Narratives of Immigration: Latino/a Lives

Aired: April 24, 2011
As the 2010 U.S. census makes clear, New Jersey’s population is becoming increasingly diverse. One of the most significant changes is the growing number of Latino/as in our state, which now make up approximately 17% of New Jersey’s residents. Although the census puts those of Hispanic descent into a single category, in reality, Latino/as in New Jersey include people from countries as distinct as Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and Central and South American nations, all of whom have vastly different reasons for migrating. In this episode of Humanities Connection Dr. Ben Sifuentes-Jauregui, chair of the American Studies department at Rutgers University, and Dr. Yolanda Martinez-San Miguel, Department of Latino, Hispanic and Caribbean Studies at Rutgers, talk about the Latino/a experience in New Jersey, the subject of the Teacher Institute seminar “Narratives of Immigration: Latino/a Lives.” Literature and film become a means by which New Jersey educators can connect with their Latino/a students and understand critical issues in the formation of their identities in the U.S.

While Latino/as share a common language and, for many, religion, they have migrated to New Jersey over generations for historically specific reasons. Once in the Garden State, they shape a new identity which reflects differing conceptions of race, gender and sexuality as well as the culture of their home nations. Our guests discuss these issues and their import for educators.

For immigrants, their homeland can become wrapped in a haze of romanticism and nostalgia, forever frozen in the moment that they left. Sifuentes-Juaregui terms this “back home nationalism” and, in this clip, examines the implications of this kind of nationalism on the migrants and the creation of their identity. Martinez-San Miguel considers the distinction between cultural and political nationalism and how this impacts people’s reasons for migrating.

Puerto Rico, an unincorporated U.S. territory, has strong ties to the mainland, including a large diasporic population living in the northeast, especially New Jersey. Yet even though Puerto Rico has no political representation in the U.S. Congress, Puerto Ricans have repeatedly voted against becoming a state. Martinez-San Miguel discusses the history of colonialism and how this has shaped Puerto Rico and its relationship with the U.S.

Latino/as have created a body of literature and film that explores the experience of migrating to the U.S., that can best be summed up in the title of the 1992 film American Me. In this segment, our guests discuss works that offer insights into the Latino/a experience, from Chicano youth in Los Angeles, to Dominican baseball players in the Midwest, to the secret stories of members of New York’s Cuban diasporic community.


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