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Op-Ed: Univ of Oklahoma prof views Mexican-American as a point of unity (Includes interview and first-hand account)

There is some evidence that this shift is already happening. The Pulitzer Prize-winning musical “Hamilton” (written by a Latino) has been receiving rave reviews. Some, like Business Insider consider it as ‘the most important musical of our time.’ Davis-Undiano wants people to focus on such works because he wants Americans to learn more about their past and to see that Latinos are not invaders from Mexico but people with long-standing contributions to American culture.

Davis-Undiano’s new book is desperately needed in these difficult times. The country is constantly on the verge of seeing Latinos as the “enemy” of American culture, which makes no sense given their cultural contributions over many years and the current good influence that they are having on America. America acquired large and significant portions of land from Mexico by way of the Mexican-American War and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo of 1848, and they have made countless contributions to American culture since, and without Mexico much of what is the United States as we know it today would not be possible.

Author  Robert Con Davis-Undiano is Neustadt Professor in Literature and the director of the Latino ...

Author, Robert Con Davis-Undiano is Neustadt Professor in Literature and the director of the Latino Studies Program at the University of Oklahoma. He also provides leadership at OU’s College of Liberal Studies and the OU Southwest Center for Human Relations Studies.
Courtesy of Prof. Robert Con Davis-Undiano

As Davis-Undiano points out, Mexico throughout its history has provided the largest and most consistent source of labor to the U.S. For over a hundred years, laborers from Mexico have traveled back and forth for jobs in the U.S. Davis-Undiano comments that “agricultural business as we know it today can’t move forward without Mexico and the migrant labor force.” This is especially true in the Southwest where agriculture has always been important.”

Problems for Latinos in the U.S. come up most often in connection with American “exceptionalism,” the idea that America is not subject to the same historical forces and cultural compromises that plague the rest of the world. American exceptionalism and its sweeping sense of entitlement are breath-taking in their influence. In this regard, Davis-Undiano grants that “my book will not change the world, but I want people to know that there is a lot more to American history than Europeans landing and simply moving westward where the perspective is always about East Coast establishments and American exceptional circumstances pushing to new horizons, where prosperity and opportunities are limitless.”

Davis-Undiano advocates replacing the traditional east/west perspective for understanding the U.S. with a north/south one that takes in a more encompassing view of the life and history of the Americas. There is so much that has been ignored and rendered invisible by the narrow and stilted (European-centered) view of the U.S. as “exceptional.” Davis-Undiano says that he “simply wants to help change this flawed and short-sighted perspective to a more accurate and honest one.”

Prof. Davis-Undiano also discusses the colonial class system brought to the Americas by Spain. He commented to this reporter, that “the Spanish importation of a strict caste system into the Americas created a world of racism and special privilege that all in the Americas are still struggling with.” As he details this history, the full story of how the European mind-set created the world of racial categories and social marginalization in the Americas is not pretty. It invaded everything, not only land policy, but attitudes about social ranking, white privilege, the superiority of European culture, and even ways of viewing the human body. He notes that with that racial mindset comes the current notion of land and peoples as assets or commodities for sale on the open market.

Even if the current time, with deportations and heightened racial discrimination, is a dark one for Latinos, Prof. Davis-Undiano recognizes a new basis for hope expressed in the response to the musical “Hamilton.” He sees the Founders as having created the American Idea of a multicultural democracy that is still the great promise of what America could be, and “Hamilton” foregrounds that potential. In fact, throughout his book he is challenging Americans to resee their country and recapture the promise of a multicultural democracy especially in regard to the Latino community. He comments that “I want Latinos to be proud and recognize their contributions to the country and not feel the need to apologize for who they are. They are already part of the American fabric.” He wants non-Latinos to recognize that they have a stake in the success of Latinos and all communities who have come to these shores. In effect, he argues, America re-enacts its founding each time a new community comes to this country, thus recreating an expanded version of a multicultural democracy. And, he argues that the country should guard against betraying the American Idea that is the source of so much strength and success for the U.S.

Cinco de Mayo celebrations are very much a part of the cultural expressions of the United States. Se...

Cinco de Mayo celebrations are very much a part of the cultural expressions of the United States. See here are a local mariachi band celebrating at Mi Pueblo Mexican Restaurant in Petaluma, CA, this past May 5, 2017. The restaurant that day was overflowing and wait time for reservations was over 40 minutes long.

Published by University of Oklahoma Press, “Mestizos Come Home! Making and Claiming Mexican-American Identity” is heralded as a landmark work about Latinos but also about the promise of America. So far, the reviews in, Kirkus Reviews, and many, many other places are showing that people are truly listening to and appreciating the invaluable message that this book delivers.

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