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Book Review


Matthew Gutmann and Jeffrey Lesser, eds. Global Latin America into the Twenty-First Century. Oakland: University of California Press, 2016. Pp. xviii + 337. Index. $34.95 (paper).


     Puzzled by the way guerrilla-fighter Ernesto "Che" Guevara's image can be found everywhere in the world, the editors, Matthew Gutmann and Jeffrey Lesser, had this "global Che" guide them to analyze contemporary global developments that originated within Latin America, to address what's global within the region, and to reach a broader public. Drawing on the creative work (essays, interviews, manga, and poems) of contributors from a range of disciplines and professions (academics, journalists, politicians, activists, scientists, and artists), the individual essays in Global Latin America focus on the contradictions, tensions, inequalities, and achievements inherent to global interaction in our contemporary world. The book is divided into five parts: "The Latin American Past in the Global Present," "Tongues and Feet," "Science, Technology, and Health," "Communities," and "Art Moves the World."

     The four chapters in Part One focus on globally pioneering political agents and actions, moving from Chilean president Ricardo Lagos (1938–) to Argentineans Pope Francis (1936–) and "Che" Guevara (1928–67) to Cuban dictator Fidel Castro (1926–2016) and the new forms of democratic engagement exemplified by the Brazilian Participatory Budget (1980s).  Its chapters are embroidered by Renato Rosaldo's poems and by Kyioshi Konno's and Chie Shimano's manga. In his 2014 interview with Lagos, Gutmann explores far-ranging topics, from climate change to mestizaje, to subtly assert that a contemporary appreciation for multiculturalism allows many Latin Americans to integrate with diverse populations across the globe. In "From Illustrating Problems to Offering Solutions," the sociologists Gabriel Hetland and Peter Evans emphasize how the world has learned from the Participatory Budget (PB) initiative, based on citizen rights and participation in governance and political decision-making.  Developed first in Brazil, PBs are today implemented in cities far outside Latin America. In contrast to "banana-republic" stereotypes from previous decades, Lagos, Hetland, and Evans reinforce the point that Latin America's transitions to democracy have become meaningful references for projects of increased political participation, reconciliation, and accountability worldwide. In "The Conversion of Francis," the anthropologist Nancy Scheper-Hughes and historian of religion Jennifer Scheper-Hughes examine the influence of Pope Francis, the first Latin American pope, including accounts of the impact of his experience of liberation theory and his evolving perspectives on the past and future role of women in the Catholic Church. In "Fidel Castro: The First Super Delegate," historian Greg Grandin examines Cuba and Cuban-American exiles' place in U.S. presidential politics to remind us that for more than 50 years U.S. politicians have found ways to mobilize versions of the threat posed by Castro to fit their agendas, which ranged from President Reagan's hardline anti-communist discourse to the manipulation by President Clinton's political opponents of the story of a Cuban boy in Miami being forcibly returned to his father in Cuba . Andrew Britt explains that Part One expands on the "passage of time and the borders that serve both to separate and to connect before, now, and then" (17). Accordingly, Rosaldo's poem, "Cruces de fronteras/ Border Crossings," makes this connection by drawing on popular imagery and personal accounts of Mexicans crossing borders, while authors and illustrators Konno and Shimano use manga to contribute an excerpt from their original biography of Che and link it to the past.

     Moving from spaces of production to consumption, Part Two explores cultural appropriation, its inequities, and uneven exchanges among agents in the arenas of language, music, sport, and food. Interwoven with Rosaldo's poem, "Lo Prohibido," it reframes the idea of "authenticity" and explores the lively processes of making, performing, and consuming global Latin America. In "Borges's Library: Latin America, Language, and the World," sociolinguists Paja Faudree and Daniel Suslak explore the impact of Brazilian Portuguese and Latin American Spanish on Portugal, Spain, and the "rest" of the world, as well as the way that indigenous languages have shaped other languages across the globe. Anthropologist Michelle Bigenho observes in "Love, Protest, Dance, Remix" that the appeal of Latin American music with world audiences is not limited to exoticism and nostalgia. Bigenho explores how African sounds reinserted into salsa conjure up days of slavery and colonialism via a transnational music scene stretching from Dakar and Abidjan to Havana and New York City. In "Breaking the Machine: South American Fútbol" historian Brenda Elsey examines the influence of Latin America on English soccer, and vice versa, in terms of player rosters and style of play, although this circuitous exchange is often hard to trace. She asserts that Latin America has transformed the racial, gendered, and class character of global football. In "Roy Choi, Ricardo Zárate, and Pacific Fusion Cuisine in Los Angeles" the literary critic Sarah Portnoy and the historian Jeffrey Pilcher navigate into the world of the raw and the cooked to consider how Mexico, Peru, and Korea came together in the Los Angeles food truck movement.

     Rosaldo's poem, "Perfecto Flores," introduces the focus in Part Three, "Science, Technology, and Health," on the global impact of "centuries-old and decades-new Latin American know how" (165) through three case studies centering on scientific initiatives related to climate change, food insecurity, resource scarcity, and antibiotic shortages and resistance. Brazil's abundant water supply has made soybeans a trans-Pacific trade staple. In "The Rise of Brazil's Globally Connected Amazon Soybean Agriculture," environmental biologists Christopher Neill and Marcia Macedo outline the agronomic and institutional inner workings that led to social advances and discuss how natural resources like soybeans have become a de facto twenty-first century legal currency. In "Constructing Parallels: Brazilian Experts in Mozambique," sociologists Wendy Wolford and Ryan Nehring "explore power and knowledge via the transfer of expertise from Brazil to Mozambique and give us an important example of shared development projects. Ranging from cocaine to cannabis in "A Long Strange Trip: Latin America's Contribution to World Drug Culture," historian Paul Gootenberg questions Latin America as the origin of the world's current illegal drug trade and provides an insider's glimpse into how street drugs and illicit economic ties around the globe have created a demand that Latin America has fulfilled over the past several decades.

