Latinx History is a relatively new subfield within US History. What is distinctive about this field, and why is it so important for Brown to offer courses about the Latinx experience to its students?
You are right in that Latinx History is still a relatively new subfield within US History. It is so inspiring to witness the continuing growth of Latinx History. I am constantly in deep admiration of the scholars that engage in this field. I think Latinx History is distinctive in that this field is so wide-ranging along the lines of race, ethnic identity, culture, geography, politics, gender, sexuality, and class. It should go without saying that there is really no singular Latinx community or singular historical experience for Latinx people in the United States. I think that it is extremely important that Brown and every university across the country offer courses about the Latinx experience to students because our history is profoundly complex, still relatively unknown to the general public, and, in the words of Vicki L. Ruíz, Latinx history is the history of the United States.
Much of your teaching and research brings Latinx history into dialogue with labor history. Why is it so crucial for historians to attend to the ways that economic class intersects with ethnic identity?
This is a great question and one that is difficult to answer in a few sentences. By now, most historians know that labor history necessitates a close examination of race and ethnicity. Latinx people consist of a wide range of racial and ethnic backgrounds and often these factors have helped shaped their identities as workers. Hence, placing race and ethnicity at the center of our analyses when doing labor history makes possible a better understanding of how class formation takes place among Latinx people. This is something that I have found to be important in my research and teaching.
You are currently writing a book about Southern California's Inland Empire, focusing especially on the City of San Bernardino's Mexican American community. What initially brought you to this topic, and what is the most interesting thing you have learned while researching your book?
My interest in studying the history of this region stemmed from a personal curiosity given that I was raised in the City of San Bernardino. So much of Southern California history when considering ethnic Mexicans is still primarily focused in on places like Los Angeles, especially East Los Angeles, and places like the Inland Empire are understudied. In many ways, I was frustrated with the historiography and wanted to understand how this region fit into the narrative by asking questions surrounding issues of race, ethnicity, labor, culture, civil rights, and politics. Ultimately, I want to see what the answers to those questions can afford us in terms of how we understand California history, ethnic Mexicans and Latinx people, the U.S. West, and the American historical narrative. Perhaps the most interesting thing that I have learned while researching this project is just how important the people of this region have been toward understanding U.S. history.
You also worked on a fascinating exhibit about the history of US Latino baseball called ¡Pleibol! Can you tell us more about this wonderful project?
I was fortunate to have participated in the development of this exhibition at the National Museum of American history through my public history work with the Latino Baseball History Project (LBHP) at California State University, San Bernardino. Over the years, I have conducted oral history interviews and collaborated with Latinx communities to document the history of baseball and softball teams in barrios throughout Southern California. That work eventually led to a collaboration with the Smithsonian where we contributed some of that research to the ¡Pleibol! exhibition. This important exhibition will tell the story of how Latinas and Latinos have contributed to the long history of America’s pastime. The opening of the exhibition was delayed due to the pandemic but hopefully it will open to the public this summer. Here is a link for those that want to know more about the exhibition: https://americanhistory.si.edu/latinos-and-baseball/pleibol-exhibit
What is your favorite history book?
I am going to cheat on this question because it is impossible to just name one book. I think the books that first introduced me to Latinx history are perhaps still some of my favorite books because I remember reading them so vividly and they still inform my scholarship. They also introduced me to a history that was never presented to me in my k-12 education. Some of these books are Vicki L. Ruíz’s From Out of the Shadows: Mexican Women in Twentieth-Century America, Matt García’s A World of Its Own: Race, Labor, and Citrus in the Making of Greater Los Angeles, and George J. Sánchez’s Becoming Mexican American: Ethnicity, Culture, and Identity in Chicano Los Angeles. These are classic works in the field and they allowed me to envision where my own communities fit into the larger U.S. historical narrative. For a more recent work of history, I think Johanna Fernández’s The Young Lords: A Radical History was an amazing book to read since it reshapes how we understand Latinx social movements in the 20th century. Quite simply, it is social history at its finest.