A sweeping saga of the Spanish history and influence in North America over five centuries, from the author of Empire’s Crossroads: A History of the Caribbean From Columbus to the Present Day and a contributor to The Guardian and BBC.
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...