The Journal of San Diego History
Fall 1994, Volume 40, Number 4
Richard W. Crawford, Editor

Book Review

Latinos: A Biography of the People.

By Earl Shorris. New York: Norton, 1992. Bibliography. Glossary. Index. 520 pages. $25.00.

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Reviewed by Arturo Ramirez, Associate Professor of Mexican American Studies, Sonoma State University. Co-editor of Chicano Border Culture and Folklore, 1993, and articles on Chicano literature and Border Studies.

A sweeping historical survey of Latinos (consisting of those of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, and other Latin American origin) is deftly interwoven into this large, ambitious book. From Pre-Columbian times to contemporary oral narratives, time in this historical as well as contemporary account is no longer chronological. Instead, space and time limitations are obliterated so that the interested lay person as well as the specialist in the field can enjoy, learn, and appreciate the Latino people as part of a collective biography.

Latinos is a book of discovery, of intriguing anecdotes, historical events and people, especially previously overlooked social history and the lives of ordinary people as well as the more conventional political histories that focused on important currents, significant events, and great men. Earl Shorris has chosen to take a more contemporary approach to the writing of history, thus making it more accessible and enjoyable, while still providing substance.

Shorris is also a finely nuanced writer who can have broad appeal. Stories, events, and activities criss-cross in a never confusing way from Los Angeles to El Paso, from Miami to Spanish Harlem. The Aztecs, exploitative developers, the undocumented, Church and labor — all and much more are juxtaposed so that turning the page brings forth unexpected new information or another vibrant anecdote. A chapter title is emblematic of this eclectic mix: “Christ, Quetzalcoatl, Santa Barbara, and That Old Time Religion.” Just as the Latino story is complex, involving the whole heterogeneity of the nearly 25 million Latinos in the United States with a large scope in space and time, Shorris’ Latinos reflects a brief series of glimpses at diversity as the author seeks to encapsule the whole with economy, fascination, respect, and truth.

Earl Shorris is no stranger to the history of Latinos along the border. Originally from El Paso, Shorris demonstrates both sympathy for, and knowledge of, Latinos along the border and elsewhere in the United States. He is the author of Under the Fifth Sun, a novel about Pancho Villa, as well as another novel set on the U.S.-Mexican border (the comic The Boots of the Virgin). Now Earl Shorris has written Latinos, which, among many virtues, is an excellent addition to the growing field of Border Studies. A lively style, a compassionate heart, an erudite researcher, and a fine writer have merged to produce an introduction to the sorrows and the triumphs of the Latino people that is not only valuable as a broad emblem but also impressively penetrating in individual insights that together form the collectivity of the Latinos.

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