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Translation Nation: Defining a New American Identity in the Spanish-Speaking United States

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In the national bestseller Translation Nation, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Héctor Tobar takes us on the definitive tour of the Spanish-speaking United States—a parallel nation, 35 million strong, that is changing the very notion of what it means to be an American in unprecedented and unexpected ways. Tobar begins on familiar terrain, in his native Los Angeles, with hi In the national bestseller Translation Nation, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Héctor Tobar takes us on the definitive tour of the Spanish-speaking United States—a parallel nation, 35 million strong, that is changing the very notion of what it means to be an American in unprecedented and unexpected ways. Tobar begins on familiar terrain, in his native Los Angeles, with his family's story, along with that of two brothers of Mexican origin with very different interpretations of Americanismo, or American identity as seen through a Latin American lens—one headed for U.S. citizenship and the other for the wrong side of the law and the south side of the border. But this is just a jumping-off point. Soon we are in Dalton, Georgia, the most Spanish-speaking town in the Deep South, and in Rupert, Idaho, where the most popular radio DJ is known as "El Chupacabras." By the end of the book, we have traveled from the geographical extremes into the heartland, exploring the familiar complexities of Cuban Miami and the brand-new ones of a busy Omaha INS station. Sophisticated, provocative, and deeply human, Translation Nation uncovers the ways that Hispanic Americans are forging new identities, redefining the experience of the American immigrant, and reinventing the American community. It is a book that rises, brilliantly, to meet one of the most profound shifts in American identity.


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In the national bestseller Translation Nation, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Héctor Tobar takes us on the definitive tour of the Spanish-speaking United States—a parallel nation, 35 million strong, that is changing the very notion of what it means to be an American in unprecedented and unexpected ways. Tobar begins on familiar terrain, in his native Los Angeles, with hi In the national bestseller Translation Nation, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Héctor Tobar takes us on the definitive tour of the Spanish-speaking United States—a parallel nation, 35 million strong, that is changing the very notion of what it means to be an American in unprecedented and unexpected ways. Tobar begins on familiar terrain, in his native Los Angeles, with his family's story, along with that of two brothers of Mexican origin with very different interpretations of Americanismo, or American identity as seen through a Latin American lens—one headed for U.S. citizenship and the other for the wrong side of the law and the south side of the border. But this is just a jumping-off point. Soon we are in Dalton, Georgia, the most Spanish-speaking town in the Deep South, and in Rupert, Idaho, where the most popular radio DJ is known as "El Chupacabras." By the end of the book, we have traveled from the geographical extremes into the heartland, exploring the familiar complexities of Cuban Miami and the brand-new ones of a busy Omaha INS station. Sophisticated, provocative, and deeply human, Translation Nation uncovers the ways that Hispanic Americans are forging new identities, redefining the experience of the American immigrant, and reinventing the American community. It is a book that rises, brilliantly, to meet one of the most profound shifts in American identity.

30 review for Translation Nation: Defining a New American Identity in the Spanish-Speaking United States

  1. 4 out of 5

    Taylor Ramirez

    I honestly don’t have too much to say about this book, I did have to read it for my English 101 class, so it's a bit different than what I normally read. I did enjoy it. Each chapter was kind of episodic and it kind of told a different story or had a different theme throughout each individual chapter, sometimes things would tie over to the next but rarely. Some of the chapters were boring, some where amazing like Chapter 3 and Chapter 10. I highly recommend this book, especially if you live in pla I honestly don’t have too much to say about this book, I did have to read it for my English 101 class, so it's a bit different than what I normally read. I did enjoy it. Each chapter was kind of episodic and it kind of told a different story or had a different theme throughout each individual chapter, sometimes things would tie over to the next but rarely. Some of the chapters were boring, some where amazing like Chapter 3 and Chapter 10. I highly recommend this book, especially if you live in places where there’s a lot of Mexican immigrants. It gives you an interesting perspective on where they’re coming from.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Julio Bonilla

    The Latinos do the hardest work. The hardest. The lighter work is done by the Americans—or the gringos, as they’re called. And a little harder than what the gringos do, there’s the Afro-Americans. I've had this book since college. Now that I'm done with it, I think I'll pass it on to a monolingual Latino neighbor. The Latinos do the hardest work. The hardest. The lighter work is done by the Americans—or the gringos, as they’re called. And a little harder than what the gringos do, there’s the Afro-Americans. I've had this book since college. Now that I'm done with it, I think I'll pass it on to a monolingual Latino neighbor.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Amy Layton

