From America to America:

A Study on the Immigration of Latin Americans

review written by John Kang | book written by Juan Gonzales

   In Harvest of Empire, author Juan Gonzales explores Latin American immigration, beginning from the arrival of the Spanish. He explains that the intermarriage between the Spanish men and indigenous women marked the birth of the mestizo race. In the book, Gonzales travels through each phase of the Latin American immigration and the typical stereotypes that many Americans hold against them. He claims that the United States’ control over the Latin American states has led to much economic suppression.

   "Speak English! You’re in America now!" Many Americans view Latin Americans as a monolithic ethnic group. In many people’s minds, Latinos are an opportunistic group of people who cross the border to exploit American wealth and take advantage of federal welfare programs. This narrow minded view of Latin Americans is often followed by racist backlash and stereotypes. Many people are familiar with common stereotypes that plague the Latino people, such as the lowly gardener, the fast food worker, and the young mother relying on welfare checks. Harvest of Empire by Juan Gonzalez discusses the origins of Latinos from the era of European colonialism, to the effects of American economic imperialism and intervention in more recent times. Secondly, the stories of individuals and families escaping economic imperialism, financial hardships, civil war, and brutal dictatorships reveal the diverse motives of each Latino group in their immigration to the United States. Finally, present-day issues of politics, immigration, language, and culture are discussed. Juan Gonzalez seeks to break down the walls of ignorance that pervades throughout the United States by illustrating the struggles of Hispanics in their native countries and delving deeper into their motives and aspirations.

   The first section of the book discusses the colonization of the New World. Spain and England had the greatest impact on the cultures and politics of the Americas. Both created vast colonial empires throughout the continent. Adam Smith labeled it one of “the two greatest and most important events recorded in the history of mankind. ” The descendents of both eventually fought for independence and remade the political systems of the planet. Europe was facing social upheaval as a result of the Black Death during the pre-colonial period. Feudal society disintegrated as many of the peasants died of the plague. Rebellions by the starving peasantry against their feudal lords became common. However, when the Black Death reduced in frequency in the fifteenth century, Europe emerged into the Renaissance. A thirst for knowledge was reflected in the scientific discoveries and the explorations to new lands. Spanish conquistadores laid claim to much of southern and western United States nearly a century before England founded Jamestown. These early expeditions led to permanent Spanish towns and outposts such as Santa Fe and Saint Augustine. The pure native population was decimated by war and disease. The Catholic Church played an important role in the early Spanish expeditions. The Church ordered the conversions of ‘heathens,’ and priests baptized the natives and even conducted interracial marriages. Race mixing was more acceptable in the Spanish colonies than English colonies, and consequently, a mestizo population grew out of unions with Spanish soldiers and native women. Anglos settled in many mestizo areas such as Texas and California in the 19th century, and ran filibusters to throw out Mexican or Spanish rule in the areas. During the 20th century, the United States used gunboat diplomacy to advance its own economic interests at the expense of Latin America.

