LatinaLista — Latino in America, the companion book to the televised special of the same name that was broadcast by the cable news network CNN over two nights, is a compilation of stories intended to represent the successes of Latinos.
Written by CNN host Soledad O’Brien with Rose Marie Arce, Latino in America, supplements the television special by using material and photos not seen in the broadcast version. In addition, the book offers readers the chance to hear more of O’Brien’s voice as her personal insights of traveling the country meeting different Latinos is sprinkled throughout the text.
O’Brien recounts stories as uplifting as young girls attempting to graduate from high school and gang members banding together to keep kids out of gangs to stories highlighting the same public perception problems Latinos have always had like Latina actresses still battling Hollywood stereotype casting.
While the television special created an uproar among some in the Latino community, there’s no denying that stories depicting Latinos struggling to better themselves in circumstances that are far from ideal should be celebrated. Yet the book didn’t go far enough in examining the stories of those Latinos, who have already achieved success and its impact on their lives. In that regard, I was surprised by the lack of the Middle Class Latino experience among all the tales told.
However, I did find in the book a definition that touches at the heart of the unique position Latinos find themselves in as we go about our daily lives. O’Brien defines Latinos as:
Latino is an American identity. It is a word to describe Americans who are drawn to each other by this intangible cultural link, the similarity of the way we run our families, our devotion to faith, and the warmth of our personalities, our connection to a history that recognizes no border to the south.
Latinos are a people who celebrate the new culture they’ve created in the United States while struggling each day with whether we need to assimilate or integrate into this new society. We ask ourselves what good things we want to preserve from our culture and what American values we want to or need to adopt. And that question never goes away, not one, two, or three generations beyond immigration.
The stories in the book encompassed a wide range of experiences — but it’s not the whole story. Hopefully, CNN discovered that one show or book cannot possibly navigate the entire Latino experience — and is already planning the sequel to both.
By Jo Ann HernÃ¡ndez, assistant editor of Latina Lista’s Bookshelf section, and the author of the award-winning “White Bread Competition” and “The Throwaway Piece.” Jo Ann is also the creator and publisher of BronzeWord Latino Authors.