In the past few years, in the wake of the Latino impact on the 2012 presidential election, and with heated immigration discussions, the effect of the Latino population on America has been put more toward the forefront of people’s consciousness. But as PBS’ new, three-part, six-hour documentary miniseries Latino Americans shows, Latinos have been contributing to and impacting America for much longer. Narrated by Benjamin Bratt, the series looks back at the past 500-plus years to show how, at more than 50 million people, Latinos have risen to become the largest minority group in the United States.
Latino Americans airs three Tuesdays starting Sept. 17, and is divided into six chronological segments (descriptive info from PBS):
“Foreigners in Their Own Land” (Sept. 17) — The first segment spans the period from 1500-1880, as the first Spanish explorers enter North America, the U.S. expands into territories in the Southwest that had been home to Native Americans and English and Spanish colonies, and as the Mexican-American War strips Mexico of half its territories by 1848.
“Empire of Dreams” (Sept. 17) — Documents how the American population begins to be reshaped by the influx of people that began in 1880 and continues into the 1940s, as Cubans, Mexicans and Puerto Ricans begin arriving in the U.S. and start to build strong Latino-American communities in South Florida, Los Angeles and New York.
“War and Peace” (Sept. 24) — Moves into the World War II years and those that follow, as Latino Americans serve their new country by the hundreds of thousands — but still face discrimination and a fight for civil rights.
“The New Latinos” (Sept. 24) — Highlights the swelling immigration from Puerto Rico, Cuba and the Dominican Republic that stretches from the post-World War II years into the early 1960s as the new arrivals seek economic opportunities.
“Prejudice and Pride” (Oct. 1) — Details the creation of the proud “Chicano” identity, as labor leaders organize farm workers in California, and as activists push for better education opportunities for Latinos, the inclusion of Latino studies and empowerment in the political process.
“Peril and Promise” (Oct. 1) — The final segment takes viewers through the past 30 years, with a second wave of Cubans arriving in Miami during the Mariel exodus and with hundreds of thousands Salvadorans, Nicaraguans and Guatemalans fleeing civil wars, death squads and unrest to go north into a new land — transforming the United States along the way. The debate over undocumented immigrants flares up, with a backlash that eventually includes calls for tightened borders, English-only laws and efforts to brand undocumented immigrants as felons. Simultaneously, the Latino influence is booming in music, sports, media, politics and entertainment. The largest and youngest growing sector of the American population, Latino Americans will determine the success of the United States in the 21st century.
Latino Americans is billed as the first major documentary series for television to chronicle the history and experiences of Latinos, and it features interviews with nearly 100 Latinos from all walks of life. The series is produced by Emmy-winning Adriana Bosch, who says, “It is time the Latino American history be told. Latinos are an integral part of the U.S., and this series shares the stories of a rich collection of people coming from so many different countries and backgrounds. It is the story of Latinos, and it is the story of America.”
Latino Americans airs Tuesdays, Sept. 17-Oct. 1, from 8pm-10pm ET on PBS (check local listings).
Hilda Hernandez, originally from Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, registers to vote. New York City, 1960. — Courtesy of Library of Congress