Hispanic or Latino? Mexican American or Chicano? Social labels often take on a life of their own beyond the control of those who coin them or to whom they are applied. In "Ethnic Labels, Latino Lives" Suzanne Oboler explores the history and current use of the label "Hispanic", as she illustrates the complex meanings that ethnicity has acquired in shaping our lives and identities. Exploding the myth of cultural and national homogeneity among Latin Americans, Oboler interviews members of diverse groups who have traditionally been labelled "Hispanic", and records the many different meanings and social values which they attribute to this label. She also discusses the historical process of labelling groups of individuals and shows how labels affect the meaning of citizenship and the struggle for full social participation in the United States. Ultimately, she rejects the labelling process altogether, having illustrated how labels can obstruct social justice, and vary widely in meaning from individual to individual.
Though we have witnessed in recent years the fading of the idealized image of US society as a melting pot, we have also realized that the possibility of recasting it in multicultural terms is problematic. "Ethnic Labels, Latino Lives" aims to understand the role that ethnic labels play in our society and brings us closer towards actualizing a society which values cultural diversity.