It is probably not an understatement to say that some of the revelations in this epic series, Latino Americans, are a surprise. Each episode highlights a few fascinating people from history, profiling their stories and the impacts they made. Much of U.S. history (as taught in schools at least) is focused on European immigrant history, with a smattering of dark times including the treatment of Native Americans, the issue of slavery, and the painful march toward African Americans’ civil rights in the 1960s. But when race is the topic, Latino Americans seem to be rarely in the discussion, unless the discussion is about migrant workers and modern immigration. This excellent 6-hour series attempts to fill in some of the gaps in the modern history of North America.
Touting 500+ years of history on the continent, the series kind of glosses over the first 300 or so. The Spaniards settled in the southern parts of North America, making Spanish the first European language spoken in America (take that, England!). The Spaniards’ history in Mexico is a different topic for a different series, I’m sure, but it was fascinating to learn about the Latinos who settled in Texas and California territory–long before the “Anglos” showed up, flexing their Manifest Destiny muscles to claim the land all the way to the Pacific, just because they could.
Among the stories that I found fascinating were that of Juan Seguin, who happened to be away from the Alamo when it was seiged and all of his friends were killed. Seguin then grabbed Sam Houson’s army, and defeated the Mexicans in an 18-minute battle. For his efforts, Seguin was named Military Commander of West Texas, Senator, and later Mayor… only to be driven out by the Anglos a few years later. He was forced to flee to Mexico, where he had never lived, and lived in exile the rest of his life. Another incident I had never heard of were the Zoot Suit Riots in World War II in Los Angeles, where mobs of Navy sailors attacked Mexican-American kids for wearing fancy duds (“zoot suits”) in times where it flashy nice clothes didn’t seem patriotic. Then there was the story of serviceman Macario Garcia, who was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Harry Truman, only to be denied service later in a hometown cafe for being Latino.
The documentary smartly focuses on different cultures separately, giving ample time to the story of Puerto Rico, its unique relationship with the United States, and Cuba, with it’s huge immigrant population in the U.S. (despite the very shaky political relationship). I was surprised and fascinated by the unique histories of different states and territories, like California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, and how their histories reflected upon race relations in those states even in modern times.
The series goes all the way up to the present, profiling folks from entertainment, politics, business, academia, and more. It is a fascinating portrayal of a huge part of our own country’s history that has wrongfully been ignored. Latino Americans is an amazing history that should be of interest to all Americans.