. politics, just as they haven't achieved full equality in American society.

Citing the constant growth of the Latino population in the U.S. (35.3 million in 2000), and its numerous complexities and diversities, the fundamental question of Latino political identities are reconstructed for the purpose of various political organizations. David Leal moves the focus from group identities to individual identities. He explores the concept of "Latino public opinion" and if it does, in fact, exists in the U.S.

In the following section, Michael Jones-Correa explores the relevant approaches to the understanding of the Latino political experience from the ethnic, transnational and immigrant perspectives. The dominant attitude that prevails amongst political scientists is to treat Latinos as mere observers in ethnic politics in the U.S., Jones-Correa argues.

The essay by Luis Fraga and Sharon Navarro on Latino politics in terms of gender politics is of major importance. The descriptive differences between Latino men and Latina women are well delineated. For example, Latina heads of households are less likely to vote that their males counterparts. Also, patterns of both gender and ethnic representation vary considerably by state. California leads with 23%, the largest representation of Latina women; Texas has the lowest representation, 21%. 

Latina feminists have organized numerous regional and national conferences to address their concerns; first wave feminists incorporated issues of race, class and gender by addressing experiences of poor working class Mexican women. Second wave feminists focus on labour movements. One of the first national labour figures of Mexican descent was Lucy Eldine González. Most historians list her as a Mexican Indian. In the history of labour movement, there were some extraordinary women leaders living at the beginning of the twentieth century, such as Luisa Capetillo (1880-1922), Concepción Torres and Juana Colón. They opened the possibilities for Latinas' further work against traditional patriarchy. Even though Latina women have not yet played a major role in politics, it has begun to change. 

In the next chapter, the writers focus on the political identities of the Latino and comparisons of Latino political actions. Matt Barreto explores the characteristics of candidates that affect Latinos’ voting habits and Ricardo Ramírez analyzes the characteristics of the Latino population that shapes the choices of political candidates. Louis DeSipio and Adrian Pantoja compare issues of identity within Latino subpopulations, for example, comparing Puerto Ricans with Mexicans and Salvadorans. 

Essays in section four examine the political representation of Latinos in a variety of institutional settings. For example, Espino focuses on Latinos’ representation by Latinos members in the U.S. Congress; Jason Casellas studies the representation of Latinos in the U.S. House of Representatives. Eric Gonzalez-Juenke examines their representation in local educational systems while Nick Theobald looks at the degree of responsiveness to politics amongst the Latino population. 

The last section, in which Valerie Martinez-Ebers and Manuel Avalos examine the implications for the future of Latino politics opens the area by academic scholars future research.

This latest study of Latino politics is comprehensive and illuminating. It also advances our understanding of the Latinos issues in the U.S.

Written by: Anna Hamling, February 8th 2009