Anthropology professor guest edits special Miami issue of ‘Latino Studies’

According to the latest U.S. census, nearly 70 percent of Miami-Dade County residents are Hispanic or Latino. Miami is one of the few minority-majority cities in the country.

Sarah Mahler, an associate professor in the Steven J. Green School of International and Public Affairs, has been researching the similarities and differences among Latinos in Miami since 2000.

At a conference a few years ago, she realized other scholars were conducting similar research.

While many researchers often focus on Latinos as an individual group, these researchers had each set out to study groups within the Latino umbrella – and to study them in Miami. With such a unique focus, the researchers decided to team up for a project.

The scholars proposed a special issue focusing on Miami’s Latinos to the prestigious Latino Studies – an academic journal that explores the local, national, transnational and hemispheric realities that influence the Latina and Latino presence in the United States.

“It is very unusual to look at the diverse population of a group of people in any one area,” Mahler said. “Miami is an important place to look at Latino diversity, because there are tens of thousands of people arriving in one region.”

Mahler took up the mantle of guest editor and reviewed all the articles in the issue. She also communicated between the writers, peer reviewers and editors at Latino Studies to make sure everything was ready for publication.

The special issue – “Monolith or mosaic? Miami’s twenty-first-century Latin@ dynamics” – explores how people who call themselves Latinos or Hispanics understand themselves and classify other groups of Latinos.

The term Latin@ is a textually shortened version of both “Latina and Latino” that promotes gender equality and neutrality. It can be pronounced Latina, Latino or Latinow.

“While we are considering how diverse Latin@ groups perceive commonalities, our larger purpose is to resist portraying a homogeneous and ahistorical latinidad,” wrote Mahler in the special edition’s introduction.

The journal has 13 articles, including research studies, essays and book reviews. The articles range from studies about social hierarchies and linguistic diversity among Miami’s Latino immigrants to Latinos in the labor force and their political affiliations.

Among the contributing writers were Mahler, Eduardo Gamarra, political science professor in the Department of Politics and International Relations, and Phillip Carter, assistant professor in the Department of English.

Mahler’s research focused on how different Miami Latino communities viewed themselves as opposed to other Latino groups in Miami. She interviewed several college students from seven Latino ethnicities or nationalities prominent in the Miami region about their thoughts on similarities and differences between their languages, cultures and foods.

Mahler found that Latinos in South Florida distinguished themselves from each other through accents, vocabulary, slang and cuisine. Latinos in Miami identify themselves by their national roots – Cuban, Peruvian or Columbian – rather than a unified Latino umbrella.

Gamarra wrote a vivencia – an essay based on the lived experiences of the people interviewed. Café conversations in Miami examines how Colombians, Cubans and Venezuelans in Miami-Dade County voted during the 2016 presidential elections. This essay is part of the work Gamarra does through FIU’s Latino Public Opinion Forum (LPOF), which is led by the Jack D. Gordon Institute for Public Policy.

LPOF is an initiative aimed at better assessing the opinion of the Latino population, especially political opinions. Gamarra founded the initiative in collaboration with Adsmovil – a mobile advertising company that specializes in reaching the Hispanic population.

“[The Latino Public Opinion Forum] was the only one to correctly predict that Florida was going to vote for Trump in the elections,” he said.

The Latino community is one of the fastest growing groups in the United States. Gamarra believes that knowing how this diverse community votes is crucial in understanding each individual nationality and the Latino community as a whole.

“The main objective [of the vivencia] was to overcome stereotypes of all the [Latino] groups we have in Florida,” Gamarra said. “Communities change their political perceptions over time, over generations and depending on what is happening at the moment.”

– By Maria Gil