Book Review: An African American and Latinx History of the United States by Paul Ortiz

When I told a colleague of mine that I was reading An African American and Latinx History of the United States, they were surprised, because they assumed that an African American history is distinct from a Latinx history, and therefore they should each be afforded their own book. My explanation to this person was the same as is the foundational argument of this book — that in the United States, African American and Latinx histories are inextricably linked, something that author Paul Ortiz makes abundantly clear throughout every page of this text. 

Throughout the body of this work, Ortiz emphasizes the mutual ties between African American and Latinx folx, tracing how the history of African Americans is not exclusive to the United States, but has roots in the Haitian Revolution, in the Mexican War of Independence, the Cuban Solidarity Movement, and is intimately tied with anti-imperialism in the Global South. Ortiz breaks down the periods within which he discusses African American and Latinx History chapter by chapter into time frames ranging from fifteen years to fifty, allowing for some overlap. 

Throughout An African American and Latinx History of the United States Ortiz reminds us of all the ways in which the common histories that are so often taught in grade school gloss over or outright ignore and erase from the narrative the things which do not fit in with the comfortable perception that people have of the founding and continued existence of the United States. As one glaring example, he cites in chapter one the third draft of the Declaration of Independence as Thomas Jefferson wrote it — which includes that King George was prompting slave rebellions and encouraging attacks by indigenous people. Ortiz is perfectly clear about the ways and which the United States has failed the black and brown — for I cannot even say that the US has failed its citizens, because as the text demonstrates, citizenship is something that was and is denied and revoked. 

Nevertheless, An African American and Latinx History of the United States is much more than a book about what has happened to those who are African American and/or Latinx, but in reality a book about the social action and dedicated efforts of those who are African American and Latinx in the United States. There is a strong focus on labor and community organizing, and the way that class, not just race and ethnicity, plays in to marginalization and differences in both the United States and globally. Chapter six, for example, discusses among other topics how African American and Latinx workers were excluded from key protections of the New Deal despite their insurgencies setting the stage for industrial unionization, setting the stage for later discussion of how those setbacks impacted activism in the 1960s.

An African American and Latinx History of the United States is part of a series of books from Beacon Press called ReVisioning American History, each of which reinterprets America’s past from diverse perspectives. I have read a few books from this series already, but I chose to review this text first given February’s status as Black History Month. I think that this is a particularly good nonfiction text for Black History Month because it has a strong lens on the African American and Latinx social and political movements of this country, and I think that it is an important read for anyone seeking to know more about the history of the United States and the role that African American and Latinx people have played in its development as a nation. I also think that it would be an eye-opening read for people who may have misconceptions about to what extent African American and Latinx social and political histories do overlap, and so in truth anyone would benefit from reading this text, even without that particular subset of interest.

Happy reading!

Cheers,

Talia

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