The story of one small town’s change to embrace its new Latino residents

By Sarah Dahlen
LatinaLista

Picture a city in the United States with a thriving, vibrant Latino community. Is Allentown, Pennsylvania what comes to mind?

If not, it may be time to read Edgar Sandoval’s book, The New Face of Small-Town America: Snapshots of Latino Life in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

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As is clear from the title, this collection of short essays documents more than the lives of Latinos in one small city, but rather captures the spirit of a more widespread demographic trend: increasing numbers of Latinos living in parts of the country where they have not historically resided.

Many of these new Latino residents have relocated to Allentown and the surrounding area from Puerto Rico, others from New York, and they have not always been welcomed to their new home with open arms.

Several of the essays in this volume describe cultural misunderstandings and outright hostility. In fact, Sandoval was hired by a local newspaper to report on and reach out to the Latino community, who felt that they were misrepresented by negative media coverage; his resulting articles compose this volume.

Despite tensions, the book paints an overall picture of a community that has come a long way in accommodating, accepting, and even embracing its new Latino neighbors, who constitute a quarter of its population.

Business owners, including those who are themselves immigrants from Asian countries, have sought out the Latino market, recognizing its purchasing power. Spanish-speakers in Allentown can watch the news, listen to the radio, read library books, and get health care services in their native language.

A quick and enjoyable read, this book makes significant strides toward its stated intent of promoting understanding of universal human experiences and, in particular, the desires that drive relocation: wanting to belong, prosper, and provide a good life for one’s children.

Sarah Dahlen is an university librarian and part of the Review ‘n Receive book review program.

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