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Ethnic Labels, Latino Lives

Identity and the Politics of (Re) Presentation in the United States

1995
Author:

Suzanne Oboler

Ethnic Labels, Latino Lives

Hispanic or Latino? Mexican American or Chicano? Social labels often take on a life of their own beyond the control of those who coin them or to whom they are applied. In Ethnic Labels, Latino Lives, Suzanne Oboler explores the history and current use of the label “Hispanic,” as she illustrates the complex meanings that ethnicity has acquired in shaping our lives and identities.

Hispanic or Latino? Mexican American or Chicano? Social labels often take on a life of their own beyond the control of those who coin them or to whom they are applied. In Ethnic Labels, Latino Lives, Suzanne Oboler explores the history and current use of the label “Hispanic,” as she illustrates the complex meanings that ethnicity has acquired in shaping our lives and identities.

Hispanic or Latino? Mexican American or Chicano? Ethnic labels and labeling are difficult subjects to handle not only for the layperson in U.S. society, but for scholars as well. Professor Oboler attacks with guts and creativity the problematics surrounding the construction and re-construction of Hispanic/Latino identities, meanings, and social values and consequences, both positive and negative. In examining the issue of identity from multiple angles-and nationalities-her contribution to this ongoing, unfinished dialogue is to link the dynamic of ethnic identities to the meaning of citizenship and the struggle for full participation and social justice in contemporary U S civil society. This is a significant new work in the fields of Ethnic Studies, Latino Studies, American Studies, and Cultural Studies.

Evelyn Hu-DeHart, Professor of History and Director, Center for Studies of Ethnicity and Race in America, University of Colorado at Boulder

Hispanic or Latino? Mexican American or Chicano? Social labels often take on a life of their own beyond the control of those who coin them or to whom they are applied. In Ethnic Labels, Latino Lives, Suzanne Oboler explores the history and current use of the label “Hispanic” as she illustrates the complex meanings that ethnicity has acquired in shaping our lives and identities.

Exploding the myth of cultural and national homogeneity among people of Latin American descent, Oboler interviews members of diverse groups who have traditionally been labeled “Hispanic” and records the many different meanings and social values they attribute to this label. For example, a person of Mexican descent has a different historical relationship with the United States and a different cultural background than an individual of Puerto Rican or Brazilian descent. The different meanings and social values those interviewed attribute to the label "Hispanic" also correspond to their gender and social class position, including racial prejudices and values stemming from their countries of origin.

Though we have witnessed in recent years the fading of the idealized image of U.S. society as a melting pot, we have also realized that the possibility of recasting it in multicultural terms is problematic. Oboler discusses the historical process of labeling groups of individuals, illustrating how labels affect the meaning of citizenship and the struggle for full social participation in the United States. Ethnic Labels, Latino Lives aims to understand the role ethnic labels play in our society and brings us closer toward actualizing a society that values cultural diversity.

Ethnic Labels, Latino Lives

Suzanne Oboler, a Peruvian American, is currently assistant professor in the Department of American Civilization at Brown University.

Ethnic Labels, Latino Lives

Hispanic or Latino? Mexican American or Chicano? Ethnic labels and labeling are difficult subjects to handle not only for the layperson in U.S. society, but for scholars as well. Professor Oboler attacks with guts and creativity the problematics surrounding the construction and re-construction of Hispanic/Latino identities, meanings, and social values and consequences, both positive and negative. In examining the issue of identity from multiple angles-and nationalities-her contribution to this ongoing, unfinished dialogue is to link the dynamic of ethnic identities to the meaning of citizenship and the struggle for full participation and social justice in contemporary U S civil society. This is a significant new work in the fields of Ethnic Studies, Latino Studies, American Studies, and Cultural Studies.

Evelyn Hu-DeHart, Professor of History and Director, Center for Studies of Ethnicity and Race in America, University of Colorado at Boulder

Suzanne Oboler asks: What does the term ‘Hispanic’ mean to those so classified in the United States? In Ethnic Labels/Latino Lives she splendidly answers this question in a richly textured and empirically dense study of the logic and politics of ethnic labels. She traces the historical circumstances that generated particular ethnic and national labels, their situational deployment both by the state and local communities, and their long-term structural ramifications. Ethnic Labels/Latino Lives is a must-read for any person interested in racial and ethnic politics in the United States.

Professor Ramon A. Gutierrez, University of California, San Diego, and author of When Jesus Came, the Corn Mothers Went Away: Marriage Sexuality and Power in New Mexico

Subtle and provocative. Readers interested in exploring the complex processes involved in ethnic formation and reformation and the increasingly volatile politics of citizenship in the United States will learn a great deal from Oboler’s insightful study.

Journal of American Ethnic History

Oboler, a Peruvian American of Jewish heritage who teaches Latino studies in an American University, exemplifies in her personal and scholarly work so many intersections that she is particularly well poised to dissect and deconstruct the ‘Hispanic’ label that has been much in use in the US since its invention by the federal government in the 1970s. With this book, Oboler opens up a much needed dialogue on difficult but necessary debates.

Choice

An excellent historico-political analysis. Oboler’s book provides a good point of departure for broader cross-cultural analysis.

MultiCultural Review

The book is also an elegant synthesis of the fundamental theoretical questions and emerging set of concepts in the literature on ethnic identity. An excellent monograph on an important and timely subject, it should be read by anyone interested in the study of present-day intergroup relations in the United States.

International Migration Review

Professor Oboler draws on her own heritage as a Peruvian American scholar of Latino/a studies and American literatures and cultures to offer a lucid and well-documented account of the historical emergence and multiple effects of the ethnic label `Hispanic,’ as mobilized by the U.S. government in response to Latino/a claims for social justice during the civil rights movements of the 1960s. Her combination of thoroughly researched social history and qualitative analysis results in an important, carefully reasoned, and timely contribution to contemporary debates on affirmative action. On the whole, Ethnic Labels, Latino Lives is a significant and accessible resource that will serve a wide variety of socially-conscious readers including students and scholars of policy, sociology, gender, women’s studies, literature, culture, history, and diversity studies.

Canadian Review of American Studies