Latinos’ Place In U.S. History

An excerpt from Ilan Stavans' 'Latino USA' (Courtesy)

Ilan Stavans was a young man when he first visited Massachusetts in the 1980s. He was in his late 20s, a rising Mexican-Jewish intellectual, and he remembers — on his first night, in Brookline — reading Robert Frost’s “The Gift Outright:”

The land was ours before we were the lands’.
She was our land more than 100 years
Before we were her people. She was ours
In Massachusetts…

Today, Stavans is now one of the country’s pre-eminent essayists, cultural critics, and translators. He became a U.S. citizen and made his home in Massachusetts, and is professor of Latin American and Latino culture at Amherst College.

Stavans says there’s a central question embedded in that Frost poem, specifically in the line “before we were the lands’.” It’s the question of assimilation, of diversity, of becoming “American,” especially for Latinos, and especially when it comes to the challenge embedded in how Massachusetts understands what Stavans calls “non-whiteness.” It’s a hefty task, which he takes up in the new update of his book: “Latino USA: A Cartoon History.”


  • Ilan Stavans, essayist, cultural critics and translator, author of “Latino USA: A Cartoon History”

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