   The next section tells the stories of immigration of each Latin American group. Puerto Ricans were among the first Hispanics to widely immigrate to the United States. By 1960, more than a million were in the country, part of what sociologists dubbed “the greatest airborne migration in history. ” During the early 20th century, greedy US sugar plantations in Puerto Rico exploited Puerto Rican workers. There was conflict between Puerto Rican Nationalists and the US soldiers. Gonzalez’s own grandmother Maria had to manage to reunite her family during the early 1940s during a near civil war. As the two factions headed for a final confrontation, the Gonzalez family and many others decided to leave to New York. The Mexican diaspora is at the core of the Latino American heritage. Mexicans make up two-thirds of all Latinos in the United States. During the Great Depression, more than 500,000 Mexicans, even fluent English speakers and citizens, were deported to Mexico. World War II brought a reversal in policy and contracted 100,000 Mexicans a year to work in the United States with the bracero program. Although many Mexican laborers returned to Mexico after the harvest, some found a way to stay in America illegally. World War II also had many Mexicans serve in active combat duty, with five Texan mexicanos awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. When the Mexican-American veterans returned, they faced the same discrimination back home. For example, when Manuel Garza returned home to Kingsville and walked into a White Kitchens chain in uniform with other veterans, he was refused service. His brother Nerio Garza was so angry he ran for office and won city commissioner after his calls for equality on the Mexican side of town. Students began calling themselves Chicanos and organized groups. The Mexican American Youth Organization (MAYO) offered a militant solution, while the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) desired assimilation. The Mexicans influenced music, food, and names of cities, states, and rivers in much of the Southwest but are denied that heritage. Fidel Castro’s revolution in 1959 caused waves of Cuban refugees to reach US shores in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Many of them were upper and middle class, and 36 percent of the refugees had college degrees. However, one family of immigrants, the Del Rosarios were poor farmers. Some of them had minor jobs with the Batista government. Luis Del Rosario was ten when Castro’s army marched into Havana in January 1959. They prospered at first from some early reforms but people started to quit their government assigned jobs. The ration system fell apart as people bartered or sold their surplus. Luis and several brothers joined the National Liberation Movement but Luis was arrested for subversion and was sentenced to twelve years in jail. A group of anti-Castro Cuban Americans convinced Castro to pardon more than a thousand prisoners, including Luis, as long as they left Cuba. The Dominican exodus began as a refugee flight in the 1960s. There was an uprising in support of Juan Bosch, who was a popular democratically elected president. Lyndon Johnson feared the revolt would lead to a revolution similar to Castro’s so he sent 26,000 troops to crush the uprising. Joaquin Balaguer, a former aide of the overthrown dictator Trujillo, captured power and repressed Bosch’s supporters. The years following Trujillo’s death were turbulent, and during that time, the country held its first democratic election. Juan Bosch was a populist reformer who won the vote in a landslide but his attempts at land reform and his refusal to repress the country’s communists held him in conflict with the sugar growers and the U.S. government. After seven months he was overthrown and exiled to Puerto Rico. Dominicans fled Joaquin Balaguer’s dictatorship and many started new lives in New York City.

   The third section of the book discusses issues that modern day Hispanics deal with. Latinos comprise “the biggest ethnic voting blocs in Los Angeles, New York, San Antonio, and Miami. ” The Latino growth in political power has been fueled by their rush for citizenship, young median age, and the emergence of a large Hispanic middle class. Latino politics can be divided into the integration period, the radical nationalist period, the voting rights period, the rainbow period, and the third force period. During the integration period, Latinos ran for office and backed John F. Kennedy overwhelmingly. These Hispanics helped fight segregation laws and integrate themselves into American society. During the Radical Nationalist period in 1965-1974, young Hispanics rioted alongside blacks and formed organized groups such as League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and Los Siete de La Raza. Many young Hispanics aligned themselves with the Black Panthers and the Students for a Democratic Society. Cesar Chavez fought for the right to unionize, vote, and basic government services. The Voting Rights period of 1975-1984 marked a return to integrationalist and reformist goals. Latinos filed more civil rights lawsuits. Growth in Cuban power in Florida caused a backlash among whites to nullify an earlier bilingual declaration, putting the issue of language in the spotlight. The Rainbow period of 1985-1994 was started when Jesse Jackson began his campaign for the Democratic nomination for president. The movement sought to unite black and Hispanic vote by removing legal obstacles in many states to simple and universal voter registration. The movement fell apart as tensions of Latinos and blacks increased. Blacks began to support legislation against illegal immigrants. The Third Force period of 1995-present has been marked by a rush to citizenship by Latino immigrants. From 1994 to 1997, citizenship applications to the INS tripled; the overwhelming majority from Hispanics. Latin American countries adopted dual citizenship laws that allowed their nationals to retain home country rights even if they became US citizenships. The large increase in citizenship has led to a large voting base. Immigration will continue into the 21st century because of economic crisis in Latin America. Wealth is being siphoned to the north. The more US corporations penetrate into Latin America, the more migrants will move up north. Another issue today is language. Many Americans feel that the large Spanish speaking population is threatening the nation. The United States is the fifth largest Spanish speaking nation in the world. These Americans tend to forget that German and Dutch were widely spoken in America in the 18th and 19th century as Europeans immigrated to the country. As generations passed, English became their primary language, and by WW1 Americanization, the German language was virtually eliminated from the United States. Today, Latin Americans are still exploited by the North American Free Trade Agreement, which breaks down trade barriers. US companies create industrial parks across the border called maquiladors, where Hispanic workers work in dangerous conditions with little pay. The vision of Manifest Destiny has transformed the entire hemisphere into an economic satellite of the U.S. Without restraining American companies south of the border, the waves of immigration will continue going north. Gonzalez’s thesis is that the Latino presence in America is not one that seeks to exploit the country or throw out the Anglos. It is a “search for survival, for inclusion on an equal basis, nothing more .” The chaos and conflict of Latin America drives people north. Hispanics are not trying to take over America, but rather, trying to integrate as equal first class citizens, so that their second and third generations will have as much opportunity to move up the social ladder as any other citizen in the country. Latinos are also not a monolithic group of people, but a diverse group with different social and economic backgrounds and political ideas.

