Journal of American History

Playing the Pivot: Teaching Latina/o History in Good Times and Bad

Pablo Mitchell

Oberlin College

History 270

Latina/Latino Survey

What is Latino? What is Latina? What historical forces in the American experience have brought together peoples and communities as diverse as, for instance, Chicanas and Chicanos from Los Angeles, Cuban Americans from Miami, and Dominicans Americans and Puerto Ricans from New York City? Beginning in the sixteenth century and stretching to the present, this class will map the varied terrains of Latina/o history, exploring the Mexican American, Puerto Rican, Cuban American, and Dominican American experiences in New Mexico, California, Texas, New York, the Midwest, and Florida. Major themes will include the intimate details of conquest and resistance, immigration, work, and the creation of racial and sexual differences within and between Latino/a communities.

This class will begin with a section on the interaction between Native Americans and Spanish colonists stretching from the sixteenth century to the early years of the nineteenth century. Subsequent sections will investigate Chicana/o, Puerto Rican, Cuban American, and Dominican American histories in detail. Major topics will include Manifest Destiny and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, land dispossession, the Spanish-American War, forms of resistance, cultural transformation, and endurance, and the creation of diverse Latina/o communities in the twentieth century. Case studies will cover California barrios, migratory work routes between Texas and the Upper Midwest, the creation of multi-ethnic communities in the urban Northeast, and the rise of political conservatism in Miami. Throughout the course, we will focus on questions of shared Latina and Latino identity, and the changing images of Latinos and Latinas within broader American popular culture.

Required Texts


Final Grade will be out of 200 total points.

Class Participation:

Regular attendance and thoughtful, prepared, respectful participation in classroom discussion are required features of the class. Attendance (and absences) will be considered in determining your final grade. Discussions will alternate between small groups and the entire class. Please be prepared to discuss the readings on the assigned date. Students will also be required to turn in two 1–f2 page book reviews describing two of three assigned books (Ruiz, Glasser, or García) at the beginning of the class when we discuss the book.


Scheduled reading quizzes (see below for dates) covering the readings and lecture material will focus on critical events, individuals, and locations in Latina/o History.

Written Assignments

The major written assignments for the course will consist of three 5 page papers. Students will choose one of several essay topics based on selected primary and secondary sources (to be provided by the instructor).

Papers must be legibly typed or word-processed, with reasonable fonts, double-spacing, and 1 inch margins. Please attempt to stay within the assigned page limits. Late papers will be penalized 1 point for every 24 hours the papers are late. Papers more than ten days late will not be accepted. Students must complete all written assignments in order to receive credit for the course.

Honor Code

All work in this class is governed by the Honor Code of Oberlin College. The honor code is available at: If you have questions about how the honor code applies to any assignment or work done for the class, please feel free to consult the instructor.

Schedule and Reading Assignments:

September 6 Introduction

September 8 Shared Roots in Latina/o History

Vicki Ruiz, From Out of the Shadows, Introduction, xiii-xvii; Epilogue, 147–52.

September 13 Chicana/o History: 1530–1820

Antonia Castañeda, “Sexual Violence in the Politics and Policies of Conquest”

September 15 Chicana/o History: 1820–1910

Vicki Ruiz, From Out of the Shadows, Chap. 1, 3–32.

September 16 Latina/o Heritage Month Event: Coco Fusco

September 20 Chicana/o History: 1910–1930

Vicki Ruiz, From Out of the Shadows, Chaps. 2, 33–50.

September 22 Chicana/o History: 1930–1945

Vicki Ruiz, From Out of the Shadows, Chap. 3, 51–71.

September 22 Latina/o Heritage Month Event: Jos&eactue; Esteban Muñoz

September 27 Chicana/o History: 1945–1960

Vicki Ruiz, From Out of the Shadows, Chap. 4, 72–98

September 29 Chicana/o History: 1960–1980

October 4 Book Discussion

Vicki Ruiz, From Out of the Shadows, entire book.

October 6 Puerto Rican History: 1870–1898

Reading Quiz Chicana/o History

October 11 Puerto Rican History: 1898–1920

Ruth Glasser, My Music Is My Flag, Intro-Chap. 1, 1–51.

Introductory Paragraph Paper #1 Due, Discuss Paragraphs in Class

October 13 Yom Kippur—No Class

1st paper due Friday October 14, 2005 by 5pm

October 16 Latina/o Heritage Month Event: Prospero Saiz

October 18 Book Discussion

Ruth Glasser, My Music Is My Flag, entire book.

October 20 Puerto Rican History: 1920–1945

Gina P&eactue;rez, “Introduction: Puerto Ricans in Chicago” and “An Upbeat West Side Story”

October 20 Latina/o Heritage Month Event: Achy Obejas

October 25, 27 October Break, no class.

November 1 Puerto Rican History: 1945–1970

Luis Aponte-Par&eactue;s and Jorge B. Merced, “Pagínas Omitídas: The Gay and Lesbian Presence.”

Last day for credit for Latina/o Heritage Month write-ups

November 3 Citizenship in Latina/o History

Reading Quiz: Puerto Rican History

November 8 Cuban American History: 1870–1950

Introductory Paragraph Paper #2 Due, Discuss Paragraphs in Class

November 10 Cuban American History: 1950–1970

Maria Cristina García, Havana USA, 1–80 (Introduction, Chapters 1–2).

2nd paper due Friday, November 11, 2005 by 5pm.

November 15 Cuban American History: 1970-present

Susana Pena, “Visibility and Silence.”

María Cristina García, Havana, USA, 83–168.

November 17 NO CLASS (may be used as makeup class)

November 22 Book Discussion

María Cristina García, Havana, USA, entire book.

November 24 Thanksgiving: No Class

November 29 Dominican American History: 1900–1960

Juan Gonzalez, “Dominicans: From the Duarte to the George Washington Bridge”

December 1 Dominican American History: 1960–1990

Peggy Levitt, “Transnational Ties and Incorporation”

December 6 Latina/os in Popular Culture

Frances Aparicio, “US Latino Expressive Cultures”

December 8 New Directions in Latina/o History, I

Cherríe Moraga, “The Breakdown of the Bicultural Mind”

3rd paper due Friday, December 9, 2005, by 5pm.

December 13 New Directions in Latina/o History, II

Adrian Burgos Jr., “Playing Ball in a Black and White ‘Field of Dreams.’”

Reading Quiz: Cuban American/Dominican American/Latina/o History

December 15 Summary


Diverse Surveys in American History


Gary J. Kornblith and Carol Lasser