As keynote speaker of a Katten virtual event hosted by firm partner Shana E. Ramirez, Professor Kelly Lytle Hernández underscored key contributions of Hispanic cultures in America and the need to increase understanding about the history, particularly of Mexican immigration to the United States, to thwart misconceptions and strengthen social connections.
A MacArthur Genius Grant recipient and leading expert on race, immigration and mass incarceration, Lytle Hernández is a tenured professor of history, African American studies and urban planning at the University of California, Los Angeles. She directs the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies and has written notable books on social issues and history. One title, "City of Inmates", garnered the American Book Award.
During the Katten program, Lytle Hernández discussed her latest work: "Bad Mexicans: Race, Empire, and Revolution in the Borderlands". Listed among Smithsonian's 10 Best History Books of 2022 and The New Yorker's Best Books of 2022, the writing tells the dramatic story of the migrant rebels who sparked the 1910 Mexican Revolution from the United States.
Lytle Hernández remarked that the Mexican revolution was not only the "first social revolution," but that it also "sparked the most significant migration to the most powerful nation on earth in the twentieth century (yet) nobody talks about it."
"If we don't understand the history of Mexico and Mexican Americans, we don't understand American history. That's one of the reasons I wanted to start writing these kinds of stories that introduce broad audiences to the history of Mexican immigration to the United States," she added.
September 15 marked the beginning of National Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs through October 15. It is an annual tribute to the vibrant cultures, rich histories and diversity of the American Latinx and Hispanic communities, comprised of those whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America.
"Everybody's got their own story to tell. I think we organize best together, when we know each other's stories," said Lytle Hernández, who has toured the country discussing her latest book. "The conversation always begins with tears and an elder who says, 'I never knew why my parents came here, what they had to struggle through to get out of Mexico, to make a place for themselves here. I finally feel like I've got a history right. That void has been filled.'
"That has power to help build stronger coalitions for racial and social justice," she said. "We do incredible harm by not incorporating everybody's story into the canon and figuring out ways the pieces of that puzzle fit together."
Lytle Hernández spoke as part of Katten's Perspectives Speaker series, which seeks to introduce a range of ideas and perspectives to promote the value of diversity and enhance the firm's efforts to foster an inclusive environment. The series has featured speakers for several annual observations that spotlight various cultures, as well as the achievements and contributions of different groups, including Women's History Month, Black History Month, Asian American and Pacific Islander History Month and PRIDE month, among others.
This article was initially published in citybiz on September 28, 2023.