   Gonzalez himself is a Puerto Rican American whose family was part of the “1946 Puerto Rican migration wave. ” His family left Puerto Rico during a conflict between the US government and Puerto Rican Nationalists. Gonzalez is a critic of America’s economic self interest and blames the poverty and turmoil of Latin America on American companies exploiting workers south of the border. He believes that the flow of migrants north is a result of the siphoning of the wealth north. The migrants want some of the wealth that is being taken from their home country. Gonzalez also shoots down fears of Latinos trying to take over America. They integrate into American society as generations go on, and most second generation Latinos speak English as their dominant or only language.

   Harvest of Empire discusses the origins of Hispanics beginning when Spanish settlers subjugated the native Indian populations. Influenced by America’s Declaration of Independence, the subjugated populations revolted against their Spanish rulers. Ironically, the same country that the Latin Americans looked up to for their political foundation now subjugates them economically, politically, and economically, causing widespread poverty and suffering. This domination of Latin America is the primary cause of the flood of immigrants coming over to the United States. Each of the tales of immigration reveals the ugliness of war, dictatorships, poverty, and economic domination. The last part of the book discusses the issues of modern day Latinos. These issues include politics, language, and culture. Latino advancement in America came in stages. However, the book has no mention of Portuguese influence on Latin America, and does not talk about Brazil. The book also does not delve deep into cultural distinctions back home. Immigration of the past has many similarities with immigration of the present. Hispanic immigrants are often Catholic, like the Irish and Italian immigrants of the 19th century. The first generation of these immigrants often spoke their native languages more dominantly than English. The later generations tend to speak English more predominantly than their immigrant parents. Many Latin Americans, like Europeans, migrated to the United States to escape war and poverty. They came in waves and settled in ethnic neighborhoods. Both groups faced discrimination and nativist sentiment when they came over.

   However, there are also many differences between Latino immigration and old European immigration. Latino immigration is less controllable because of the proximity of the countries to the United States. Colorado governor Richard Lamm said “Most of us would not want the United States to be unrecognizably different from the way it is today ”. A high Latino immigration definitely makes demographics much more different in the United States. European populations were able to assimilate within a few generations as white Americans, but Latinos can be a variety of colors, from white to brown to black. This heterogeneity of the Latino population makes it difficult for some Latinos, especially those with darker skin, to assimilate with white American culture.

   In conclusion, Harvest of Empire educates the reader in the variety of Hispanic immigrants and their stories of when and why they immigrated here. The reader also learns about the struggles that Latinos have gone through that made them come over here. The reality of the role of the United States in Latin America is revealed, as American corporations drained the wealth out of Latin American countries.


1. Gonzales, Juan. Harvest of Empire: The History of Latinos in America. New York, New York: Penguin Books, Inc. 2001. 206.
2. Gonzales, Juan. 3.
3. Gonzales, Juan. 81.
4. Gonzales, Juan. 169.
5. Gonzales, Juan. xix.
6. Gonzales, Juan. 81.
7. Gonzales, Juan.194.