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Authors celebrate debut books about Latino history in the South

Authors Sarah McNamara and Cecilia Márquez celebrated the launch of their debut books at Prologue Rare & Used Books on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023.

An intimate group gathered at Prologue Rare & Used Books last Wednesday evening —  greeting each other familiarly, laughing and sipping wine. 

The occasion was a conversation between friends and scholars Sarah McNamara and Cecilia Márquez, celebrating the launch of their debut books, both about the history and development of Latinidad in the U.S. South. 

McNamara, an assistant professor of history at Texas A&M University, is the author of "Ybor City: Crucible of the Latina South," which was published earlier this year. Márquez is an assistant professor of history at Duke University. Her book "Making the Latino South: A History of Racial Formation" was published in September. 

The U.S. South through the Latino lens is a severely understudied topic, which is why the two authors’ work is exciting, McNamara said.

Both books explore how place and time shape what it means to be Latino and emphasize that Latinidad is a broad and encompassing category.

McNamara’s book is the story of three generations of Latinas who came to Ybor City, a neighborhood in Tampa, Fla., and the historic capital of Cuban cigar manufacturing. 

“The way that I describe it in my quick pitch to people typically is that my book is seeking to tell us how people, places and politics become who and what they are,” she said.

McNamara’s own maternal family comes from Ybor City. They were involved in radical politics and protests, including a 1937 anti-fascist march when Latinas led thousands of protestors from Ybor City to Tampa's city hall.

Although Florida is a historic "destination state" for Latino migrants and immigrants, the research on what the identity means within the state is limited, McNamara said — especially for Latinas, whose perspectives are not always prioritized by historical archivists.

According to McNamara, “Ybor City” seeks to explore how the community of Cubans and other immigrants collide and make sense of themselves, resist and figure out how to survive in the midst of the Jim Crow South.

Márquez’s book also focuses on the evolving history of communities over time, political formations and identity, and the history of race in the South.

“It’s a story about how Latino identity and Latino community forms in the South and what that has to do with the history of race in the region,” Márquez said.

"Making the Latino South" has a more regional focus than "Ybor City," covering communities outside of historic Latino ‘destination states’ in places like Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama and North Carolina, McNamara and Márquez said.

“I was really interested in places where Latinos were showing up for the first time and being able to tell the story of how southern communities reacted,” she said. “I want to understand these moments of encounter.”

The book reveals how Latinidad cannot be reduced to one identity or one set of politics, but is grounded in a specific time and place, according to Márquez. 

“Latino history is southern history,” she said. “We’re not just newcomers here, we've been here for years. The South is Latino.”

Márquez’s book argues that Latino racial identity in the South was often constructed in terms of proximity to Blackness. The South is invested in anti-Blackness in a way that controls and mediates other racial identities, she said during the event.

Danielle Purifoy, who attended the event, is Márquez’s friend,  a scholar of Black geographies in the U.S. South and an assistant professor of geography at UNC.

“One of the things my work has been interested in is thinking about the positionality of Blackness in relation to folks who are not white but not Black,” Purifoy said. “And, some of the themes that both of these books touch on is the kind of centrality of this white-Black dichotomy racial structure. How, in this case, Latine folks experience race and racism.”

Conversation between the two authors flowed gracefully, brimming with insights and a healthy dose of humor.

“It’s always exciting when Cecilia and I are in conversations together because we’re the next generation of people who are writing about Latinas and Latinxs in the U.S. South,” McNamara said. “It’s a very small group of people who are doing that.”

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Authors Sarah McNamara and Cecilia Márquez celebrated the launch of their debut books at Prologue Rare & Used Books on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023.

@dthlifestyle |

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