The Latin@ challenge

If white America’s majority is eroding in the face of Latino growth, how can the former continue to justify its leadership of the country?


Latin@s in the World-System: Decolonization Struggles in the 21st Century US Empire
Edited by Ramón Grosfoguel, Nelson Maldonado-Torres and José David Saldívar
2005, Paradigm
215 pages

Reviewed by Gavin O’Toole

THE ELECTION of Barack Obama in the US may have provided an example of the scale of the challenge to the WASP stranglehold over the country’s politics given the decline in the white demographic.

Yet if the focus of Latin@s in the World-System: Decolonization Struggles in the 21st Century US Empire is mainly about the Latino/a community – Latin@s is the nomenclature cleverly used to provide a transgender understanding of the term – the questions posed by Obama’s election remain largely unanswered.

The understanding of decolonization here is internal, referring to the “coloniality of power” and how minority subjects – soon to be majorities – remain oppressed by new discourses of cultural racism behind the façade of democracy largely by virtue of their historical condition but also because the dominant white elite has been highly creative in its ability to maintain its position at the top of the ethnic food chain.

Thus, the editors write: “The twentieth-century juridical-political decolonization did not decolonize the global economy, the gender/sexual hierarchies, the racial/ethnic hierarchies, the epistemic hierarchies or the religious hierarchies … Our conception of decolonization is broader and more complex than what is commonly held … In our perspective, the project of decolonization remains unfinished and incomplete. Thus, to decolonize the US empire would require an intervention in many spaces of power relations that have been historically colonized by European/Euro-American conceptions of gender, sexual, racial, epistemic, religious, economic, and political power relations.” [pp. 20-21]

Who Are We?

A recent example of the creative effort to ensure that power relations do not change was Samuel Huntington’s Who Are We? which, the authors argue, in “the most amazing feat in revisionist historiography”, attempted to suggest that Hispanics represent the most potent threat to US national security.

What Huntington has done, in effect, is articulate the challenge that lurks behind the democratic juggernaut: if white America’s majority is not going to last long and Latinos are becoming the largest growing population as all the projections suggest, how can the former continue to justify an exclusive and exclusionary leadership of the country?

The editors argue that Latinos need to think both about diversity within their own community and how to build better relationships with other sectors of society if they wish to curtail the legacies of white supremacy, patriarchy and coloniality domestically and abroad.

They also need to resist the temptation to reproduce the mainstream standards and cultures that underline orthodox arguments and need to seek out new forms of democratic action that offer alternative utopias: either Latinos and the US people more generally decolonize the country by transforming, deracialising, demasculising and radicalizing its democracy, or they risk moving towards a new kind of political apartheid.

Following the ideas of Immanuel Wallerstein and Enrique Dussel, the editors suggest redefining the terms of the struggle by thinking beyond the European liberal form of democracy and imagining qualitatively and quantitatively alternative forms of democracy that are inclusive of non-European peoples.

The contributions in this book address key themes in Latino identity politics in the US and beyond, from Afro-Latin@s to Xicanos/as to Jewish Latin@s. If the language is at time complex and could be made easier to understand, the book’s trajectory makes it, nonetheless, a valuable point of departure for an understanding of Latin@ perspectives towards their new demographic potential in US politics.

Gavin O’Toole is Editor of the Latin American Review of Books

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