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  • Entre la familia, la sociedad y el Estado; Niños y jóvenes en América Latina (siglos XIX-XX)
  • Sonya Lipsett-Rivera
Entre la familia, la sociedad y el Estado; Niños y jóvenes en América Latina (siglos XIX-XX). Edited by Barbara Potthast and Sandra Carrera. Madrid: Iberoamericana, 2005. Pp. 403. Illustrations. Tables. Notes. Bibliography. $36.00 paper.

The history of children has become fairly standard in European and American historiography but it is still quite rare in the literature on Latin America. This anthology, which examines children and youths, joins a small group of work including the anthology edited by Tobias Hecht, the monograph by Bianca Premo as well as a few articles that very often approach children via institutions or laws. Indeed perhaps the paucity of material on children has to do with the poverty of resources rather than the subject itself.

Therefore any additional work that brings together material on children's history in Latin America is welcome even if it is a bit uneven—as is the case with this collection. The first group of chapters, which deal with the nineteenth century and the [End Page 666] early twentieth, use historical methods whereas the essays in the latter half that deal with the twentieth century use other methodologies. While such an approach is not inherently faulty, it jars the reader a bit and makes the collection rather disjointed. The chapters also vary in their quality with some very strong analysis and research and some that are not terribly insightful.

Alejandra Torres' essay falls in the latter category; it is essentially a summary with some comments of a book/photo essay on Mexico City's street children. Her essay made me want to get a copy of Kent Klich's book (El Niño: Children on the Streets, Mexico City [1999]), but beyond that did not add much to the topic. On the other hand, Barbara Potthast's essay on the children who participated in the Paraguayan War is excellent. It reveals the incredible cruelty of the war and the regime of Francisco Solano López. Not only did the Paraguayan government conscript huge numbers of children into fighting but they also punished children for their relatives' political crimes and perceived disloyalty to the regime. Potthast has uncovered diaries so that she is able to provide very immediate accounts of some the experiences of children caught up in this conflict. Her chapter is a useful reminder that child soldiers are not a novelty of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

Estela Schindel's chapter on the military dictatorship in Argentina goes beyond what is commonly known about the disappeared to show in a chilling fashion the way that regime almost made being young a crime. It was a regime in which torturers inquired of medical personnel at what age was it possible to begin torturing children. Schindel shows the effects of the Argentine's military's anti-youth ethos on education, the family and social culture in general. She also reveals a fascinating connection between resistance and the rock nacional movement. Her analysis pushes boundaries and reveals the military government in chilling detail. It is well worth reading.

Many of the chapters such as those by Carmen Ramos Escandon, Eugenia Rodríguez Sáenz, Eugenia Scarzanella, and Ruth Stanley use the law and institutions as a way to approach the topic historically. These essays are very useful because they provide a needed background to the place of the young in Latin American societies. But, at the same time, they are a bit frustrating because almost by logical extension children are very much secondary actors in the analysis; they are acted upon rather than being actors. The same is true for the chapter by Sandra Carreras on education in Argentina at the turn of the twentieth century. These are excellent pieces but they reflect the frustrating reality of working on children for earlier periods—the sources are often very indirect.

This collection of essays also has some pieces that are more contemporary in nature, for example, Peter Peetz's chapter on Central American street gangs and Silke Hensel's piece on the...


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