In Latin Numbers: Playing Latino in Twentieth-Century U.S. Popular Performance
(University of Michigan Press, 2015) Brian Eugenio Herrera
examines the way in which Latina/o actors have communicated and influenced ideas about race and ethnicity in the U.S. through their performances on the stage and screen. Introducing the concept of the "Latin number," Dr. Herrera analyzes a series of overlapping historical moments from 1930 to 1990 when media and audiences became fascinated with Latinas/os and their potential impact on U.S. society. As a fleeting phenomenon, in which the U.S. public rediscovers, consumes, and then disregards Latinas/os, "Latin numbers," Herrera explains, comprise a form of "spectacular entertainment" that perpetuates the myth of Hispanics as perennial novelties. Building on the work of cultural historians, Herrera also employs the concept of "playing Latino" to describe the more enduring effects of Latina/o popular performance on U.S. systems of racial classification and knowledge production. Through detailed case studies, Herrera analyzes the ways in which Latinas/os have been typecast and stereotyped to "closet" or obscure ethnic, cultural, and regional distinctions among Hispanics, while simultaneously racializing them as non-white. Together, Herrera argues that the "Latin number" and "playing Latino" work in tandem to highlight the centrality of popular performance in rehearsing American audiences to think of Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, and Cubans in the more simplistic and monolithic terms of "Latino" and "Hispanic."
David-James Gonzales (DJ) is a Doctoral Candidate in History at the University of Southern California. He is a historian of the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands, Civil Rights, and Latino Identity & Politics. DJs dissertation examines the influence of Mexican American civic engagement and political activism on the metropolitan development of Orange County, CA from 1930 to 1965.