In this book historian Mauricio Tenorio-Trillo examines the idea of Latin America. It is a fuzzy and contradictory concept which was only invented in the mid-19th century, but it stuck and is now widely used to describe a political region and a culture area. In the words of Tenorio-Trillo: “The term is here to stay; and it is important. What shall we do with it?” (p.3). His book is an extremely erudite, wide-ranging and at times witty and sacrilegious journey in search of an answer.
It starts with an analysis of the 19th century origins of the term. It shows how strongly the term was connected to the focus on Europe of the Latin American intellectual and political elites. After a short chapter on the ‘exceptional’ case of Brazil, the second half of the book focuses on the 20th and 21st centuries. Europe as a point of reference fades away and the US become the main counterpoint for Latin American identities. The book analyzes the new latino/a identities which are the result of this historical process. This topic is worked out in a short but entertaining chapter on music and poetry. In the last two chapters Tenorio-Trillo returns to his original question. Why has the term Latin America survived until today? And what purpose does it serve? The book does not give definitive answers but it offers food for thought to everyone interested in ‘Latin America’… whatever this term really means!
(Reviewed by Professor Michiel Baud, CEDLA, Amsterdam)