Tuesday, July 22, 2014
Book Review: Latinos: The Next Wave
There are richer, more nuanced, far more serious studies, of course, scholarly books that are tomes, huge theoretical arguments and expansive histories. This one isn't even a book; it may be what we call a "booklet." Well, maybe it's a little big for a booklet, but it offers some thoughtful and playful insight into one of our most difficult problems, our meaning Anglo-America.
And that is, of course, the sudden and overwhelming presence of so many Hispanic neighbors. Last week's Wednesday "Night in the Park" here in Orange City was a mini-festiva--food, games, a local Mariachi band--all kinds of fun set up and run by a growing ethnic community that, 25 years ago, didn't even exist here; and most of us, back then, wouldn't have guessed it ever could. Today, Hispanics are everywhere in the neighborhood. It think Sioux Center, Iowa, has five Mexican restaurants, and that's not counting Taco Johns.
Several of my friends, pastors all, Hispanics all, put together a booklet titled Latinos: the Next Wave: You Don't Have to Speak the Lingo because they felt, as do many others, that a good many Anglos need to be formally introduced to the new families down the block. Formally may not be the best word here because The Next Wave is not formal. It's graced with lively humor and a charming personality, and it's not afraid of spoofing itself.
It's an easy read and a good read, mightily beneficial for Anglos who find themselves surrounded by people who chatter in Spanish and laugh and hug and carry on with none of our characteristic, upper-Midwest stoicism. None of them worship at First Church of Iceburg either. They're not like the rest of us, with one major exception: they're human. The Next Wave won't let you forget that.
Republicans--many of them, even Karl Rove--were shocked when Barack Obama won a second term. One of the reasons was the Hispanic vote, which Obama won overwhelmingly and they simply hadn't factored into the equation. They didn't, Hispanics went to the polls, and Obama won. Decisively.
That surprise led to a regular festival of hand-wringing by people like Reince Priebus, the head of the Republican party. Whether or not there's change amid the Republicans remains to be seen, but Priebus might do well to assign his party regulars this book, if for no other reason than it's become impossible to avoid the Hispanic presence all around us. It behooves Priebus's Republicans--and all of us--to know our neighbors better than we do.
Rev. Pedro Aviles did the heavy lifting on The Next Wave. Aviles, who is Puerto Rican and a true Chicago-ite, pastors Berwyn Ebenezer CRC, the only CRC to stay in the community during the neighborhood's long and sometimes difficult and even dangerous ethnic and racial transitions. Today, Ebenezer finds itself in a lower-middle class community of homeowners, right next door to burbs that each have their own ethnic and racial flavors. It does what it can and what it must and what God asks to be a good neighbor.
Aviles's The Next Wave is like a Q and A. He sets out to answer questions an Anglo audience might have about their Hispanic neighbors, questions like "What Do I Need to Know about Showing Respect?" Hispanics, like Native Americans, frequently defer to others by not looking at them, a behavior Anglos can easily misinterpret: "Don't be surprised if Hispanic kids look away when you speak to them," he says. "Non-Hispanics frequently misinterpret lack of eye contact as a sign of concealment, deception, and/or dishonesty." In truth, Aviles says, nothing could be farther from the truth. "In a Hispanic culture [looking away] actually results from a recognition of authority, a sign of respect, a means of giving deference."
What this wonderful little book does is introduce Anglos to the history and the life and the personality of the whole catalog of ethnics we sometimes impolitely gang together under titles like Latina/os and Hispanics. As Aviles points out, most of our Spanish-speaking neighbors think of themselves first of all as Mexicans or Puerto Ricans or Guatemalans, the countries of their origins.
Let me perfectly racist here. The Next Wave is for white folks. In it and with it, you'll discover everything you wanted to know about your new Hispanic neighbors. It's published by the Office of Race Relations of the Christian Reformed Church, and I am proud to have had an editorial hand in its production because The Next Wave does a task that needed--and still needs--to be done: it makes all of us more neighborly.
One story from my own ethnic past. Only recently have Dutch scholars been able to name all of those Dutch passengers who died in the flames of the Phoenix ship, just off Sheboygan, Wisconsin harbor, in November of 1847. Only recently. For years, no one in America really cared who or how many died, even though the sinking of the Phoenix was the greatest Great Lakes disaster of the 19th century. No one really cared back then because those passengers were immigrants, and who on earth really cares about immigrants?
Once my people too were strangers in a strange land. That's worth remembering.
Use Latinos: The Next Wave with church groups, in small groups, and adult Sunday Schools programs, or just read it yourself. It's goal is nothing more or less than understanding, which is to say, peace.