    This book opens up with a humorous and political essay on the topic of Tobar's parents idolizing Che Guevara, and young Tobar only caring about baseball stars.  And that's how he gets you.  Though the lightheartedness doesn't leave entirely, very little is humorous as he expands and explains the creation of a new national identity for Hispanic Americans. He follows his journalistic instinct from SoCal to Mexico, to the border, to the middle of the United States listening to the stories and hardsh This book opens up with a humorous and political essay on the topic of Tobar's parents idolizing Che Guevara, and young Tobar only caring about baseball stars.  And that's how he gets you.  Though the lightheartedness doesn't leave entirely, very little is humorous as he expands and explains the creation of a new national identity for Hispanic Americans. He follows his journalistic instinct from SoCal to Mexico, to the border, to the middle of the United States listening to the stories and hardships of those who were not fortunate enough to eschew the law, below minimum wages, or horrific crossings of the border.  Tobar discusses various topics, from crop-picking and factory farms to identity theft to gaps in the border to the war on drugs.   Each essay features something entirely different, episodic, and utterly mesmerizing.  Of course, as we all know, the iceberg of culture goes much much deeper than the tip.  But this, oh wow, this gave me so much more than what I was expecting.  It gave me insights and perspectives that I could never have even imagined, and on a personal and selfish note, I think it's made me much more aware and knowledgeable about this topic than ever before.  But beyond me, it's just incredible that Tobar has collected these stories and is currently sharing them with the world--they absolutely deserve to be known.   Review cross-listed here!

  4. 4 out of 5

    Shaeley Santiago

    This book tells about virtually all aspects of Latinos in the US from the Cuban community in Miami and the Puerto Ricans and Dominicans in NY to the Latinos of the Southwestern US, some who have lived here for centuries. Tobar even addresses the migration of Latinos into the Heartland and other places where the meat packing industry heavily recruits workers. Thorough coverage of the shift in American society over the last generation as Hispanic minorities become majorities even in places like ru This book tells about virtually all aspects of Latinos in the US from the Cuban community in Miami and the Puerto Ricans and Dominicans in NY to the Latinos of the Southwestern US, some who have lived here for centuries. Tobar even addresses the migration of Latinos into the Heartland and other places where the meat packing industry heavily recruits workers. Thorough coverage of the shift in American society over the last generation as Hispanic minorities become majorities even in places like rural Nebraska.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Abby

    A portrait and discussion of where and how Latinos have become a part of the population and culture of the United States. Much is anecdotal from the author's travels, observations and interviews. A portrait and discussion of where and how Latinos have become a part of the population and culture of the United States. Much is anecdotal from the author's travels, observations and interviews.

  6. 4 out of 5

    CTEP

    This book follows the travels of journalist Hector Tobar as he travels from Southern Mexico to rural Nebraska, then to the US Mexico Border and to his home in Los Angeles. The book cover states that the book is, if i remember correctly, de Toqueville meets The Motorcycle Diaries (the first because he is traveling around America, and the second because he mentions Che a couple of times and the author is Latino I guess?). I don't know about that. Tobar seems to set up several dichotomies that seem This book follows the travels of journalist Hector Tobar as he travels from Southern Mexico to rural Nebraska, then to the US Mexico Border and to his home in Los Angeles. The book cover states that the book is, if i remember correctly, de Toqueville meets The Motorcycle Diaries (the first because he is traveling around America, and the second because he mentions Che a couple of times and the author is Latino I guess?). I don't know about that. Tobar seems to set up several dichotomies that seem too simple to frame his work. The the is between the good, working Latino immigrants and their bad little brothers who bring gang violence to even the smallest town in Nebraska or Iowa or wherever the immigrants end up. While there are hints that Tobar wants to complicate these notions a little bit, he more often slots the characters in his stories into one of these two archetypes (relating them bck to one of the first stories in the book, of two brothers, one who works and is married and owns a house and the other who winds up deported and involved in gang activity). The most interesting part of the book, and I think Tobar's aim in writing, is to show the spread of latinidad to corners and towns all over the United States, to disrupt our view of the small town mainstreet as River City, IA from The Music Man, and show that it is actually more and more a continuous negotiation between and amongst a more and more diverse population. Polka stations transitioning to nortena and cinco de mayo celebrations rivaling the fourth of july. This book relates to my Americorps position because part of SPNN Youth's mission is to serve new immigrant populations. This book tried to show the reality of a shifting United States, in the Spanish-speaking United States, as the title states. I don't know if I would reccomend this book to other CTEPpers. It was alright, but I feel like there are better books on similar issues that I would have rather read. I also tend to have a thing against books written by journalists, but thats my own personal bias. I got the book for Christmas, so if you want to read it, let me know and you can borrow it.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Lupita Gonzalez

