After decades of mostly being perceived as kitschy entertainers or quirky neighbors with obsessive customs and traits, American society has come to grips with the realization that Latino culture has embedded itself into the American cultural, political, economic and social landscape. Over 50 million strong and growing — our nation’s largest minority — Latinos’ imprint in this country seems more indelible each day. PBS’ new, six-hour series, Latino Americans, examines 500-plus years of Hispanic contributions to American history.
The series is insightfully produced by Cuban-born, New Jersey-raised Adriana Bosch, an award-winning filmmaker whose distinguished body of work ( Latin Music USA, and documentaries on Reagan, Carter, the Rockefellers and Fidel Castro for the award-winning PBS series, American Experience) makes her one of the most important Latina voices in the United States today.
Producing a series on a topic as vast as the Latino experience in the United States can be daunting, yet Bosch’s style of weaving historical facts with very palpable, vulnerable elements of the human condition makes this film accessible and more important, memorable.
This latest work is very personal, not just in substance and style but also for the filmmaker.
After leaving Cuba as a child and migrating to the United States in the 1960s, Bosch returned to the island for the first time last year. The return was “a devastating emotional experience,” Bosch confided. “During my two visits to the island last year, I became painfully aware that Cuba is no longer my home. I suddenly drew closer not just to Union City, where I grew up, but to every other Latino hub in the United States that I’ve been fortunate enough to explore. I now truly identify as a Latina American.”
Bosch’s self identity is evident in her most recent work. She owns the story, thus giving Latino Americans a personal touch. As I watched the series, I was intensely drawn to the stories of perseverance.
I understand and appreciate the differences and distinctions among Latinos from varied origins. However, I feel a strong kinship and familiarity with the struggles of other Latinos as they shaped their destiny and forged an identity in this majestically diverse country.
“We have all faced and dealt with challenges — la maroma (the adventure) — of finding a place for ourselves in communities, which do not necessarily welcome or understand us,” Bosch explained when I asked her to highlight the commonalities of Latino experiences in the United States.
“Cubans challenged it head on, Puerto Ricans were often overwhelmed and Mexican Americans internalized it,” she said. “I think Mexican Americans had the toughest time because they had a long history of oppression and injustice to fight against. That is why the Chicano movement was so key for all Latinos — because it was ultimately about taking on prejudice through pride.”
If there are chinks in the film’s armor, they are the somewhat summary coverage given to the Cuban-American experience and the omission of the culturally definitive Nuyorican salsa movement of the 1970s.
As we talked about the new series this week, Adriana Bosch acknowledged both. The filmmaker explained that after having produced the landmark PBS music series Latin Music USA, in this film project she wanted to ground Latino identity more on historical events and socio-economic conditions.
“We all recognize how important music is to our Latino culture and how passionate we are about it. However, in this film I wanted to show that we do more than sing and dance,” said Bosch as she savored a cortadito coffee, a favorite treat in her new home, Miami.
The “Miami story,” she notes, “is profound. It is the ultimate story of Latino empowerment and therefore it is a documentary in and of its own.”