Book review What is America to make of its biggest and fastest growing minority group? Latinos are now more than 40 million strong.
Conservative pundits describe them as a growing mass of border jumpers and job thieves who cling to their native tongue and, therefore, represent a grave threat to the economic future and cultural integrity of the United States. Or, if Latino advocates are to be believed, they are no more subversive than past waves of immigrants: They have middle class (and consumerist) aspirations and, over time, they can be relied upon to follow the example set by the Irish, the Italians and the Poles, and assimilate into the fabric of America. Yet it's that last representation Latinos as new but nonthreatening actors ready to join the American mainstream that most troubles political scientist Arlene Davila in her insightful book, "Latino Spin: Public Image and the Whitewashing of Race." As Davila puts past season kate spade bags it, she is not out to refute or challenge the "spin" that, for example, Latinos share conservative values such as hard work or familial affinity. Instead, she wonders whether such characterizations, or generalizations, blind us to what is really going on with Latinos in America. After all, we are not talking about a homogeneous group. Latinos span national, gender, class and racial boundaries. And then there is the question of generations: What are the commonalities between a third generation, English dominant, urban professional and an unskilled and recently arrived first generation immigrant? We do know that there is a spate of research and punditry promoting the spin that Latinos are reliably entering the middle class. UCLA's tells us in "La Nueva California" that Latinos behave "more like members of the American middle class than middle class Americans themselves." By this, he means that Latinos are more likely to hold jobs, less likely to use welfare, belong to strong families, have the fewest heart attacks and the healthiest babies, and live longer than whites and African Americans. Again, Davila doesn't dispute the kate spade wristlet sale existence of this largely unstudied segment of the Latino community, but she wonders why are we hearing so much about this subgroup, especially when what Americans consider middle class is ill defined and "least secure and most predicated on debt and credit." To suggest that Latinos are moving to middle class status ignores the income gap between Latino and white households, says Davila, and "it naturalizes as normal what remains an out of reach dream for so many." Not only are Latinos moving kate spade pocketbooks on sale to the middle class, but they're becoming Republicans, too. Or, if not reliably Republican, then they represent America's newest swing vote. So goes the spin on Latinos, but Davila tells us things are not quite so tidy as 's suggestion that "Hispanics are Republicans, they kate spade store nyc just don't know it." This conventional wisdom has it that Latinos share many conservative values such as opposition to abortion and homosexuality and strong support for hard work and military service. So, as the spin goes, they can easily be swayed by candidates who make a value laden appeal to them, especially when it comes in Spanish. What this analysis misses, Davila argues, is that most surveys of Latino political attitudes confirm that what matters most to Latino voters are jobs, the economy and education. Moreover, the eligible Latino voters are older, English dominant, more affluent and better educated than the Latino population as a whole. Yet, even if a huge percentage of Latinos doesn't vote, they can easily enter the mainstream with the help of Madison Avenue, which can't help but to covet this potential multibillion dollar market for everything from cars to diapers and food. Advertisers fall over themselves looking to land a piece of this action, but Davila warns that Latinos could find themselves valued for being little more than passive consumers in a market that values their spending more than their job prospects.
In the second half of her volume, Davila offers mini case studies in the arts, real estate development and academics. Her examples are mainly East Coast based and may feel distant to a West Coast reader. But Davila's argument is compelling: Marketing Latinos as the next "model minority" does nothing to address real questions of inequality and their exclusion from the mainstream.
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