Latino Spin

Public Image and the Whitewashing of Race

224 pages

October, 2008

ISBN: 9780814720073



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Arlene Dávila is Professor of Anthropology and American Studies at NYU.  Her books include Culture Works: Space, Value and Mobility Across the Neoliberal Americas (2012) and Latino Spin: Public Image and the Whitewashing of Race (2008), both available from NYU Press.

All books by Arlene Dávila

Winner of the 2010 Distinguished Book Award in Latino Studies from the Latin American Studies Association

Illegal immigrant, tax burden, job stealer. Patriot, family oriented, hard worker, model consumer. Ever since Latinos became the largest minority in the U.S. they have been caught between these wildly contrasting characterizations leaving us to wonder: Are Latinos friend or foe?

Latino Spin cuts through the spin about Latinos’ supposed values, political attitudes, and impact on U.S. national identity to ask what these caricatures suggest about Latinos’ shifting place in the popular and political imaginary. Noted scholar Arlene Dávila illustrates the growing consensus among pundits, advocates, and scholars that Latinos are not a social liability, that they are moving up and contributing, and that, in fact, they are more American than “the Americans.” But what is at stake in such a sanitized and marketable representation of Latinidad? Dávila follows the spin through the realm of politics, think tanks, Latino museums, and urban planning to uncover whether they effectively challenge the growing fear over Latinos’ supposedly dreadful effect on the “integrity” of U.S. national identity. What may be some of the intended or unintended consequences of these more marketable representations in regard to current debates over immigration?

With particular attention to what these representations reveal about the place and role of Latinos in the contemporary politics of race, Latino Spin highlights the realities they skew and the polarization they effect between Latinos and other minorities, and among Latinos themselves along the lines of citizenship and class. Finally, by considering Latinos in all their diversity, including their increasing financial and geographic disparities, Dávila can present alternative and more empowering representations of Latinidad to help attain true political equity and intraracial coalitions.


  • “A must read for students as well as a general public concerned with the future role of Latinos in U.S. society. Dávila also lays the foundation for understanding events that have occurred since the book’s publication.”

    Journal of American Ethnic History

  • "Her invaluable scholarly treatment unearths the competing interests and race-inflected ideological tendencies behind characterizations of Latino political identity in the mainstream media."

    Publishers Weekly

  • ”The finest, fiercest and most piercing of our public intellectuals . . . Dávila is a force of nature. In Latino Spin Dávila elegantly unravels the media driven sleight-of-hand that simultaneously celebrates an uber-American (and almost entirely manufactured) Latino middle class while demonizing recent Latino immigrants and the poor folks who resemble them. On a line by line, idea by idea basis Dávila is simply without peer, her scholarship essential to our understanding of our New America.”

    —Junot Díaz, author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and Drown

  • ”Arlene Dávila depicts the frenzied efforts of post-industrial America to corral more than 40 million diverse Latinos into a single homogenized market. Whether it’s peddling consumer goods, monetizing art and culture, engineering barrio land development, or shaping a new political voting bloc, Latino Spin brilliantly dissects Hispanic-American reality in the 21st century.”

    —Juan Gonzalez, author of Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America

  • "A wonderfully written book that cuts through the ‘spin’ often used to typecast the U.S.’s largest minority group. Offering a fresh and insightful take on race in America, Arlene Dávila addresses popular images of Latinos and shows us the limitations of both negative portrayals and the attempts to respond to them. In this tour de force, Dávila goes beyond simply describing bias to offer a transcendent vision of Latinos that challenges racism and captures the complexity of this diverse community."

    —Mark Sawyer, author of Racial Politics in Post Revolutionary Cuba