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Book Review: Harvest of Empire

Harvest of Empire by Juan Gonzalez book review essay:
From time immemorial, humans always had the ‘urge’ to move into new geographical territories with various motivations. Starting from earlier motivations of discovering new lands, imperialism to current economic motivations, people enter new countries en masse. This movement for economic development is known as immigration in present day context, and there are few economically developed countries, which elicit high number of immigrants. This immigration experience is one of the constant affairs of American life, as people from all over the world, view America as the land of immense opportunities, and enter it both legally and illegally. This view about America was critically analyzed by Juan Gonzales in his book titled, Harvest of Empire, focusing mainly on the immigration of the Latino population and how it impacts America’s foreign policies as well. Gonzales provides the readers a historical overview of how the Latino immigration started centuries ago, and at the same time provides a laser-like analysis of the current events, that are impacting the Latino population and thereby America’s politics and diplomacy. So, this paper will first provide a review of the book and then will analyze how its contents, particularly the portions which focus on the current issues impacting the Latino population, relate to today’s politics and diplomacy.

Personal Interpretation or opinion
Harvest of Empire by Juan Gonzales is a must read book for all those who want to know about the history of Latinos immigrants, who are now considered as the fastest growing ethnic segment in America. Gonzalez starts off by examining the history of Latinos in America, right from the times when Spain and Britain made territorial conquest of America, till the present day. He has divided the book into three sections calling each sections has “Roots”, “Branches” and finally “Harvest”. The first section of “Roots” only provides the historical background of the Latino immigration by focusing on the earliest relations between the Latin American countries and the United States of America. In this section, Gonzalez was quite critical of America’s foreign policy and diplomacy, particularly its imperialistic tendencies in the early centuries. According to the author, at that time, America tried to impose its will and influence over many countries and even over certain cultural or ethnic groups. “…a vicious and relentless drive for territorial expansion, conquest, and subjugation of others—Native Americans, African slaves, and Latin Americans.” (Gonzalez 270). Thus, the author opines that America’s drive to become a sort of ‘Empire’ started in the early centuries itself. He states that America entered into or even extended its influence over many South American countries, thus negatively influencing those countries’ internal affairs, which in a way worked as a catalyst for the Latinos immigration. Negative influence in the sense, America plundered the natural resources of the Latin American countries, and thereby inhibited the growth of indigenous industries and economies. With not enough avenues for livelihood in those countries, sizable number of Latinos started entering America. “If Latin America had not been raped and pillaged by U.S. capital since its independence, millions of desperate workers would not now be coming here in such numbers to reclaim a share of that wealth.” (Gonzalez 206). Thus, it is clear that Gonzales puts the blame for the Latino immigration into America and the problems associated with it, on the Americans themselves, or in particular, on the Americans’ political and diplomatic policies. His theory is clear that the different Latino groups that exist and function today in the American society are a result of the historical happenings and actions of the American government.

The second section of “Branches” focuses on each one of the six major groups of the Latino population in America. In each chapter, Gonzales separately describes about the culture, living conditions, family, etc., of the Mexicans, Cubans, Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Columbians and Panamanians, and the Central Americans. That is, although all these groups are joined by a common language of Spanish, and are tagged as Latinos, “they come from 20-odd countries with distinct histories, customs and blends of European, African and indigenous stock.” (Robinson). He gives equal coverage to all these groups in separate chapters, by writing about certain individuals or about their families, thereby reflecting the general immigration story of all these major Latino groups. After providing an historical overview and background about the Latino immigration and the immigrants, Gonzales focuses on the real issues, which are impacting their lives. He discusses how certain sections of the Latino population have not still integrated and assimilated with the American society, and then lists out certain steps that can be taken for further assimilation and acculturation. The book on the whole has several positive points going for it, as Gonzalez puts forward an interesting and informative historical overview of the Latino immigration and the current political issues impacting the Latino immigrants, backed with extensive research.

Relation to today’s Political and diplomatic policies
One of the key political as well as social realities that can be understood from the book is the clear rise in the Latino population. When one focuses on the population numbers of America and their demographic profile, it is clear that the Latinos are on the verge of becoming the largest minority group in America, even overtaking the African American population. This striking demographic transformation is a key reality, which was forecasted by Gonzales in early 2000’s itself. “For a country long used to seeing itself as black and white, it will be something of a shock when Hispanics become the nation’s largest minority group in five years and fully one-quarter of the population by mid-century.” (Robinson). This swelling of the Latin population provides them increased clout in various spheres of American life, particularly politics. With candidates in all types of elections from Presidential to local level elections mainly focusing on vote banks to garner bulk votes, the Latino population are getting good attention, thus showing that ethnicity and social class matters in America, particularly from political angle and during elections. “Recent elections show that the Latino vote has become key in critical states, and most presidential candidates now on the stump are at least trying to speak a few words of Spanish” (Robinson). As mentioned above, vote bank politics are the order of the day, with the candidates trying their best to appeal to particular communities or people of particular race, religion, ethnicity etc. Candidates do that by doing certain culture specific actions, and thereby try to associate with people of particular ethnicity and social class, and in the process showing him/her as one of them. When they do that, they will be able to garner votes en masse. This focus on individuals’ ethnicity and social class by the election candidates clearly shows that both these factors truly matters in the current multicultural American society.

The other key social-ethnic reality concerning Latino immigration as well as immigration on the whole, is, American government is taking strong steps to curtail immigration, thereby impacting its foreign policies and diplomacy. The government is toughening its regulations regarding entry of skilled professional immigrants as well as ‘plugging’ the entry points of the under-skilled illegal immigrants in its borders. In the book, Gonzalez equates the border control steps taken by the American government to the building of Great Wall in China. The other major issue that is visible when it comes to the anti-immigration stance against the Latino population is the clear exhibition of racism in diplomatic handling of immigration. That is, although immigrants from different ethnic and cultural groups from various parts of the world are illegally entering America, mainly the Latino immigrants are being targeted. They are treated in a strong manner and deported back to their homelands immediately, while the immigrants of Caucasian ethnicity are treated in a leaner manner, thus validating the statement that ethnicity and status plays a role in American diplomacy as well. “Again racism defines the xenophobia: in 1996, Gonzalez points out, 2,047 “illegal” Canadians were deported (out of 120,000) compared to 1.5 million Mexicans (out of 2.7 million).” (Martinez). It is clear that the Latino immigration as discussed by Gonzales in the book, Harvest of Empire has relations to the social-ethnic issue of racism. As racism is also carried out on the basis of an individual’s ethnicity and social class, it is clear that both are relevant in the present day society. That is, as pointed out above, even in the issue of deporting immigration, racism is done, and this shows how racism causing ethnicity and social class to make an impact in the diplomatic matters. From the above analysis, it is clear that Juan Gonzales has focused on a very important issue of immigration, as it is having effects in various spheres of the American society particularly in its politics and diplomacy.

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Oct 27, 2011