- Hispanic and Latino New Orleans: Immigration and Identity Since the Eighteenth Century by Andrew Sluyter et al.
Hispanic and Latino New Orleans is a welcome addition to the literature on the increasingly diverse geography of U.S. Latinas/os. The focus on New Orleans is especially important given its location in the South and its distinctiveness. As the authors point out, at less than 10 percent, the city’s Latina/o population is too small to be part of El Nuevo South, yet it is the only southern city outside of Florida with significant historical connections to Spain and Latin America. Perhaps New Orleans is alone in having a very old Hispanic population, a very recent Latina/o one, and not much in between. At the risk of overstating the case, I can think of few comparable cities. The authors do an excellent job of detailing the presence of Cubans, Brazilians, and others, but these are relatively small populations compared to post-Katrina Latina/o immigrants. This latter population raises a whole series of questions regarding integration, economic processes, racial tensions and the like, which certainly bear some resemblance to processes in the larger south.
The book is organized into six chapters based on national origin groups. It begins with Isleños—Spaniards who came from the Canary Islands to New Orleans—in the eighteenth century, and continues with chapters on Cubans, Hondurans, Mexicans, Brazilians, and “Other Communities.” The authors take pains to explain their terminology, including both Hispanics—those who trace their origins to Spain—and Latinas/os, those from Latin America.
In many ways, the book represents both the strengths and weaknesses of contemporary ethnic geography. Its strengths are many. Most importantly, Hispanic and Latino New Orleans offers a detailed spatial and demographic analysis of each group considered. Every chapter is accompanied by a set of detailed maps that trace the geography of a particular group over time in the city. In general, the book is meticulously researched and has a wealth of detailed information. For instance, when researching early immigrant groups the authors not only consulted the census, but also ship passenger lists. In addition, the authors do an outstanding job of providing a transnational context to each immigration story. Thus, we learn that while Honduran immigration in the 1930s [End Page 126] was linked to the banana industry, the Brazilian presence in New Orleans can be traced to the nineteenth-century coffee industry. The authors are very sensitive to the subtle and not-so-subtle differences between these various groups. Indeed, I couldn’t help but reflect on the utility of such categories as “Hispanic” and “Latina/o.” While an argument can be made for including eighteenth-century Isleños with contemporary Mexicans in the same book, I began wondering why they should be grouped together at all. At one point the authors suggest that some groups might be called, “incipient Latinos” (p. 30). I thought this was an excellent term to capture the fact that contemporary terminology is not always consonant with the past. I appreciate the degree to which the authors made me question assumed knowledge and categories.
But the book also embodies elements that I found problematic—namely, an impoverished racial analysis. Given that the book is about a city with one of the most complex racial formations in the U.S., it was frustrating that the authors did not engage more directly with questions of race. For example, we learn that the Isleños, who were concentrated in St. Bernard Parish, held slaves, were leaders in the development of Jim Crow laws, and in many ways functioned as a white supremacist ethnic group. This is fascinating material, but their whiteness is never seriously examined. Nor is there any mention of settler colonialism when discussing the various land grants from Spain or their confirmation...