When UF associate professor Paul Ortiz told Haitian students their country was the first in the Caribbean to gain independence, they were “flabbergasted.”
Ortiz, who was not taught the history of his grandfather’s country, Mexico, published a book Tuesday on Latin American and African history. “An African American and Latinx History of the United States,” describes how Latin American, Caribbean and African history has influenced political, economic and cultural development in the United States since the American Revolution.
“It’s a reinterpretation of American history,” Ortiz said. “U.S. history is too nationalistic.”
Ortiz said American history focuses on how European countries affected the United States instead of the impact Latin American and African countries have on it. Unlike the history lessons he was exposed to growing up, his book is not eurocentric, he said.
During his book’s launch Wednesday night, Ortiz told a crowd of about 70 at Third House Books & Coffee the history is told with focus on societal changes.
“What took me the longest with the book was not necessarily the research but conceptualizing U.S. history from 1776 to present and finding different ways to frame that history, especially from a social movement perspective,” he said.
Ortiz said the inspiration for the book stems from his own experience as a U.S. Army soldier stationed in the Panama Canal Zone from 1984 to 1986. Ortiz said he spoke to locals while he was stationed there who told him about the history of their country in relation to the United States.
He was also inspired by his students, Ortiz said.
“I have a lot of students of color, and they would often ask me in regards to American history, ‘Well how does this include us?’” he said.
Gainesville resident Michelle Ott asked Ortiz why the title included the X at the end of Latin.
He said the term was non-gender binary for people with Latino and Latina heritage.
Some former students of Ortiz’s attended the book launch. UF alumna Lauren Krebs, 27, who majored in history and received her master’s degree in Latin American and Caribbean studies, said she came to finally hear and see the work Ortiz has been working on for several years.
“This event was great because it brought the community together to listen and engage with the important history of African American and Latinx peoples that has been excised from the official histories for so long,” Krebs said.