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Our migrant souls : a meditation on race and the meanings and myths of "Latino"
2023
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Library Journal Review
Every day, people from Latin America enter into the United States, and they bring their hopes and dreams with them. Desires for safety and prosperity drive them to leave their ancestral lands and embark on that journey. Pulitzer Prize--winning journalist Tobar (The Last Great Road Bum) dives into the stories of migrants and their families as they explore what it means to relive their memories and mix it with the histories that made those experiences possible. Tobar does not shy away from addressing the interconnectedness of their memories with incidents of racism on U.S. soil. Their stories of humanity, hope, strength, and, at times, brutal grit, take readers from the deck of a steamship docked in the San Francisco Bay to the backyard deck of construction professionals in Georgia. Each story unpeels the layers of each individual's sense of national and cultural identity, the connection to their ancestral pasts, and their visions for future generations growing up in their new country of origin. The passion for social justice is palpable in Tobar's writing. VERDICT Recommended for readers with an interest in sociology, anthropology, political science, and the historical context of various Latin American migrant experiences.--Monique Martinez
Publishers Weekly Review
Pulitzer winner Tobar (The Last Great Road Bum) explores in this probing, heartfelt essay collection the promises and contradictions inherent within Latino identity. Aiming to help young Latinos "untangl the roots of the racist ideas about us," Tobar interweaves autobiographical reflections on growing up in L.A. and visiting his family in Guatemala with profiles of undocumented immigrants; cultural analyses of how Latinos are portrayed in American films, television, and literature; and historical vignettes on the Spanish conquest of Mesoamerica, the annexing of New Mexico and California, the rise of the Chicano Movement, the "militarization" of the U.S. border with Mexico, and more. Throughout, he highlights the diversity of Latinos ("Latino people are brown, Black, white, and Indigenous, and they are European, Asian, and African. Some of us speak excellent Spanish, but many more of us do not") and fiercely critiques the "static, one-dimensional images" of suffering immigrants that saturate U.S. journalism. Lyrical and uncompromising, this is a powerful call for all Americans to "dedicat our energy and our intellects to creating new ways of being in the world." Agent: Jay Mandel, WME. (May)
Booklist Review
What do we pass on to our children when we call ourselves Latino?" This question of legacy is central to Tobar's (The Last Great Road Bum, 2020) eye-opening investigation into Latin American heritages, whether identified as Latinx, Latin@, Latine, or otherwise. As the son of Guatemalan immigrants, the question is personal for Tobar, who treats this inquiry with the same rigor and care that enlivens his journalistic nonfiction and historical fiction. In his quest for answers, Tobar travels from Los Angeles to his childhood home in Guatemala, dials back time to encounter imperialist and colonial exploits, and speaks with immigrants, neighbors, and family. Each chapter extends the notion of Latinidad by centering around a different theme. In "Empire," Tobar quotes dialogue from Denis Villeneuve's Dune (2021) that equally applies to the lived experiences of Central and South American peoples, "The outsiders ravage our lands in front of our eyes. Their cruelty to my people is all I've known." In "Secrets," Tobar sees in Frida Kahlo a figure of "German-Jewish and Oaxacan-Indigenous descent [who] wears huipiles and Tehuantepec headdresses," and he traces the complicated implications of Kahlo's commodification and absorption into mainstream commercial culture. Timely, intelligent, and generous, this is a must-read from Pulitzer Prize--winner Tobar.
Kirkus Review
A pensive examination of the many ways there are to be Latinx in America. Novelist and Pulitzer Prize--winning journalist Tobar, the son of Guatemalan immigrants and a native of Los Angeles, begins on a paradoxical note: Whereas terms such as Latino, Latinx, and Hispanic are expressions "that are said to describe our 'ethnicity' or 'common cultural background,' " the White majority reduces them to refer to "race," a parsing that, in practice, always imposes an inferior designation. "Throughout this country's history," writes the author, "the lives of people today known as 'Latino' have been shaped by the American tradition of creating legal categories applied to the 'nonwhite.' " A fan of pop culture, Tobar likens such terms to words like Vulcan or Wookie, explaining, with a nod to Junot Díaz, that history provides context to movies such as Dune (slavery), X-Men (racist classification), and Star Wars (colonialism). It's a matter of some irony, he adds, that his hometown is both the most Latinx city in the U.S. and the center of an entertainment industry "that makes billions of dollars telling empire fantasy stories." To broaden his perspective, Tobar travels widely across the country, finding perhaps unlikely centers of Latinidad in little towns in Pennsylvania and suburbs in Georgia as well as unmistakably Cubano Florida. Even if these enclaves are culturally quite distinct at home, they are reduced to the same non-Whiteness in the U.S., some suspect and some praised as "model" immigrants yet all sharing an "emotional commonality." On completing his travels, he returned to LA to find that it resembled less a monolithic Latinx capital than "the encampments of dozens of different tribes." While they share some cultural features, they have all been victimized by capitalism and racism. Tobar's travels and meditations are altogether provocative and thoroughly well thought through, his account sharply observed and elegantly written. A powerful look at what it means to be a member of a community that, though large, remains marginalized. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Summary