    I got the sense reading this book that the author not only recognized, but relished in the privileges he was afforded that the folks he's writing about were not. This is just my subjective interpretation, but the writing felt arrogant and condescending at times. If you want a less detached, more empathetic rendition of a similar (but better executed) journalistic approach to amplifying immigrant stories, read The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio. I got the sense reading this book that the author not only recognized, but relished in the privileges he was afforded that the folks he's writing about were not. This is just my subjective interpretation, but the writing felt arrogant and condescending at times. If you want a less detached, more empathetic rendition of a similar (but better executed) journalistic approach to amplifying immigrant stories, read The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Booknerd Fraser

    Great, occasionally moving, portrait of the Spanish-speaking, Hispanic population of the United States. I wonder if the people opposed to immigration were given cold sweats by this book. And I'm curious what's going on with these people and communities now. Great, occasionally moving, portrait of the Spanish-speaking, Hispanic population of the United States. I wonder if the people opposed to immigration were given cold sweats by this book. And I'm curious what's going on with these people and communities now.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Michael Andersen-Andrade

    The future of the U.S. is Latino. If you have a problem with that get over it, learn Spanish and embrace your new neighbors.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    Grew tired of it. Decided to hang it up.

  11. 5 out of 5

    John Gurney

    "Translation Nation" journeys through small town America, in Idaho, Alabama, Nebraska, and Georgia, to trace the mostly Mexican immigrants working chicken processing plants, carpet mills and agricultural sites. Hector Tobar is a journalist, and it shows as he conducts penetrating interviews of Spanish-speaking immigrants and their offspring, from the barrios of Los Angeles to new communities like Ashland, Alabama. He has a sharp eye for irony, and finds the unexpected most everywhere. His descri "Translation Nation" journeys through small town America, in Idaho, Alabama, Nebraska, and Georgia, to trace the mostly Mexican immigrants working chicken processing plants, carpet mills and agricultural sites. Hector Tobar is a journalist, and it shows as he conducts penetrating interviews of Spanish-speaking immigrants and their offspring, from the barrios of Los Angeles to new communities like Ashland, Alabama. He has a sharp eye for irony, and finds the unexpected most everywhere. His descriptions are vivid and often memorable. I enjoyed his style. This is very much a "micro-" level book, focusing on specific immigrants in specific communities, but he still ties into national trends, such as how the September 11 attacks killed chances of immigration reform and how California's Prop. 187 drove Latinos to citizenship, voting, and running for office. While the book is mostly focused on the Mexican-American experience, author Hector Tobar grew up a Guatemalan-American in a Mexican-American area, giving him an acute eye for subtle ethnic differences. He also travels to New York to see Puerto Ricans and to Miami's Little Havana for Cubans. He later finds two Cubans in Ashland, AL where, amusingly, they're also arguing about Cuban politics. Tobar notes how New York's formerly Puerto Rican areas of Spanish Harlem today host Peruvians, Dominicans and other Latin groups. There are Bolivians in metro Washington, DC. The once poverty-struck Cubans today are the Miami establishment; there are more than 5,000 Cuban millionaires in Miami-Dade County. Newer groups from Latin America, especially from Colombia and Peru, are following in their footsteps. He also travels to a corner of Michigan where the Anglo bean growers have shifted to producing the black bean, a staple of the Latin American diet. Similarly, Nebraskan farmers have adjusted to growing and delicately processing the special corn needed for high quality maize used in masa for authentic tamales and other Latin foods. The Latin population growth in the USA is a business opportunity for people you might not otherwise expect. Each community is so different that, while the Spanish-speaking population is changing forever many towns, whether Maywood, CA or Liberal, KS, they also are subsumed by the larger "American" culture, with children who speak little Spanish and grandchildren who may speak none. Tobar shows the good and the bad. At best, otherwise dying small towns are energized and repopulated by hard-working, entrepreneurial immigrants. He also shows the bad: gangs and Latin American cuadillo-style politics in places like Bell Gardens, CA, where immigrant pols have tried to recreate clientelistic PRI-like machines. This book suggests something about the future of the United States: a bit more Latin in the American cultural mosaic, and perhaps, less monolinguistic.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Meg

