Chasing Che and the New Global Latin America

This post is published in conjunction with the American Historical Association conference in Denver, taking place January 5-8.When sharing this post on social media, please be sure to use the hashtag #AHA17!

The opening of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States and continued changes to current Cuban sanctions is just an example of how Latin American countries can impact our global culture, economy, and politics. Yet the impact is usually not so apparent.

Matthew C. Guttmann and Jeffrey Lesser–editors of Global Latin America, part of the new Global Square Series–introduce how Latin American countries have, for quite some time, been global players.

The puzzle that inspired Global Latin America was, Why did we find Che Guevara’s image everywhere we went in the world? Why was a Latin American revolutionary of the 1950s and 1960s so popular among so many people around the globe in 2016? Why was Che easily the most famous Latin American outside the region? Sure, images of the bearded face and beret were often devoid of deep meaning, but there was his image, and we wanted to make sense of it. Trying to understand global Che led us to the larger meanings of global Latin America. …

Che Guevara image on man's cap, Shanghai, 2013. Photo: Matthew Gutmann.
Che Guevara image on man’s cap, Shanghai, 2013. Photo: Matthew Gutmann.

We are often more familiar with the impact of the world on Latin America than with the impact of Latin America on the world. The three C’s Conquest, Colonialism, and Christianity provide a tortured, if better-known story, about how some parts of the world have exercised control over other parts. … Although the significance of Latin America for the rest of the world is not new or sudden, it is ever more apparent. The impact that Latin America has had in the other direction, even though unmistakable, has never been as familiar a narrative. This volume, like the others in the Global Square series, seeks to remind us that regions are not just victims but also global players.

Latin America in 2016 is home to emerging global powers. In 2016, even despite massive downturns economically, Brazil had the seventh largest economy in the world and Mexico was poised to break into the top ten. Latin America is tightly bound to regions from Asia to Africa, from the Middle East to Europe, through commerce and trade, migration, and the arts. In political and economic terms, Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico are world leaders, part of the Group of 20 (G20) countries that have greatly expanded membership beyond the old geopolitical leadership of Europe, Japan, and the United States.

In Realpolitik, Latin American leaders from Argentina’s Carlos Menem to Brazil’s Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez have proposed that they are uniquely able to help to resolve global problems, from conflicts in the Middle East to energy to climate change to participatory democracy. Heavy manufacturing in Latin America is reshaping global auto, weapons, and airplane industries. Environmental measures in the enormous Amazon region, positive and negative, are central to global discussions of climate change. Truth commissions formed to document the abuses of past dictatorships in Latin America have become vital reference points for similar efforts from South Africa to Rwanda to Cambodia. …

GutmannLesser.GlobalLatinAmericaGlobal Latin America is for students, business leaders, policy makers, and global travelers interested in better understanding Latin America’s deep entanglements with and influence on our interdependent world. Chapters by academics, politicians, activists, journalists, scientists, and artists shine light on Latin American history, society, and culture. For those who want to appreciate the diversity and global relevance of Latin America in the twenty-first century, this volume collects some of the top scholarship and social analysis about global Latin America today and historically.


Integrating Current Events in Your Courses: Immigration and Latino Studies

Latinos have been integral in the shaping of the U.S. yet their identity is constantly brought into question.

In the wake of the November presidential election and the impending inauguration of Donald Trump, how can you integrate discussions on immigration—particularly from Latin American countries—into your classes?

Help your students understand the effects of today’s political climate. Find new titles for your courses on Immigration or Latino Studies below and click on each title to quickly and easily request an exam copy. Review our exam copy policy. And feel free to email us with questions–we’re here to help!

Select Titles for Your Courses on Immigration and Latino Studies


The New Latino Studies Reader: A Twenty-First Century Perspective edited by Ramon A. Gutierrez & Tomas Almaguer

“[This reader] brings together the most innovative scholarship being generated within history and the social sciences and is surely to become a standard within Latina/o studies courses.” —Raúl Coronado, inaugural President of the Latina/o Studies Association

“They integrate historical, social scientific and cultural studies approaches, which is rarely done in readers.”—Patricia Zavella, UC Santa Cruz



Lives in Limbo: Undocumented and Coming of Age in America by Roberto G. Gonzales

“Superb. . . . An important examination of the devastating consequences of ‘illegality’ on our young people.”—Junot Díaz, author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and This is How You Lose Her