     Part Four, "Communities," opens with the famous indigenous leader Rigoberta Manchú Tum's Nobel Lecture (1992), followed by narratives focusing on the power of the three-decade digital revolution linking populations and forging new networks of communication. Anthropologist Ruben Oliven sets the dynamic global context, and anthropologists Denise Brennan and Florence Babb address how experiential tourism generates "novel types of transnational and transactional relationships that in turn affect conventional forms of family structure and gender roles" (222). Linked by Rosaldo's "Family Adjustments" these chapters stress how new configurations, from sexuality to religion, move back and forth across space in a consistent flow, making the region simultaneously global and specific. Manchú gave voice to victims of genocide in Guatemala's civil war (1960–96) in her Nobel lecture, which addresses American indigenous people's enormous contribution to knowledge and wellbeing in the world. Manchú stresses the vital place of social movements among peoples who have responded to centuries of colonialism, racism, and impoverishment by demanding rights and community participation in political and economic decision-making.  In "Sex Worker Activism and Labor" Brennan examines a community connected through digital sinews to explore how, in the 2010s, people around the world looked to Caribbean and South American sex-worker organizing as a model for labor efforts in their own countries. Through intense activism, which forged linkages between diverse organizations across the continent, Latin American sex workers pioneered models of solidarity and won their rights. For many readers, tourism may be the means of connecting with the region, and in "Latin American Travel: The Other Side of Tourism Encounters" Babb focuses on how a form of community takes shape through intimate vacation encounters between locals and tourists. Babb focuses on how tourists' preconceptions about Latin America reflect as much about where people come from as where they visit. U.S. tourists' presumptions and asymmetrical relationships of power have shaped their views about Latin America, including but not limited to sex workers. In "Brazil Circles the Globe," Oliven uses a Latin America-outward perspective to explore the historical context behind the rise of Brazil's middle classes and initiatives to promote affirmative action to address racial inequalities.

     Although we still see stereotyped narco-drug lords on television and in the movies, Part Five, "Art Moves the World," shows how much the image of Latin American culture has changed and the scope of its global impact. Ranging from music to graffiti to photography, this final part focuses on both familiar and less expected arenas to capture the freshness of creative production within and about the region. Together these chapters blur the question of where Latin American culture begins and ends to reveal "how art serves as a vehicle for the negotiation of identities and geographies of belonging in global Latin America" (288). In "The Latin American Novel as International Merchandise," literary scholar Ilan Stavans examines how Latin American literature became globally recognized and revered around the world. In "Traveling Melodrama: Telenovelas and Exporting Southern Moralities; or, How Can Something So Bad still Be So Good?" Ecuadorian-born social scientist Hugh Benavides investigates the global market for telenovelas (soap operas) in locales as far flung as Africa and the Middle East. Watched by a loyal audience, Benavides posits that these shows "disturb racial, gender, and North-South hierarchies" (288) and reveal as much about global viewers as about Latin America. In "The Girl from Shinjuku: How a Japanese Brazilian Diva Keeps Bossa Nova Alive in China," Brazilian journalist Fabiano Maisonnave follows Lisa Ono's trajectory to explore how a Brazilian daughter of Japanese immigrants and bossa nova singer, obscure in Brazil, became popular in China. Singing the archetypical Brazilian music, Ono teaches us how a supposedly national music was transformed into a Japanese trend in Chinese popular culture. In "More than a Nationality" renowned Mexican journalist Alma Gillermoprieto closes the volume with a 2014 interview with the Mexican movie megastar Gael García Bernal. Bernal ponders the ambivalences of being a Latin American artist and performer and questions the regional label. Idealistic, rebellious, genial, and always entertaining, Bernal, like Latin America, is rooted in but defined by more than nationality.

     Global Latin America into the Twenty-First Century shows that the world has learned and still has much to learn from Latin America. The volume presents sophisticated treatments of pressing global challenges and, by combining fresh ideas with unfamiliar narratives, provokes world-history readers into examining the global and local implications of important cultural, economic, and political transformations. Validating their claims with "a mix of field observation and scholarly literature" (223), contributors from different parts of the United States and Latin America weave together a tapestry of stories of diverse peoples and cultures. The book is a great companion for world-history students, as well as business leaders, policy makers, and global travelers, who are interested in better understanding Latin America's deep entanglements with and influence on our interdependent world and for all those who want to appreciate its diversity and global relevance in the twenty-first century.

Cristina Mehrtens is an associate professor in the History and Women's & Gender Studies departments at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. Her research has explored identity and diversity linked to paradigmatic categories of analyses overtime and her current research focuses on the various (mis)conceptions embedded in the ideas of space (and borders) as practiced by a transnational (U.S., Brazil, and France) network of early twentieth-century urban professionals in  Urban Space and National Identity in Early Twentieth-Century São Paulo, Brazil  (Palgrave Macmillan 2010), The Unedited Diaries of Carolina Maria de Jesus (Rutgers 1999), The Brazil Reader (Duke 1999), Municipal Services and Employees in the Modern City (Ashgate 2003), and Profissionais, práticas e representações  (Alameda/FAPESP 2013). You may reach her at


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