    I keep hesitating between 2 stars and three stars.... 2 because...the book did not keep my attention, 3 because I found the information interesting. I grabbed this book because of my line of work and the fact that I love linguistics....and how language and culture can affect a person. This book is interesting...and well written. You are given a glimpse into different regions in the United States and the Latino immigrants trials in that area---- from living/working in a poultry factory (ugh!) in I keep hesitating between 2 stars and three stars.... 2 because...the book did not keep my attention, 3 because I found the information interesting. I grabbed this book because of my line of work and the fact that I love linguistics....and how language and culture can affect a person. This book is interesting...and well written. You are given a glimpse into different regions in the United States and the Latino immigrants trials in that area---- from living/working in a poultry factory (ugh!) in Alabama...to working for a radio station and producing a Spanish radio show. I found the book interesting....my TWO problems 1) I was hoping they would speak about school age immigrants and the affects that changing countries/times had on that age group. 2) Each section was very disjointed and reminded me of reading different columns in a newspaper. I enjoyed the style of writing...and the journalist's outlook on his culture. I went to this book looking for more information about my students, but did not find it. I did find information about what past generation struggled through to succeed in this country made of immigrants. Read this if you are interested in Latinos, language....or immigration.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Leasha

    As of yet, I don't have a shelf for "books judged by the cover," but this one could inaugurate it. Originally it caught my eye, but the comparisons to Tocqueville intrigued me enough to seek it out. Translation Nation is every bit the journalist's travelogue: portraits of individuals drawn with words. The greatest strength of this book, for me, was its ability to introduce me to people who live in my own home, yet who experience it so differently than I do. He seemed to do a good job of acquirin As of yet, I don't have a shelf for "books judged by the cover," but this one could inaugurate it. Originally it caught my eye, but the comparisons to Tocqueville intrigued me enough to seek it out. Translation Nation is every bit the journalist's travelogue: portraits of individuals drawn with words. The greatest strength of this book, for me, was its ability to introduce me to people who live in my own home, yet who experience it so differently than I do. He seemed to do a good job of acquiring diversity of experience across the board - country of origin, location of immigration, circumstances of moving, job skills, and worldview. Despite being well done and interesting to read, I only gave this book three stars because I do not know what it was that Tobar was hoping to accomplish. What audience did he write for? What did he want from me? This book doesn't change me; I don't even know what question it is asking me. It was a nice read, but I do not walk away still needing to think about it.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jessie

    Tobar is a reporter with the Los Angeles Times, and so the book is very fun to read and discusses a wide variety of people and situations. He is mostly optimistic about the state of race relations and the position of Spanish-speakers in the United States, and so it was somewhat refreshing to read a more upbeat story about 'the other America' that is growing up around us. He does occasionally touch on the darker issues that come up in a multi-lingual society, but most of the book is composed of p Tobar is a reporter with the Los Angeles Times, and so the book is very fun to read and discusses a wide variety of people and situations. He is mostly optimistic about the state of race relations and the position of Spanish-speakers in the United States, and so it was somewhat refreshing to read a more upbeat story about 'the other America' that is growing up around us. He does occasionally touch on the darker issues that come up in a multi-lingual society, but most of the book is composed of positive anecdotes. I would recommend this book to anyone who would like to know more about Spanish-speaking immigrants and the world they live in, since that world is largely invisible to the rest of us.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Brent

    This book is a collection of snapshots of Latinos defining a new way of life in United States collected by the author's travels across the country in search of these stories. It describes the ways that immigrants simultaneously integrate and remain a part of their birth culture. It celebrates diversity and how different cultures mutually influence one another. It's illuminating but seems dated in the Trump era of immigrant politics. Additionally, I'm biased, but I'm disappointed that Chicago's L This book is a collection of snapshots of Latinos defining a new way of life in United States collected by the author's travels across the country in search of these stories. It describes the ways that immigrants simultaneously integrate and remain a part of their birth culture. It celebrates diversity and how different cultures mutually influence one another. It's illuminating but seems dated in the Trump era of immigrant politics. Additionally, I'm biased, but I'm disappointed that Chicago's Latino communities were totally ignored in this book.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Rae

    I enjoyed this "travel" book. Tobar takes the reader to many small cities in the US which have had a measurable increase in Latino immigrants. He then discusses the positive and negative impact of this influx. Unlike another author I read, he actually makes the distinction between those who are here legally, fair and square, and those who are not. That slant alone made me a much more sympathetic and interested reader. I enjoyed this "travel" book. Tobar takes the reader to many small cities in the US which have had a measurable increase in Latino immigrants. He then discusses the positive and negative impact of this influx. Unlike another author I read, he actually makes the distinction between those who are here legally, fair and square, and those who are not. That slant alone made me a much more sympathetic and interested reader.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Dan B.

