If I had a dime every time I hear that Latinos aren’t a monolith, I’d be rich enough to run for mayor of Los Angeles.
Yet reporting on Latinos still vacillates largely between the tired tentpoles of exploited immigrants and the boots-from-the-boots success stories, typically produced by reporters with no roots in their subject matter and no interest in digging deeper.
That’s why I tell Latinos, when they complain about how the media portrays us, to do something about it. Write or record anecdotes about who you are. Interview the people who make up your specific community. So let the rest of the world know.
Four books about Latinos in California released this year — perfect Christmas gifts for anyone who cares about the state — do just that, proving another age-old cliché: representation matters.
When it comes to street photographers in Los Angeles over the past 30 years, only Ted Soqui and Gary Leonard can match the prolific mastery of Gregory Bojorquez. His snapshots of Chicano life — particularly in Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles and Montebello — have long graced local and national publications. Now he’s collected hundreds of them into a gorgeous new coffee table book, “Eastsiders.”
The photographer captures the region in the 1990s in all its ups and downs, mostly in black and white. We see manicured veterans’ headstones at Calvary Cemetery and hushed crowds at the East LA Classic, the annual football rivalry between Roosevelt and Garfield High Schools. Smiling gang members displaying the signs of their clika. The lovers stick together on a lawn. A boy throwing a perfect spiral down Ditman Avenue.
A pullout at the end of “Eastsiders” offers the location and year of each shot – another opportunity to marvel at all that Bojorquez has shown us where he came from.
Bojorquez’s perfectly focused camera reveals every imperfection of his subjects, who have long been stereotyped as little better than poor or criminal simply because of where they live. His non-judgmental eye brings out their unfiltered joy and pride – they know their lives are hard, ¿y that?
It would be great to learn more about Bojorquez’s philosophy, but all he offers in a brief afterword is a simple yet profound artistic statement that also serves as a call to action: “I simply photographed this who surrounded me.
Henri Cartier-Bresson could not have said it better.
It’s the same approach that UC Riverside English professor Richard T. Rodríguez uses in “A Kiss Across the Ocean: Transatlantic Intimacy of British Post-Punk and US Latinidad.” Rodríguez tackles one of the most annoying questions in music journalism: why do Latinos love Morrissey/the Cure/British New Wave so much?
Rodríguez could have easily torn apart a press corps that still largely thinks that Latinos only listen to music in Spanish backed by accordions or congas. He criticizes them but limits bile in favor of a warm and poignant memoir analysis, which he says is “driven by thorough investigative work propelled by fan engagement”.
The teacher takes readers back to his days as a queer dark-haired teenager in an 1980s Orange County that didn’t care about people like him. He found salvation and liberation through artists like Adam Ant, the Pet Shop Boys, and Siouxsie and the Banshees, whose lead singer graces the cover of his book and whom Rodríguez describes, quoting another writer: “This woman was a crackpot… and completely unrepentant about it. I knew she was the one for me. »
The book ends in the present day, at venues like the Pacific Amphitheater in Costa Mesa and the Totally 80s Bar and Grille in Fullerton, where predominantly Latino audiences spanning generations sway to the Smiths or dance to Duran Duran.
Rodríguez offers theories on affinity – a short list includes shared working-class backgrounds between listeners and performers, lyrical themes of love and heartbreak reminiscent of Latin American genres like bolero and ranchera, as well as some real awesome beats.
But he argues that’s the wrong question to ask. Instead, the curious should focus on What this fandom offers: a “fortunate touch” of solidarity and resistance against a cruel world for true believers “which speaks of intimacy”.
Conviction also drives the protagonists of “The Dawning of Diversity: How Chicanos Helped Change Stanford University” by Frank O. Sotomayor. The former LA Times editor tells the story of Mexican Americans at the prestigious school, focusing particularly on “the 71” – Chicano students recruited by Stanford in 1969 from across the American Southwest in the goal of diversifying its student body.
Sotomayor tells the stories of almost everyone, pitting Chicano alumni like himself against the eugenics roots of the Stanford founders.
It shows how Chicanos played a key role in the school’s most important institutions, from its infamous marching band to its faculty and administration to its sports teams. Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jim Plunkett declined an offer to turn pro in his freshman year because “dropping out of school wouldn’t present a good role model for young Mexican Americans,” Sotomayor writes.
This book could have easily presented itself as a vanity project or something more appropriate for a class reunion than the general public. Still, Sotomayor offers a nice case study that anyone (even California graduates) can appreciate, about a group of people who knew they were part of something bigger and so did everything to succeed – no only for themselves, but for future generations of Latinos.
“I hope this book will motivate students and alumni of Stanford and other universities to write the stories of their own experiences,” Sotomayor writes in the introduction. “Don’t let good stories die. Let them live.
The Latino Baseball History Project has long followed this advice. Over the past 18 years, its contributors – scholars, community historians, and even former players – have created an incredible alternate timeline of the national pastime in Southern California, a timeline where Major League Baseball is a an afterthought in favor of the hundreds of barrio teams that have faced off from the early 1900s to the present day.
The project shined a light on players, teams, and leagues through museum exhibits and lectures, but most importantly in a series of books that covered nearly all of Southern California (I wrote the pre- about the Orange County edition in 2013). They just released their most ambitious tome yet: the 464-page Mexican American Baseball in the South Bay.
Through newspaper clippings, family photos, short essays and clever captions, contributors tell the stories of Latinos across the South Bay, from Redondo Beach to Dominguez Hills, Inglewood to San Pedro. Writers certainly know their history – many have published general histories of their hometowns for Arcadia Publishing’s popular “Images of America” series. They are also humble enough to know that their work is far from done. In “Mexican American in the South Bay,” they not only invite the public to help them, but challenge others to follow their example.
“There are many hidden baseball and softball treasures waiting to be discovered,” states the introduction – not just in archives and attics, but especially in “the cherished memories of elders.”
As I read these books, I am reminded of how almost none of the stories made it into the “official” chronicles of California. These authors weren’t going to wait for others to do the hard work – they did it themselves.
So what are you waiting for? Read these books and tell your own story.
Los Angeles Times