The Lonely Book Review

Not too many people pay attention to book reviews these days. This is lamentable since at one time they were the cornerstone of an academic career. It exposed you to scholars in the field, and just reading kept you current in the field. Today, most scholars don’t write them because, the truth be told, the academy does not give you much credit for publishing them. Thus they become a bother.

I have been writing reviews since my graduate years largely because the chair of my committee insisted. Overtime they have become a habit so much so that I have published between 250-300 reviews. The reason that I indulged this habit is first, I am cheap, and you get the book free. Overtime it has built up my personal library. Second, it has forced me to read current literature on Latinos and Latin America. A third reason like everything else is that I am obsessed with a political agenda, and I have found the book review is a means to influence the readership.

While a goodly number of the reviews were published in history and social science journals, I have chosen to write many in Choice Magazine, an organ of the American Library Association that many librarians read because the reviews help them to select and order books. I have always given frank opinions on the quality and merit of the monographs.

Writing reviews has become a chore because much of what is published on Chicanas/os is written in translation and of poor quality. My main gripe is that many Chicana/o and other scholars write about the recent past and base their accounts on selected oral interviews. Instead of exhausting the sources they ignore sources that contradict their thesis. (I would not know this unless I had read the book).  I feel that it is my duty to alert the reader.

I recently attended a Memorial for a former colleague who I respected. He published one of the premier books on Mexican Americans. I felt uncomfortable at the vent because even after 46 years at CSUN I have not become part of the academic community. A measure of their biases is that after 46 years only 3 percent of the faculty is of Mexican extraction.  I felt in 1969 as I do today that we are tolerated on campus much the same as the gardeners. Moreover, emeritus professors once they leave the institution retire not only physically but mentally, and have no sense of community with present day students. They seem only to care about their pensions and feeling good once a year by attending a presidential luncheon in their honor.

At the Memorial there was no effort to reach out; they felt entitled because they were old both physically and mentally. Ideally, today there should be a sense direction and leadership from the so-called emeriti who seemed content with their emeritus status. They feel that they have paid their dues. Thus, they wallow in a sea of what Herbert Marcuse labeled the tolerance of repression, compelled to “defend liberal notions of tolerance.”

I am probably hyper critical; it is a trait that I adopted as a student in a Jesuit High School. If you want to put to rest any feelings of inferiority, go to an integrated high school. At Loyola High, they would tell us that we were the cream of Los Angeles. However, you soon realized that the white students were no brighter than the rest of the plebeians.  This same analogy carries over to the academy. Just because they have a Dr. before their name, does not make the brighter. Indeed, my bottom-line is would the world be any different if they had not been born?

I approach a book review in the same way. Would the world be any different if the book had not been written? Few books pass the muster.

A limitation for writing for Choice is that review is limited to 200 words. So you have to extract the essence. The following review is one of the few positive critiques that I have written. However, I liked the book; I could have said more about his lack knowledge of Mexican American and Latin American sources. But, on the other hand, he had an excellent grasp of theory and music.  The book did matter and the world is better for it.

Byrd, Samuel K. The sounds of latinidad: immigrants making music and creating culture in a southern city. New York University, 2015. 287p bibl index afp ISBN 9781479859405, $89.00; ISBN 9781479860425 pbk, $27.00.

In this wonderful book, Byrd (anthropology, Hunter College, CUNY) looks at how a music community in Charlotte, North Carolina—a relatively recent destination for undocumented immigrants—is forming a sense of place.  Charlotte is unique because it is more than a melting pot of Latinos (Mexicans, Caribbean’s, Central Americans, and South Americans) seeking a refuge from limited economic mobility; in Charlotte, the immigrants share the effects of restrictive immigration policies much as do marginalized societies throughout the globe.

In telling the story of the Latino music scene, Byrd reveals a struggle represented by generation, race, and class, as well as ethnicity.  It is the story of the fusion of these disparate groups; necessity pushes this sense of identity to define what it means to be Latino in the “new South.”  Byrd corrects the popular term “rock end Española,” arguing that the proper term is “Latin rock,” which incorporates English, Spanish, and Portuguese.  Often applying a Marxist critique, Byrd uses the musicians and their various venues as a guide to understanding the people and their struggles. –R. Acuna, emeritus, California State University, Northridge. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readers.

— by Rodolfo F. Acuña

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