Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America
© 2000 Juan Gonzalez
Harvest of Empire is a tale of two civilizations, Anglo and Spanish. In general terms, it recounts the history or rather the plight of Latin America, of people and cultures dominated first by European powers, and then by the colonial rebels turned colonial master, the United States. The author ends by arguing that the United States owes as much its Hispanic tradition as its Anglo, and that it should embrace Hispanic culture and make amends to foreign policy which has wreaked havoc throughout the eastern hemisphere. Divided into three parts, Harvest first dwells on the roots of Anglo-American conflict by recounting the age of discovery and rise of American imperialism, moves to the “branches”, in which populations disrupted by war and famine (often linked to American foreign policy) migrate to the United States to seek their fortunes, and then ends with a “harvest” that looks towards a stronger role played by Latino culture in the United States.
Considering that two of the leading recent Republican candidates for El Presidente were Cruz and Rubio, ‘los hermanos cubanos’, there’s no denying the book’s relevance, despite its sixteen years of age. Even though neither are in the running now, immigration — the causes and consequences of which are explored here — remains a big-ticket item. While some of the author’s recommendations (that the United Staces embrace its Hispanic heritage and start promoting and protecting Spanish) are likely to fall flat, at the very least this review of the United States’ catastrophic record of international meddling in central America might give American leadership pause about supporting future debacles. More convincing is the authors’ case for settling the matter of Puerto Rico, which for a century has been a bastard, neither sovereign, nor a territory or a state. Harvest has a lot to recommend it, first as a general history of Latin America, secondly by focusing on the widely varying experiences of different Latino groups as they moved to the US. What name recognition does Puerto Rico have with most Americans, other than the film West Side Story? (“Puerto Rico is en America now!”) The author is right when he points out that the United States is scarcely over two hundred years old, a mere blip in the historical perspective, and the past century of exploitation and dominance by D.C. over Latin America are not likely to last. Latinos will play a larger role in the United States as they continue to migrate here, and will shape D.C’s policy as they achieve political influence — and as the descendants of those who have experienced the consequences of foreign-policy imperialism, they are unlikely to support more of it.