In This Review

Barrio America: How Latino Immigrants Saved the American City
Barrio America: How Latino Immigrants Saved the American City
By A. K. Sandoval-Strausz
416 pp, Basic Books, 2019
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Sandoval-Strausz, a historian, offers a timely antidote to the toxic rhetoric in the United States that characterizes Latino immigrants as criminals and welfare scroungers. He frames Latino history in the country as a narrative of renewal and striving. As white Americans began to flee U.S. cities in the 1960s, purposeful Mexican immigrants moved into vacant houses and opened small businesses in abandoned storefronts. New community organizations rose up that enriched American civic life. Latino urban culture transformed cityscapes with populous plazas and dynamic street life. Contrary to stereotypes prevalent in the media and political discourse, crime rates in immigrant neighborhoods have been lower than in comparable white neighborhoods. Sandoval-Strausz shows how immigrants repeatedly encountered virulent nativism; nevertheless, Latinos did not suffer the degree of discrimination that Black Americans had to face, most notably in access to home mortgages. The author laments that second-generation Latinos often abandon their distinct cultures, choosing, for example, to live a suburban lifestyle dependent on cars rather than staying in more walkable—and sociable—urban neighborhoods. The book also includes a smart overview of national immigration legislation and its often unintended consequences.