There is a classic scene in the 1997 film Selena that encapsulates so well the challenges of identity, particularly in Latino and Hispanic families. As it unfolds, we see an exasperated Abraham Quintanilla (Edward James Olmos) driving their tour bus along a dusty highway, lamenting to his daughter Selena (Jennifer Lopez), “We have to be more Mexican than the Mexicans and more American than the Americans, both at the same time! It’s exhausting!”
This notion resonates with many immigrant families, and identity has always been a winding road for my own Hispanic family as they made America home. Within the pages of Hoosier Latinos: A Century of Struggle, Service, and Success, I found a greater sense of empowerment by seeing some of my own family’s experiences reflected in the book.
In Hoosier Latinos, authors Nicole Martinez-LeGrand and Daniel Gonzales lead readers through Indiana’s past in a way that honors the contributions of Latino community members and gives living Latino leaders a platform to tell their own stories.
Each chapter of the book brings the community’s history to life through transcribed interviews with the central figures of these stories. Reading historical accounts from legendary Latinos like Fred Maravilla, who served in the U.S. Military during World War II; María Luisa Tishner, a prominent Indianapolis leader in healthcare access and advocacy; and Irene Osorio, of the Figueroa family, who organized mutual aid efforts during the Great Depression and founded the Latin Times newspaper in Indiana Harbor is powerful and inspiring.
The book also dives into problematic systemic practices within the community’s emergence in Indiana. If you’ve attended the Fiestas Patrias parade in Northwest Indiana or enjoyed Indianapolis’s annual “Fiesta,” you have celebrated the living history of Hoosier Latinos. And if you have driven across Cline Avenue Bridge in East Chicago or through the I-65/I-70 corridor, you’ve traveled through a more dubious consequence of history. Readers learn, through first-hand accounts, the impact of deeply problematic and racist policy decisions like the failed 1960s Urban Renewal Project in Indiana Harbor or the I-65/I-70 Project that parceled away homes and businesses through eminent domain at the expense of displaced Hoosier Latino families.
Hoosier Latinos is an essential read for those studying Indiana’s history. Martinez-LeGrand and Gonzales provide a much-needed context to more fully understand our collective Hoosier identity. Further, the authors live into the central value of the Hoosier Latino experience – community – and emphasize the need for a higher consciousness surrounding the major gaps in the historical records of brown and black Hoosiers.
As Gonzales states, “This book is dedicated to the strangely revolutionary idea that we should tell a fuller story of American history.” This book has unlocked a deeper sense of place in my home state and has provided me with written resources to bring more of my neighbors into the lived experience of Latinos and Hispanic Hoosiers. I hope that all Hoosiers will take the opportunity to read this book and learn about the rich history and monumental contributions Latinos have made to our state, no matter the challenges they faced.
Elise Shrock is a local communications pro and policy advocate working at the intersection of faith, politics and women’s empowerment. Following two decades of campaign and statehouse work, she now serves as the Director of Communications at Christ Church Cathedral, located in the heart of Indianapolis on Monument Circle. She is a lifelong Hoosier guided by the experiences of her Hispanic, immigrant family. Elise is an avid supporter of the arts and believes that everyone has a story to tell and that a good meal has the power to bring people together.
Nicole Martinez-LeGrand is the Indiana Historical Society’s multicultural collections curator. Daniel Gonzales has worked as a researcher, curator and historian. He is now Director of Exhibitions Curation at the Indiana Historical Society.
Monthly reviews of books written by Indiana authors are made possible by the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana Authors Awards and Indiana Humanities. Opinions expressed in this review are solely those of the reviewer, not any affiliated entity.