Carrie Gibson’s ambitious El Norte...provides a revealing historical perspective on our current political climate ... Gibson tells it with authoritative gusto and in exhaustively researched detail. For the most part, this is a rapid-fire documentary account ... As the book progresses into the last two centuries, though, it seems to shift from a bird’s-eye perspective to a slower, more ground-level view of the U.S. societal forces that are often arrayed in opposition to individuals and matters Latino. If you’re a reader who responds to facts, dates, and painstaking reportage, this is the volume to consult. It’s a hefty resource, and reading it cover to cover might seem an equally hefty investment of time. But there’s good news here for the intrigued but time-pressed: Gibson’s book rewards browsing, offering a marvelous timeline, a great selection of illustrations, a solid bibliography, and a deep index. El Norte overflows with rich detail, revealing often startling truths that this reviewer, for one, never encountered in the textbooks of his adolescence.
This is a serious book of history but also an engaging project of reading the future in the past ... What is particularly fascinating about this book is that its encyclopedic project is not a rewriting of history but a recitation of readings. Almost each historical event is retold through memory, recording, evaluation and discussion. This is history as dialogue. It leaves the mourning authority of archives and takes its place as a long conversation, presupposing that truth can be reached through an extended pilgrimage, a journey through violence, discrimination, racism, exploitation and the inferno created by occupation ... Gibson lets the facts speak. But one would also like to read the saga of memory, that is, the version of the epic of El Norte through literature and fiction.
Ms. Gibson... [focuses] on selecting 'epic' narrative episodes, without trying to investigate the deep, complex and potentially revealing problems of the Hispanic history of what became the United States ... Ms. Gibson has limited and predictable notions of the lessons we can learn ... Ms. Gibson’s narrative has some journalistic touches: Though the chapters unfold in a conventionally chronological way, for instance, each bears the name of a supposedly representative location (e.g. 'New Madrid, Missouri, ca. 1760-90'). These settings, however, fade rapidly from view after a quick evocation of the spirit of the place ... The author writes engagingly of moments of violence and injustice, deprivation and discrimination, music and muses: Her paragraphs on the early-20th-century Texas society women who bickered over how to restore the Alamo, for instance, would do justice to the pen of an Edith Wharton. And her insights into present-day dilemmas are interesting ... But at an analytical level, [Gibson] has trouble getting beyond truisms...
With insight and verve, the author weaves the myriad Hispanic/Latino influences on North American histories and cultures, addressing everything from immigration, wars, civil rights, tacos, and salsa, along with figures such as Fidel Castro and Cesar Chavez ... Few historians have attempted so sweeping and holistic a survey. Though Gibson can be more detailed about political events than the intersection of Anglo and Hispanic cultures, her evidence is clear: Latin America includes North America ... A thorough, relevant, and insightful survey of Hispanic North America.
Throughout, Gibson gives full personhood to indigenous groups and tribes, placing their experiences in context, and she takes care to elucidate the evolving concept of race and the toxic trope of the U.S. as a white nation, an idea that stubbornly refuses to fade, resurfacing in our own divisive times. The chapter on Texas offers a key reminder that at one time Anglos themselves were illegal aliens, defiantly ignoring Mexico’s laws against slavery. Well-organized and containing useful maps, a time line, selected bibliography, and notes, Gibson’s exhaustively researched and well-written chronicle is an essential acquisition for all American history collections.
... it has to be said that the topic of Spain in North America is hardly a new one, and many aspects of it have been extensively researched, although the Spanish contribution to the American Revolution still calls out for close examination ... [Gibson] is well versed in the literature, primary and secondary...write[s] with verve and can be read with pleasure ... while dwelling on particular episodes, she does not forget the overarching purpose of her book ... can't be said to add anything of great substance to the existing literature, and [is] stronger on narrative and description than on analysis. But demonstrate[s] that the United States and its current social and political scene cannot be understood if the lands and peoples of the Caribbean and those located south of the Mexican border are airbrushed from the story.
A long but readable history ... Gibson soundly concludes that the history of the Spanish 'is central to how the United States has developed and will continue to develop,' lending further utility to her work. Though much of this history is well-documented in the scholarly literature, it’s undeniably useful to have it in a single survey volume for general readers.
Historian Gibson...provides a sweeping and accessible survey of the Hispanic history of the U.S. that illuminates the integral impact of the Spanish and their descendants on the U.S.’s social and cultural development ... Though it doesn’t present new research, this unusual and insightful work provides a welcome and thought-provoking angle on the country’s history, and should be widely appreciated.