Wed. Jan 26th, 2022

Latinos in the United States have been stereotyped and persecuted by a nation that does not recognize their contributions, according to Cuban American author Himilce Novas.Speaking in Philips Autograph Library on Monday, March 22, Novas began by quoting Spaniard George Santayana’s philosophy that, “Those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it,” to explain her passion in relating the struggles and triumphs of Latinos through her literature.

Author of “Everything You Need to Know About Latino History,” the latest of her seven books, Novas took issue with numerous assumptions about Latinos that she says are as unfair as they are prevalent. Novas said that far from draining the economy by living off welfare, Latinos are a valuable part of the American workforce.

She challenged the notion of Latinos as aliens who do not belong by noting that the United States expanded west to acquire such lands as Texas and New Mexico, where Latinos resided before the first American colony was settled. Novas defended bilingualism in public institutions, reasoning that the status of Puerto Ricans as American citizens obligates the United States to accommodate Spanish speakers.

Novas lamented that the only Latinos celebrated by society are athletes and entertainers, rather than Puerto Rican-born Antonia Novello, the first woman appointed surgeon general of the United States, or Luis Alvarez, a physicist of Spanish descent who won a Nobel Prize in 1968, among other examples.

Invoking Santayana’s warning, Novas urged the audience to study the seldom told history of the oppression she says the United States government has inflicted on Latino people. She said that during the Great Depression, the federal government attempted to alleviate the hunger of its white citizens by exiling Mexican Americans to Mexico, where they were not wanted and the majority did not speak the native Spanish. The Mexican government forced these exiles to live in tents, said Novas, until World War II when the United States imported them back to perform menial labor on farms.

Novas claimed that as recently as two years ago, she has been on farms where she has witnessed Latinos stored in chicken coops to prevent their escape from such tasks as picking grapes.

Shifting her focus to recent developments, Novas reflected that by saddling many different minorities with the same misconceptions, society has strengthened the bond between Latinos and African Americans, as well as Latino groups among themselves. Novas gladly noted that the phrase, “Cubano No Espano,” which Cubans used to disassociate themselves from other Spanish-speaking people, has become pass. She said that a shared culture has emerged that is distinctly Latino, whereby Latinos of any origin partake in the same cuisine and dress.

Novas dismissed the term “Hispanic” as an artificial designation created by the U.S. Census Bureau that will soon be discarded. Novas’ 1995 book “Hispanic 100” will soon go back into print as “Latino 100.” She stated that although Brazil is located in Latin America, Brazilians are not Latino because their people speak Portuguese.

Novas concluded by answering questions from students and a panel of professors. Steve McKiernan, the Director of Student Programming, thanked the author and said that hopefully the time will come soon when West Chester will have the opportunity to hear more Latino speakers.

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