Part history and part cultural encyclopedia, a sophisticated- -sometimes too sophisticated—discussion of Latino identity as displayed in art, literature, and popular culture. Stavans (Growing Up Latino, not reviewed) asks more questions than he can answer about Latino identity—in part, he concludes, because the Hispanic community is continuously creating itself. Drawing on the works of writers such as Julia Alvarez and artists like performance artist Guillermo Gomez-Pe§a, the author explores ``border culture,'' the state of living in both American and Latino culture. Addressing the question of whether to use ``Hispanic'' or ``Latino,'' he notes that Hispanic is used by conservatives to propagate stereotypes (e.g., sleazy ethnic drug barons), while Latino, the preferred term of self-definition, is still inadequate, failing to fully describe the major groups that comprise the Hispanic community—Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Chicanos, Central and South Americans. (Given this discussion, his decision to use ``Hispanic'' is never satisfactorily explained.) Stavans argues that while Latinos share the same language, there are major social differences, often shaped by the political histories of their different native countries. This thoughtful examination of the various cultures and their differences, the book's strongest element, occasionally gets swamped by extraneous material too scholarly for the general reader. Stavans is more accessible when he points to the books of Cristina Garcia and Rudolfo Anaya, among others, as examples of more human, diverse portraits of Latinos than the macho man and virginal woman stereotypes seen in pop culture monuments like I Love Lucy and West Side Story, but he also notes Hispanic cultures' tendency to deny gay and lesbian love. The author sometimes gets mired in his own hyperbolic metaphors, particularly in his magic-realism-inspired introduction, which envisions the disappearance of borders between the Americas North and South. Despite a tendency to get lost in esoteric byways, an engagingly ambitious tour of Latino culture, notable for its formidable breadth.
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