The compelling history of how Latino immigrants revitalized the nation's cities after decades of disinvestment and white flight
Thirty years ago, most people were ready to give up on American cities. We are commonly told that it was a "creative class" of young professionals who revived a moribund urban America in the 1990s and 2000s. But this stunning reversal owes much more to another, far less visible group: Latino and Latina newcomers.
Award-winning historian A. K. Sandoval-Strausz reveals this history by focusing on two barrios: Chicago's Little Village and Dallas's Oak Cliff. These neighborhoods lost residents and jobs for decades before Latin American immigration turned them around beginning in the 1970s. As Sandoval-Strausz shows, Latinos made cities dynamic, stable, and safe by purchasing homes, opening businesses, and reviving street life. Barrio America uses vivid oral histories and detailed statistics to show how the great Latino migrations transformed America for the better.
Penn State University professor Sandoval-Strausz (Hotel: An American History) takes a close look at Chicago's Little Village and Dallas's Oak Cliff neighborhoods in this judicious account of the role that Latino immigrants have played in revitalizing American cities over the second half of the 20th century. Sandoval-Strausz gives Latin American migrants and their barrio communities much of the credit for solving the "urban crisis" caused by "white flight" and the race riots of the 1960s, '70s, and '80s. In Little Village, he writes, Spanish-speaking Mexican immigrants were classified as "white ethnics" by real estate agents who wanted to create "a bulwark against African Americans." Addressing the current political climate, he notes Republican efforts to court Latino voters in the early 2000s, but criticizes the party for "unhesitatingly adopt" President Trump's "trademark strategy" of sowing fear of immigrants and other minorities. By documenting the opportunities provided to Latino immigrants as a secondary effect of white discrimination against blacks, Sandoval-Strausz presents a helpful guide to understanding the mechanisms of systemic racism, and he reminds readers that the current immigration debate is grounded in decades of local and national policy. The vibrancy of Latino culture is somewhat missing, however, as Sandoval-Strausz focuses more on statistics than individual community members. This is a useful reference for readers interested in public policy and the history of Latin American immigration.