WINNER OF THE KIRKUS PRIZE FOR NONFICTION
Named One of The New York Times ' 100 Notable Books of 2023
One of Time 's 100 Must-Read Books of 2023 | A Top Ten Book of 2023 at Chicago Public Library

A new book by the Pulitzer Prize - winning writer about the twenty-first-century Latino experience and identity.

In Our Migrant Souls , the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Héctor Tobar delivers a definitive and personal exploration of what it means to be Latino in the United States right now.

"Latino" is the most open-ended and loosely defined of the major race categories in the United States, and also one of the most rapidly growing. Composed as a direct address to the young people who identify or have been classified as "Latino," Our Migrant Souls is the first account of the historical and social forces that define Latino identity.

Taking on the impacts of colonialism, public policy, immigration, media, and pop culture, Our Migrant Souls decodes the meaning of "Latino" as a racial and ethnic identity in the modern United States, and gives voice to the anger and the hopes of young Latino people who have seen Latinidad transformed into hateful tropes and who have faced insult and division--a story as old as this country itself.

Tobar translates his experience as not only a journalist and novelist but also a mentor, a leader, and an educator. He interweaves his own story, and that of his parents' migration to the United States from Guatemala, into his account of his journey across the country to uncover something expansive, inspiring, true, and alive about the meaning of "Latino" in the twenty-first century.

A new book by the Pulitzer Prize - winning writer about the twenty-first-century Latino experience and identity.

In Our Migrant Souls , the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Héctor Tobar delivers a definitive and personal exploration of what it means to be Latino in the United States right now.

"Latino" is the most open-ended and loosely defined of the major race categories in the United States, and also one of the most rapidly growing. Composed as a direct address to the young people who identify or have been classified as "Latino," Our Migrant Souls is the first account of the historical and social forces that define Latino identity.

Taking on the impacts of colonialism, public policy, immigration, media, and pop culture, Our Migrant Souls decodes the meaning of "Latino" as a racial and ethnic identity in the modern United States, and gives voice to the anger and the hopes of young Latino people who have seen Latinidad transformed into hateful tropes and who have faced insult and division--a story as old as this country itself.

Tobar translates his experience as not only a journalist and novelist but also a mentor, a leader, and an educator. He interweaves his own story, and that of his parents' migration to the United States from Guatemala, into his account of his journey across the country to uncover something expansive, inspiring, true, and alive about the meaning of "Latino" in the twenty-first century.

Table of Contents
Prologue: Our Migrant Souls3
Part IOur Country
1Empires15
2Walls26
3Beginnings43
4Cities54
5Race74
6Intimacies93
7Secrets114
8Ashes128
9Lies141
Part IIOur Journeys Home
10Light169
11Home195
Conclusion: Utopias223
Acknowledgments243
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