Stranger: The Challenge of a Latino Immigrant in the Trump Era
By Jorge Ramos
Vintage Books, 2018, 224 pp.
Latinos in the United States: What Everyone Needs to Know
By Ilan Stavans
Oxford University Press, 2018, 226 pp.
Ramos, a Mexican immigrant and news anchor at Univision, writes that the role of a journalist is to challenge the powerful and speak for those without a voice. Thus, it was very much in character when, during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, he confronted the Republican candidate Donald Trump over his anti-immigrant posture, before Trump had one of his security guards expel Ramos from the room. Ramos’ book pulls no punches, denouncing Trump for stirring up racism to gain political power and for causing undocumented immigrants and their families to live in constant fear. (Ramos also criticizes President Barack Obama for failing to advance immigration reform.) Despite the rise of Trump, Ramos remains an optimist, proud to live in a country of freedom and opportunity and confident that the coming demographic transformation—by 2044, Latinos will make up a quarter of the U.S. population—will push aside xenophobia in favor of tolerance. Ramos fills out the book with his ruminations on the immigrant experience: the challenges of reconciling multiple identities and recalling fading memories.
In contrast to Ramos and his journalistic activism, Stavans, a Jewish Mexican immigrant, strives for an evenhanded, but still sympathetic, presentation of the Latino experience. This breezy introduction to the topic, which takes the form of a series of questions and answers, is stronger on cultural and linguistic matters than on socioeconomic ones, and too often its language is imprecise and its facts incorrect. (The Mexican businessman Carlos Slim is rich, but not the richest person in the world, at least not anymore. The Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista did not lose an election in 1952; he canceled it.) Nevertheless, Stavans provides a timely corrective to the degrading myths about Latinos peddled by many U.S. politicians, Trump chief among them. Departing from the neutral Q&A format in a passionate afterword, Stavans argues against the threatened deportation of so-called Dreamers (young people illegally brought to the United States as children). But he seems to disagree with those advocates who would shield students from dissonant ideas for fear of making them uncomfortable; rather, he argues, teachers should broaden students’ perspectives on cultures other than their own and help them build their own defenses.