“It will stand as the definitive study of the undocumented coming of age in our midst. It is a book every teacher, every policymaker, indeed every concerned citizen should read and ponder.”—Marcelo M. Suárez-Orozco, coeditor of Latinos: Remaking America


GutmannLesser.GlobalLatinAmericaGlobal Latin America: Into the Twenty-First Century edited by Matthew C. Gutmann and Jeffrey Lesser

“A superb sampling of the cutting edge in connecting approaches across subfields, such as gender studies, Latin American Studies, ethnic studies, and area studies.”—Jerry Dávila, University of Illinois

“The volume is the perfect book for class use in a variety of settings.”—Miguel Angel Centeno, author of State Making in the Developing World




Returned: Going and Coming in an Age of Deportation by Deborah Boehm

“[Deborah Boehm] challenges sterile depictions of deportations in the media and political debates. This urgent book is a must read.”—Cecilia Menjívar, author of Immigrant Families

“A stellar and nuanced ethnographic exploration of the impact of deportation on Mexican families on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. It is a critical addition to existing work on transnationalism and migration, and required reading for academics and policy makers.”—Susan J. Terrio, author of Judging Mohammed

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Global Latin America: Into the Twenty-First Century

by Jeffrey Lesser, editor of Global Latin America: Into the Twenty-First Century

This guest post is published in advance of the American Sociological Association conference in Seattle. Check back every week for new posts through the end of the conference on August 23rd.

How did your own research influence the decision to co-edit Global Latin America with Matthew Gutmann?

Lesser:  Many scholars of Latin America based in the United States (myself included) have traditionally presented Latin America as a recipient (and often victim) of outside influences. Yet over the years, Matt and I have been in numerous circumstances where it became clear that Latin America is the influencer.

In my own recent research on health and migration in a single neighborhood of São Paulo, Brazil, I regularly see how multi-directional the influences can be. For example the media in the United States often suggests, correctly, that the explosion of the Zika Virus in Brazil is related to a series of policy errors by Brazilian politicians. The media also gives great play to debates in the United State Congress over how to fund the Center for Disease Control that is often presented as the only solution to worldwide public health problems. In other words, those who do not know much about Latin America might get the impression that public health problems in Brazil will be resolved primarily by the big brother from the north.

Much of my current research involves observing physicians, nurses, and community health and sanitation agents who are employed by the Brazilian Unified Health System (known as SUS – Sistema Único de Saúde in Portuguese). This publicly funded health care program was created in 1990 and has already been critical in providing models for the rest of the world in areas like AIDS prevention and in ways to work with (and sometimes against) pharmaceutical companies to lower costs. It has also shown that health systems focused on the majority (which in Brazil means those with very modest incomes) can work in capitalist countries.

As I conduct my research I constantly imagine the ways that public health in the United States would be improved by learning from Brazil. My focus is in Bom Retiro, a traditional neighborhood for immigrants working in the garment industry that sits in the public imagination as an Eastern European Jewish space. Today most of the store and factory owners are Korean or Brazilians of Korean descent (with Chinese immigrants entering in increasing numbers). The garment workers are generally undocumented immigrants from Bolivia, Peru, Paraguay and increasingly, different African countries, generally working (and often living) in tiny, precarious, and unregistered factories.

Screen Shot 2016-07-22 at 4.00.07 PM
Neighborhood health center

Each community health worker in Bom Retiro is responsible for one or two streets, often the ones they themselves live on. They visit every family on the street at least once a month and since SUS policy that health is a right based on residence, not citizenship, gives health agents have broad access to everyone in the neighborhood, including the many people who live in non-formal residences constructed within abandoned buildings. The neighborhood health center looks like the neighborhood, with people of different citizenships, religions, ages, and class backgrounds. What a difference from the approach in my home state of Georgia, where police routinely stop residents to ask for proof of citizenship and seek to deport those who do not have it – including parents of U.S. citizen children.

Global Latin America is a volume about the many ways that Latin America and its peoples have influenced the rest of the world, from agricultural methods to cultural styles. It reminds readers that Latin America and its people have and will create policies, programs, and cultural forms that will lead the world in the twenty-first century.

Jeffrey Lesser is Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of History and Chair of the Department of History at Emory University.