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Book Review Piecing together the fractured identity of US Latinos

Latinx: The New Force in American Politics And Culture
by Ed Morales
(Verso, £20)

LATINX ( “La-Teen-Ex”) is the gender-neutral word for those in the US of Latin American origin or descent. By 2050 they will account for a quarter of the US population — at the moment, there are around 58 million of them.

According to Ed Morales in this book, the term Latinx term describes “the in-between space in which they live, which allows [the construction of] self-images that include a wide variety of racial, national and even gender-based identifications.”

He argues that the Latinx’s political and linguistic empowerment, as well as their view of race inherited from nation-building ideologies, is not only altering the balance of forces in a growing number of states but is posing narratives that challenge and resist Anglo-US paradigms.

“One way to do so is to conceive of the Latino political condition as grounded in our racialised bodies, borrowing from the body politics of black thinking as well as groundbreaking work by feminists,” argues Morales.

Of Puerto Rican descent, he explains with intellectual clarity how the Latinx political identity has been tied to a long Latin American history of mestizaje — “mixedness” or “hybridity” — one that it now has to be able to transcend.

The book makes clear the challenges for the Latinx community which, lacking a cogent political vision, remains split between the Puerto Ricans in the north-east, the Cubans in Florida and Mexicans and Central Americans in the south-west.

Morales makes an important contribution to understanding US Latinos — not least by themselves — and there are lessons in it that might apply elsewhere including Britain, where at least half a million latinos live and work.

For the author, Latinx seem uniquely positioned to force US politics to engage with racial and class differences and at the same time help to reconnect with the “Nuestra America” (Our America) concept first articulated by the Cuban Jose Marti, in which he laid the foundations for understanding the national, social, racial, political and class dynamics of the continent.

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