At nearly 17% of the U.S. population, people of Hispanic origin now make up the largest ethnic minority and by 2060 are projected to be nearly 30% of the total U.S. population. Ironically, discussions about the presence of Latinos in the United States often seem unable to move beyond discussions of immigration, either forgetting or ignoring the fact that people of Hispanic origin have maintained a continuous presence in what is now the United States since 1565. This project explores in more detail the Hispanic heritage of the United States by examining the diversity of the Latino experience. Instead of trying to define and understand ethnic, racial, and cultural boundaries of Latino identity, rather, this project delineates the continuities and discontinuities that characterize what it means to be Latino in the United States.
To offer readers a more nuanced understanding of these inconsistent identities, students from the USSY 291 “The Latino Metropolis,” a SAGES (Seminar Approach to General Education) class at Case Western Reserve University, have studied the way that Latino experience in the United States has physically, culturally, and linguistically shaped different American cities and likewise, how those experiences have been impacted by their unique urban contexts. That is, to talk of Latinos in the context of Miami, as one group has, is to see how political exile and diaspora have shaped identity. In contrast, in Chicago the physical geography of the Mississippi river and the industrial legacy of the Midwest has led to a completely different modality of what it means to be Latino that has different parameters of race, ethnicity, and even language. Through unifying forces like globalized Spanish-language media—like Univision and Telemundo—and the interconnectedness of the Internet, these disparate identities have found overlaps. Nonetheless, as students have aptly demonstrated their sameness is as instructive as their difference. To illustrate these dynamics, students have not only highlighted the unique historical circumstances that have led to “Latino settlement” in each region, but also the ways in which this settlement has been expressed in the cultural geography of these places. This geography is seen not only in settlement patterns and key neighborhoods, but also in the cultural institutions and products that have emerged from these distinct matrices.
We hope that readers not only learn more about the variegated cultural topography of the Latino experience, but that they consider more broadly how the urban environment shapes social experience.