As a history fan, student of anthropology, and a Latina it’s no surprise that the documentary LATINO AMERICANS, a new PBS series about the Latino experience in the United States, was on my must-watch list. It takes a look at Hispanic and Latino peoples over a span of 500 years within the boundaries of what is now the United States. How have I not seen something like this all in one place before?
In 2009, PBS came out with a documentary called LATIN MUSIC USA, which was memorable because of its in-depth look into the Latino influence on music genres and pop-culture over the last 50 years. I was proud to see that this ever-growing minority has made such a lasting impact. But it also reinforced the impression or assumption that Latinos have only been around for a short while in the United States. What about the rest of American history?
LATINO AMERICANS takes a deeper look at the people who were here before there was a United States, those who have emigrated from numerous lands as well as the impact Latinos have made as participants in the American experience. The Great Depression, World War II, and the Civil Rights movement are major chapters we learned about in American history class, but I don’t recall ever learning about the Latinos involved which is why this series is so powerful. Latinos have been here the whole time.
Aside from the historical perspective, it is really the social element to which I most relate, especially when watching the episode titled “The New Latinos.” Listening to Julia Alvarez describe her experience immediately took me back to the memory of my own journey from El Salvador in the 80’s. Though we were not fleeing or seeking political asylum, I boarded a Pan Am plane and still remember the feeling that I was on my way to something important. Once here there is a different type of journey, one of assimilation and all that comes with it.
The term Latino American represents people from many countries and cultures. This series reminds me that we are also joined together by experiences that we may have faced in our homelands or in our new common land. LATINO AMERICANS is a helpful narrative that has enriched my appreciation for what so many Latinos contributed to and how that has affected my personal experience in this country. I’ve had it easy compared to the men and women who protested in the 60’s demanding social and economic equality as well as political representation. Though it is not a history of “my people” per se, it is a history worth knowing and not glossing over.