    This collection of essays (columns?) is a fascinating, funny, and complex peek into the evolving Latino community in America. Tobar is an unrepentant Guevarrist and - with his tongue near his cheek - suggests that the recent wave of Mexican and Central American immigrants into the Southwestern U.S. is a reclamation of land lost in the Mexican American War. This over-the-top claim, however, echos in the tales of immigrants, migrants, and gringos adapting to a more Spanglish existence.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Ms. Wayne

    From the Publisher This is the definitive tour of the Spanish-speaking United States-a parallel USA, 40 million strong, the largest minority group in the country-transforming the American Dream, reinventing the American community, and redefining the experience of the American immigrant in unprecedented and unexpected ways.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Randy O

    Among other things, this book tells the story of why many Latino immigrants are moving to--and loving--states like Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee. Not all of the residents in these southern small towns like their new neighbors, but many of them are finding surprising cultural and personal similarities.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Mary

    Using personal immigration stories, including that of his own family, the author builds an interwoven framework for the big story of major changes in American life and language. He is an excellent reporter--humane, intelligent, modest, even-handed, diligent in his research. This book held my attention as a particularly readable novel does. ,

  21. 4 out of 5

    Kristin

    Ugh. This was torture to plod through. Very interesting subject matter, but he tried to cover too much. And the title (mis)lead me to think the book would discuss language as at least a major topic of the book, but I was wrong. But the real issue for me is that Tobar's writing style bores me--he's just not for me. Ugh. This was torture to plod through. Very interesting subject matter, but he tried to cover too much. And the title (mis)lead me to think the book would discuss language as at least a major topic of the book, but I was wrong. But the real issue for me is that Tobar's writing style bores me--he's just not for me.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Judy

    Translation Nation explores, through the eyes of a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, the complexities and contradictions of immigration. And tells, in an unpretentious and thought-provoking manner, how this new identity is affecting American society. Not how it should be or shouldn't be - but how it is. Translation Nation explores, through the eyes of a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, the complexities and contradictions of immigration. And tells, in an unpretentious and thought-provoking manner, how this new identity is affecting American society. Not how it should be or shouldn't be - but how it is.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Veronica

    It's taken me almost two years to finish this book, because although the stories it tells are interesting, I can't get behind the poetry + journalism style. I think I prefer my non-fiction more essay style. I also feel like this book would have meant more to me several years ago, before I moved to California perhaps. It's a little dated. It's taken me almost two years to finish this book, because although the stories it tells are interesting, I can't get behind the poetry + journalism style. I think I prefer my non-fiction more essay style. I also feel like this book would have meant more to me several years ago, before I moved to California perhaps. It's a little dated.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Gail Kirby

    Interesting stories of the Latino diaspora through the US. It gave the history and the challenges and successes of individuals that immigrated (legally & illegally) into the US. A great deal of time was spent on the industries that take advantage of these hard-working individuals who seek the promises of the US. I learned a lot about the circumstances around this segment of the population.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Gregory

    Very well written account of the effect Latin American immigration has been having on the United States in recent years, with the author's own personal story as a backdrop. Tobar is an LA Times reporter, and has a good ear for interesting stories. Very well written account of the effect Latin American immigration has been having on the United States in recent years, with the author's own personal story as a backdrop. Tobar is an LA Times reporter, and has a good ear for interesting stories.

  26. 4 out of 5

    **tonalzin**

    I happen to walking down the isles of Barnes and Nobles...and said...hmmmm....i haven't encountered myself reading much on Hector Tobar, so I said why not...a ver que dice este hombre on the movimiento...soon too continue. :) I happen to walking down the isles of Barnes and Nobles...and said...hmmmm....i haven't encountered myself reading much on Hector Tobar, so I said why not...a ver que dice este hombre on the movimiento...soon too continue. :)

  27. 4 out of 5

    Brittany Kubes

    BLAH what a disappointment!! -completely scattered with only a loose theme of spanish speakers + US, overly self-loving author trying to make a memoir of a very average life, and i received NOTHING from this book. yuck.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Nico

    Most of which I had already realized several years ago. America is changing color, quickly, better learn to speak Spanish ASAP if you expect to communicate with your grandkids... still an exciting read with plenty of wisdom to ponder.

  29. 4 out of 5

    tori

    The author has a Pulitzer under his belt and you can certainly tell. The book reads like really beautiful magazine writing - the only kind of non-fiction writing I can get through.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Rob

    I thought this was okay. The author glamorized his "struggle" but the personal stories were very interesting. I thought this was okay. The author glamorized his "struggle" but the personal stories were very interesting.

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